Shortage of staff in political science department affects students

Department heads look to administration for answers


Photo courtesy of Abigail Faix

SCHEDULING — A shortage of faculty members in NMU’s political science department has been affecting the availability of courses for students within the major, especially those with a concentration in public administration.

Abigail Faix, Contributing Writer

Last month, class registration opened for Northern Michigan University students for the upcoming fall semester. A process that can induce a lot of stress for some students, there have been concerns about course availability in specific departments. One that has noticeably been struggling is the political science department.

Over the past few semesters, the political science department has suffered from a lack of staff. A department that typically has eight faculty members is currently operating with four. This shortage of staff means that fewer classes are being offered for the Fall 2023 semester. 

Because of limited class availability, the head of the political science department Carter Wilson said that students pursuing political science degrees have decreased as well. According to Wilson, if classes are not being offered, students have to find opportunities elsewhere. 

“Sometimes we end up having to cancel classes because we don’t have enough students,” Wilson said. “Sometimes we have difficulties offering classes because we don’t have someone who is capable of teaching the class. We are short-staffed.”

Students pursuing a degree in political science have four concentrations to choose from: general political science, pre-law, international and public administration. Of these offerings, Wilson said that students interested in public administration in particular are struggling more with scheduling the classes they need.

“The faculty member who taught the [public administration] classes has retired, so that makes it more difficult,” Wilson said. “Enrollment in our public administration concentration is also down, so we have the dual problem of having lost the faculty member that offers those courses combined with the decline in students.”

When it comes to scheduling the classes for upcoming semesters, Wilson said the department looks at long-term trends to understand what is needed to accommodate students who are on a four-year degree path.

Olivia Carpenter is a senior political science major who has expressed concerns about course offerings in the past.

“I’ve always struggled to find elective classes specific to my concentration,” Carpenter said. “There would usually be one offered or none.”

Carpenter, who has an international concentration within the major, was at one point worried she would not graduate due to scheduling conflicts. Carpenter said that she was supposed to graduate last semester, only to find that she was registered under a different bulletin – which made the political science requirements much different than she had expected.

“I was never made aware of some of the changes that were going on,” Carpenter said. “So, I had a whole scheduling issue that left me a semester behind everyone else.”

Another issue the political science department continues to face is a lack of communication between the university administration and the department, especially when hiring new faculty and bringing up issues regarding class registration. Brian Cherry, director of the public administration master’s degree program, said he is concerned with the lack of communication between the two entities. 

“I don’t feel like we’ve got a lot of support from the administration to add the positions back that we need to teach the classes that we need to teach,” Cherry said.

According to Cherry, with staff members either leaving or retiring, the department has not been able to advertise for new positions until that staff member has completely left. In fact, there are some positions that are vacant within the department now that are unable to be advertised.

Leslie Warren, interim associate provost and vice president for academic affairs, works with departments when they have questions related to hiring. 

“There is a lot of uncertainty right now with faculty staffing and hiring issues, so we are trying to figure out what the trends are and where there are trends,” Warren said.

This lack of faculty and issues in hiring extends beyond the political science department. Warren said this is a national issue stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Warren, there are several departments, including computer science, chemistry and clinical science, across campus that are in the midst of searching for new faculty. Some of these searches have failed.

Members of the political science department recently met with Dale Kapla, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, to discuss filling a vacant position. While they are currently hiring for a public administration position, university administrators required the department to list the position under “political science” instead of “public administration.”

“When we list that way, it makes it difficult to even get the number of candidates we need,” Cherry said. “To apply, it would be like having a biology position and listing it as chemistry.”

The position had 11 applicants in total, three of which were interviewed. According to Cherry, however, if listed under “public administration” this offering should have had at least 60 applicants. Warren said she is not sure about the issue regarding the distinguishing between public administration and political science.

“I told the president provost, ‘Do we have lower student numbers because students aren’t interested or because we’re not offering the classes required for these students to be a successful political science, public administration major?’” Cherry said.

COURSES — A spreadsheet outlining the political science classes that should be offered, are offered or are unavailable for the fall 2023 semester as listed on the political science department webpage (Graphic courtesy of Abigail Faix).