Monday, May 14, 2007

Buying Time

In my department, our teaching loads are somewhat flexible depending on department teaching needs and other factors. Some of my colleagues in other departments/universities, however, have very rigid teaching loads, and the only way to get the load reduced is to buy out a class with grant money acquired for that purpose. My impression is that such buy-outs are more common in the humanities, but I do know some science departments that are organized that way.

One of my colleagues plans her course release requests for when she needs them most in the context of her research activities, but in her department, a class is canceled if faculty take a course release. This causes huge problems for students, so some faculty never take course releases. Departments with adjunct faculty can deal with this situation more easily than departments in which it isn't practical or possible to hire an adjunct to teach a course.

With all due respect to hard-working adjunct faculty, I will say that I don't think it is a healthy situation when teaching loads are organized such that faculty can't adequately balance research and teaching without buying course releases. This also sends the message (to students and others) that faculty only teach if they have to, and if given the chance, will spend more time on research. Yes, I know that is true of some faculty, but many faculty value both.

I realize it isn't practical for all departments, but ideally teaching loads are flexible enough so that when averaged over time (e.g., over 3 years or so), faculty teaching loads are about the same for everyone in a department, but in any given year, the load can be adjusted depending on various priorities (including faculty research activities). Visiting faculty and adjuncts can teach classes when faculty are on sabbatical, especially since most sabbatical arrangements involve faculty being paid 50% of their salary, with the rest reverting to the department or other administrative unit (which can then hire a short-term replacement to teach classes).


lost academic said...

Originally, actually, when I first posted my comment regarding 'buying out' of a professors' teaching obligation for a semester or a year, I was thinking of the discussions I had had regarding an entire university's engineering department, and a few years later, a large research engineering university, both of which engaged on roughly the same practice. I suppose I didn't pay as much attention to what the humanities professors did, and also operated under an assumption that perhaps their grant dollars would never pay for something like paying for teaching.

We had discussed in our initial consideration a particular professor who was allowed to buy out more than his usual share of classes because he was in fact a relatively poor lecturer and yet always chose certain classes to teach, to the chagrin of the students who ended up in his sections. He was a pretty big name for the department, though, I can't help but wonder that the students, undergraduate and graduate alike, attracted to the research and work done there, partially expected some teaching from people such as this professor and did not know that such a situation existed.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Have you found that there are gender-based differences in the way people use their release time?

EcoGeoFemme said...

As a student, I might be disappointed if a famous scientist I knew to be in the department I was joining did not teach.

On the other hand, I have taken grad-level courses by extremely good teachers on topics that were barely related to my research field and other courses that were directly about my field but led by mediocre teachers. I think the less related courses by great teachers were more valuable. I could have learned the other stuff from a book. And given that it was what I was truly interested in, I was likely to read books on that topic anyway.

Still, it seems crummy that someone who does important research and has a job as a *professor* should not have some duties for instruction other than her/his own students.

Dr. K said...

My question is "where's the margin"?

A local R2 (wanna-be R1) university here charges $20k to buy out one unit of teaching load, then they turn around and pay an adjunct $5-8k to fill in. Does the department pocket the difference?

How much does your university charge for a buy out? What do they pay their adjuncts?

Female Science Professor said...

I don't know if there are gender-based differences. That would be interesting to find out. I also wonder if there are pre- and post-tenure differences. I was only briefly in a 'release time' situation myself, and the one time it came up, I gave in to pressure from the chair not to take the course release. I was an assistant professor at the time, so I needed the time for research in the year leading up to my tenure review, but because I didn't have tenure, I didn't feel I could go against the wishes of the Chair.

I don't know the details of the $$ aspects of release time, but you have to consider benefits and overhead in the equation. $20k of grant money for salary may only be $10k of direct costs, and a fraction of that is salary. It might actually work out that $20k of faculty salary results in $5-8k available to hire an instructor.

Anonymous said...

