Wednesday, November 04, 2009

45 : 45 : 10

A visiting colleague and I recently discussed a perennial topic of obsession among some academics: how our departments/universities assign teaching loads.

Some departments (either by choice or by requirement from an external source) have rigid teaching loads that are the same for all faculty. Some departments assign different teaching loads to different faculty as a function of seniority; in recent years, I have seen some departments assign less teaching to assistant professors and more to associate and full professors, but in days of yore, it was the other way around (and may still be in some departments). Some departments assign different teaching loads to different faculty as a function of faculty research activity.

Even if the ratio of research : teaching : service (for example: 45 : 45 : 10) is specified, there is still quite a lot of room for variability in the required or expected teaching load, and there is variability in how courses are counted, as not all courses require the same number of student contact hours.

Both types of system, rigid and flexible, seem to result in resentment about how teaching loads are apportioned.

I've touched on this topic before and am not going to repeat previous posts, but I will give an updated view of my opinion of teaching load distribution methods at universities and colleges that have both research and teaching expectations of faculty.

It was interesting talking to my colleague because his department has recently evolved from a rigid system in which everyone taught the same amount to a more flexible system in which teaching load varies with research activity level. In the past, faculty with grants and grad students taught the same number and level of courses as faculty with no activity other than teaching and service, resulting in some resentment among colleagues. More recently, my colleague's department, in response to both internal and external forces, has moved to a system in which those with active research programs teach 1-2 courses less each year than those who don't have active research programs. This system can also result in resentment depending on how research "activity" is quantified and what the consequences are for low research activity.

If the research-active faculty teach less, the question is whether the research-inactive faculty will teach more or whether new faculty/instructors are hired to teach the courses that were formerly taught by the research active-faculty. I suppose the best answer to this question for each department is related to the expectations of the department/university for the ratio of research : teaching : service .

If there has been a research expectation all along and it was not being met by some faculty, I think is fair to expect them to teach more than faculty who are fulfilling the research expectation. Furthermore, graduate advising is a hybrid teaching/research activity, and should be considered in the research : teaching equation for those who advise grad students.

If the focus is on teaching, however, then it is not fair to add to the work load of those who are already fulfilling their job expectations with their present teaching load.

I have always preferred a flexible system because it gives faculty the option of negotiating the best arrangement of teaching : research : service for any particular academic year. For me, each year is a bit different in terms of number of graduate students, how many are new vs. more senior, whether I will teach a graduate seminar in addition to my undergraduate courses, whether I am writing an unusual number of proposals or need to do an unusual amount of travel (e.g., as a traveling lecturer), and many other factors. I would rather teach more in a non-insane term or year and less in an insane term or year, and a flexible system at least allows this as an option.

It is not always possible to work out an optimal arrangement because of course each individual professor is one of many faculty, each of whom may have complicated professional lives and urgent deadlines. It works out often enough, however, that averaged over time, my research : teaching : service load balances out to what it is supposed to be.

In a typical academic year, the optimal teaching load that best allows me to focus on teaching my classes well; to have sufficient time to advise my grad students, postdocs, and undergrad research students; to do a decent level of research and writing (papers, proposals); to participate in a moderate/high level of department, university, and professional service; and of course to spend some time with my family is: 2 regular undergraduate courses per year + 1 graduate seminar or other specialized course.

Ideally, one or two of those classes will be team-taught, and I will teach 2.5 courses in an academic year.

Some years I teach more than that, some years I teach less than that, but an average of 2.5 courses in a year -- including a mix of big/small and non-majors/majors/grad courses -- allows me to do as well as I can with my various responsibilities.


Klaas said...

How many hours a week is "a course"? Anyway, I feel that not every prof. puts in as much time per lecture: some just copy a textbook while others spend hours and hours preparing.

Kris said...

How large is one course though?

Janka said...

"If there has been a research expectation all along and it was not being met by some faculty, I think is fair to expect them to teach more than faculty who are fulfilling the research expectation."