There certainly shouldn't be gender based differences in the uses of buy-outs. You have to justify the expenses to whatever agency provided the funds and there are strict rules about what is acceptable. There could be a difference in discretionary arrangements with the chair. In my department people are occasionally released from teaching for myriad personal and professional reasons -- these might be requested for and doled out differnently by gender.

As for the costs, we typically pay 1.5 times the adjunct rate. The difference goes towards time/expense for advertising and interviewing and checking up on sessionals. It is not clear that the department makes any real money on this arrangement. If we do swaps with other departments then this is normally done exactly at the adjunct rate.

In the end these arrangements are typically bad for everyone but the bought out prof -- students get a less experienced instructor; sessionals get caught in this loop of available but poorly paid positions; dean asks "why do you need more tenure track faculty when sessionals can teach for you?"; etc ...

Having said that, I will have been released from 5 of 12 classes in my first four years -- four by buyout.

Mike3550 said...

I don't know about the adjuncts at Dr. K's institution, but I know that many adjuncts actually do not receive benefits. Even if adjuncts do receive benefits, they are often far inferior to those received by tenured or tenure-track faculty members. I cannot imagine that they would equal even half of the salary which still leaves a large amount of the $20K buyout unaccounted for.

As a graduate student in the social sciences, this system worries me in two ways. First, at least where I am a student, it often seems like the graduate-level elective classes are the first to be dropped by the department in a buyout situation. This makes a certain amount of sense; you must first teach the required undergraduate courses (because departments are funded according to enrollment); then required grad courses; next are the undergraduate electives; and, finally, the graduate electives. This means that it is difficult to make it through our graduate course requirements to reach candidacy.

Second, as a grad student interested in a career in academia, the prospect of a two-tiered employment structure is scary. Without having the benefits, job security and salary, I'm not sure going to grad school is even worth it. Without the provisions tenure or "just-cause" termination academic freedom is curtailed, grade inflation increases as adjuncts rely on positive course evaluations for re-hire, and the benefits of teaching through research are lost.

I am not sure that is the kind of place that I would want to look forward to as I get closer to defending.

Am I a woman scientist? said...

I have to agree with mike3550; I have never met nor heard of an adjunct receiving any benefits of any kind. I have several friends stuck in adjunct whoredom at the moment, and they teach intro Biology classes at several nearby universities (they all live in large cities with multiple community colleges, colleges, and universities). They easily put in 50 hours per week (not including travel time between schools), and none has any sort of insurance. They are all paid a flat fee per semester credit (which differs between schools).

Female Science Professor said...

It's rare, but it does happen. When my department needs to fill a temporary teaching vacancy, most typically the department hires someone for an academic year with the title of Visiting Professor, and pays salary + benefits. The person hired teaches a few classes but is also encouraged to interact with research groups. In the rare case where an instructor is needed for one class/one semester, we hire a senior grad student, post doc, or other affiliate who is paid extra on top of their other salary (and they already have benefits).

Jessica said...

Wow I have never heard of buy outs!

I can tell you though that there's such an overload here in regards to teaching responsibilities and not enough faculty. The University like others relies so heavily on grad teaching assistants. So many departments are short on faculty and long on students. There are many overloaded faculty with a combination of teaching, research and extension FTE's and they can't do their research or extension because they have so many classes. And there's no $$ to hire new professors! And in regards to cancelling courses, yep, if there aren't enough people to teach them, they are cancelled and students get screwed.

Your posts are so insightful I am really enjoying reading them!

Marciepooh said...

I'd never heard of buy-outs. I have no idea what they do/did at my school bu they hire adjuncts a lot. The department is small (12-15 profs) but have to teach many 101 classes. (Lots of freshman take "rocks for jocks" to fullfill part of their natural science requirement and are disappointed when it isn't easy!) I can't speak for all adjuncts but I know several who would be offened at the assumption that they are not as good a lecturer as the full-time professors.

I do know that here, in the humanities, they often have grad students twaching the lower level courses. I don't know if they are considered fte or half-time equivilant.