I think this depends on how "fulfilling the research expecatation" is measured. If it is measured by say publications, and someone does a lot of research, but is struggling at getting results / having time to write, having them do more than their share of teaching is probably not going to help anyone.

If on the other hand it is measured by what people actually spend their time on, it seems fair to me that people who do not have or prefer not to have as much other stuff to do will do more teaching.

Anonymous said...

I think the idea of "dynamic allocation" of teaching loads depending on research productivity is a horrible idea. I can only see this leading to endless politics that will make any academic department a snake pit far worse than it already is.

Whether new assistant professors teach more or less is something a department should decide based on what its priorities are.

But once tenured, we really should leave all the tenured people with the same teaching load. The spirit of tenure is somewhat "for better or for worse", i.e., if you fulfil X amount of expectations, we will take it on faith that you will continue to be a committed worker. If the research programme falters after tenure, too bad from the department's point of view.

This is how tenure has been structured; the TT system has been designed in a way different from a normal job... therefore it is not fair to shift goalposts at a later date and act as though its a normal job where day to day performance has to be accounted for.

Anonymous said...

I wonder: how is the division 45:45:10 measured? And what is the unit of that division?

Anonymous said...

I am in an Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Biology Department at an R1 University where we are paid 9 month hard salaries. All of us are expected to teach the same amount, with some relaxation for first semester or tenure semester junior faculty. I like the idea that we all share the load, and would definitely oppose a system where increased research activity could reduce my teaching load (I am research active). Some people who have joint appointments in the Medical school do teach less, but also receive proportionally less salary from our Department.

We only have a handful of research-inactive faculty and essentially all of these have taken on additional administrative or teaching responsibilities, easing the load on the rest of us and making important contributions to our Department. I am happy to be a collegial place where this is the norm rather than the exception.

Mark P

Unknown said...

My department is actually doing this as we speak. I think that it is very brave of my chair and also very important to move away from a standardized system given the disparities in research-based productivity (I am at an R1 institution), and the relatively high importance our budget scheme places on generating student credit-hours, which is accomplished via teaching.

However, we've encountered two hiccups in attempting, as a collective, to work out a fair system. I'd be interested in hearing what various readers of this blog have experienced in relation to these.

The first is the issue of graduate mentoring. We have faculty who are profoundly unproductive in research and yet have current students, through whom they are accomplishing some tiny amount of research. Saddling them with higher teaching loads compromises not just their ability to do research (which is clearly not of personal importance based on many years of unproductive activity), but also their students opportunities in ways that we all view as problematic. This is likely a short-term issue, because in the long-term, i believe faculty without active research programs will not be allowed to take students and the problem will eventually 'graduate itself'.

Issue number 2 is harder to resolve, because it speaks to Janka's comment. We certainly have faculty who are in the lab and generating alot of data, but for whom the data is not eventuating in published papers OR extramural grant proposals. What to do about this group? They aren't precisely research inactive, but their work isn't doing anyone any good either...

Alex said...

How many hours a week is "a course"? Anyway, I feel that not every prof. puts in as much time per lecture: some just copy a textbook while others spend hours and hours preparing.

That's a complicated question. Some of my best evaluations came from the course where my prep consisted of:
1) Rough outline at beginning of quarter showing what topics to cover each day.
2) A week or so ahead I'd come up with homework for what would be covered that week, so in week 2 I'm coming up with homework on week 3 material, and that will be due in week 4.
3) The night before I start freaking out.
4) The day of, I surf the internet for an hour or so while thinking "Damn, why am I not preparing? I should really make notes on topic A, and topic B, and topic C, because I want to do this thing that connects A and C with B."
5) Finally, in desperation, with 45 minutes to go, I hurriedly prepare some notes.

Those were my best evaluations ever. One might look and say that I'm not doing much work, in fact more fooling around than writing notes, but during that fooling around I was thinking about the work I should be doing, and hence preparing. And the students were impressed by the lectures that resulted.

amy said...

My problem is that this numbering system doesn't really mean anything, and there are wild disparities between departments. I'm 50(teaching), 40(research), 10(service), and in the humanities. I've talked to many people in the sciences with the same distribution. I teach a 3-2 load (three in fall, 2 in spring), with no TAs or grading help. My science colleagues teach a 1-1, or a 1-2 load, with TAs or readers. They also make about twice my salary. Does this seem fair?

Kevin said...

Here a course is 35 hours of lectures, with the expectation that students will spend about 120-150 hours (in and out of class) on a course. Undergrads typically take 9 such courses a year, with science and engineering students taking a bit more (lab courses are often given credit for an extra 30-60 hours of work).

Our engineering school worked out a system for providing teaching credit to faculty for each PhD student and each MS student that they have in their labs. Those who are running huge research enterprises can often get out of teaching one course. Those of us with less funding and smaller labs end up teaching slightly more, but the general feeling is that the system is fair. Of course, one or two people can get HHMI investigator status, in which case the university no longer pays their salary, they no longer have to teach, and any teaching they do is a bonus for the department.

Assistant professors usually get a reduced teaching load for the first year or two, to recognize the extra effort they need to put into setting up their labs and because they are often creating new courses.

Department chairs and other high-load service positions (deans, committee on academic personnel, ...) get some course relief. Medium-load service positions (like grad director and undergrad director) generally get none, but are not usually given to assistant professors.

Anonymous said...

I have a specific question:

Does team teaching a large intro lecture course count the same as teaching a course on your own (such as a 20-30 student upper level undergrad course)?

How about Graduate courses versus undergrad?

Here the people who team teach get as much credit for that as those who teach a course that lasts the whole semester. And unlike in your case, team teaching profs NEVER attend each other's lectures. They are MIA once their half a semester is done.

I've always thought that was unfair. The smaller courses usually involve more work per class, also, since you are usually bringing in recent literature and other new material instead of teaching the same old intro material over and over...

Liz said...

IMHO, If a faculty member was at one time research active (publishing, writing grants, taking students etc) and then they become research unactive (last student graduated the year before and they have no plans to take on another student) then shit yeah, they should teach more.

Deadwood faculty should not be allowed to sit on their asses and teach the same one course/semester they've been teaching for the last five years if they are research inactive. Just cause they don't want to retire doesn't mean they should get a full paycheck doing half the work.

I exist in a department that has 6 faculty members who have not taken students for minimum of 2 years, sometimes as long as 10 years that do no more teaching than I do. Pisses me the f- off.

Anonymous said...

The reason we have reduced teaching loads in the sciences, compared to the humanities, is that supervising graduate students is part of teaching. Therefore, I think it is fair to ask those of us who do not maintain a research group to do more teaching. Most of those people are research inactive. Others work in lab themselves. These are different situations, and any chair with guts would be able to see and enforce the difference. We should keep in mind that the second type, while encomiable etc, does not contribute to the training of students..... which is, after all, a huge part of our job description.

Anonymous said...

"I've always thought that was unfair. The smaller courses usually involve more work per class, also, since you are usually bringing in recent literature and other new material instead of teaching the same old intro material over and over..."

My experience has been the opposite. I teach both the large intro. course and smaller second-year courses in my field. It is far less work for me to prepare lectures/assignments/tests in my specialty and grade work of 40-50 students than it is to prepare *good* *interesting* lectures/assignments/tests on subfields that are not my specialty and grade work of 250-300 students. Yet I get the same credit for both classes. Worse yet, my peers who are bad teachers get out of the high-workload intro classes and get to teach tiny classes in their own specialty (presumably to minimize the damage they cause when teaching large groups).

Anonymous said...

To Amy:

If you and a chemist left academia right now, and went directly into non-academic work. . . Who would make more? Odds are the chemist.

Basically, the salaries in academia are a lower reflection of real world salaries. Business professors and Engineering professors make a lot because in their field they make a lot in industry, also correlates to the sciences and the humanities.

You teach more because you don't bring in as much money as we do and writing grants and running our labs, takes A LOT of time. When was the last time you had 10 students working under you doing research, on 4-5 different projects? I physically couldn't do it if I taught a 3-2. No research, no grants to write, no money to bring in.

Doctor Pion said...

Shifting the balance between teaching and research over the span of a career is the only rational way of treating faculty equitably as their interests and skills evolve over a 40 year career at an R1 institution.

"This system can also result in resentment depending on how research "activity" is quantified and what the consequences are for low research activity."

Agreed, but there is even more resentment when there are no consequences for not doing any research or service.

If there is an assignment of 45% of your effort toward research and nothing ever gets accomplished, you aren't earning 45% of your pay. A research associate or t-t new asst prof would be terminated under those circumstances, so why not require additional effort in teaching to make up for zero effort in research?

"If the focus is on teaching, however, then it is not fair to add to the work load of those who are already fulfilling their job expectations with their present teaching load."

That depends on what is meant by a "focus" on teaching. At this CC, tenure and assigned duties are based 100% on teaching. Here the premise would be that you would get some release time for significant research activity, provided it had a clear benefit to the college (i.e. it was an assigned duty that others do not have to do). Similarly, if there was a merit pay system that rewards people for doing extra work above and beyond the normal teaching load, what you wrote would make sense. But if "focus" means 80:10:10, there should still be consequences if someone is only doing 80% of their job.

Anonymous said...

This is, admittedly, quite naive, but I have no idea how you would quantify something like that. I think I would prefer UG university's approach. Everyone has the same teaching load (except the chair and new professors for their first 2 years), and every professor has the option to "buy out" their time with research money if they are very busy with research. Is there a problem with doing it that way?

Anonymous said...

I think teaching loads should be the same across the board, divided only by rank (assistant, associate, full professor). Otherwise trying to determine who is doing more research than whom and therefore who should be cut more slack on the teaching load and by how much less, is a nightmare and is just asking for perpetual squabbles. Sure it makes sense for extreme black and white cases if comparing the professor who has zero grad students and zero grants, with a professor who has 10 grad students and millions of dollars in grants. But anything other than extreme black and white cases is just splitting hairs and can not be resolved objectively.

A big part of a professor's duty IS to teach classes, no matter how much research money you bring in. If you don't want to teach classes, switch your classification to research faculty (not TT faculty) or go work in a research institute.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

In medical school basic science departments, not even lip service is given to teaching in faculty hiring. This means that many faculty are simply incapable of even the most rudimentary level of classroom teaching. As a practical matter, therefore, those of us with some minor talent for teaching pretty much do all of it.

Interestingly, and perhaps not merely coincidentally, those of us who are somewhat capable of teaching turn out to also be the ones who are more successful at research.

amy said...

Just for the record, humanities people do have graduate students and do supervise people doing different projects. In fact, each grad student does their own project, so it's a lot to supervise. I agree that getting grants is hugely time-consuming and has to be factored in. But, still, it's hardly fair that there's so little grant money available for the humanities -- it's just a reflection of the fact that we as a society put very little value on humanities research. And it's hardly fair that science and business people can make more money outside the academy -- it's just a reflection of our capitalist system, which puts a price on what's commodifiable, not on what's objectively valuable.

Anonymous said...

As an administrative worker who deals with this on a more or less continuous basis, FSP is right in saying that its institutionally determined.

If you have a fixed curriculum with limited choices, or always running seminar courses, its considerably different to a full flexible curriculum where you only know student load four weeks after semester begins.

Additionally, in my world, there are remnants of a period of centralised national wage fixation which ended in the early 1990s, and still impacts on expectations on casual staff, which is then the best quantification of the time expectations per student and taught hour for permanents. (each lecture hour takes 3 hours, each tutorial hour takes 2 hours, marking is an hour a student, 13-14 week semester).

Interestingly, modelling shows that 40% Teaching, 60% unallocated time bears out over the 48 worked weeks. As long as you restrain your teaching to within the hours available to conduct teaching. You may even manage to get four to eight hours a week for actual research.

The downside of this is that many staff feel resentments about people not making up their service and research elements. Also, that teaching expands to fill the time available to it.

If it irritates you as a worker, then never become head of a teaching unit.