TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Should Law Schools Tie Faculty Summer Teaching Pay To Enrollment?

ChronicleChronicle of Higher Education, Professors Decide Whether to Teach Summer Courses — for Cuts in Pay:

When Amanda Klein, an associate professor in the English department at East Carolina University, decided to cancel her "Introduction to Film Studies" course, she was disappointed. It was her decision, but she didn’t feel she had much choice.

This summer, Klein said, she couldn’t afford to teach.

East Carolina has had an enrollment minimum for summer sessions for several years. If a course does not attract the required number of students, it is canceled. This year a new proportional-pay system on campus means that if a course does not reach the minimum enrollment, determined by administrators, it may still run but the salary for the professor teaching it will be reduced by a proportionate amount.

For Klein, that feels unfair: Her class came up five short of the 20-student requirement.

Her conflict goes beyond student enrollment, she said. She must now balance her feelings of responsibility to those 15 students who signed up, with the value of her own work.

Putting a price tag on academic labor isn’t simple, but as universities cut costs by curbing faculty members’ summer salaries, how to value their work is something faculty members across the country have to weigh before taking on summer teaching. And that task is getting increasingly difficult.

It’s not just about the numbers, Klein said — although that is certainly part of it. In years past, Klein could earn $5,000 for teaching "Intro to Film Studies," but now she can earn only $4,000. Being paid a full $1,000 less doesn’t seem worth it. She talked it over at length with her husband and department chair before finally declining to sign her summer contract, feeling it just wasn’t financially viable. ...

Prorated systems like East Carolina’s are not the only pay scales applied during summer. Some universities pay the faculty based on the number of credit hours they take on during the summer ...  Other institutions pay instructors a percentage of their regular salaries, or pay on a per-student basis.

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Not a bad idea. If I offer a really boutique "law and...X... course," can persuade an administrator to sign off on it being offered, and no one signs up for it, that seems like a bad use of university financial resources. Flip side is true too. If I can generate revenue with a course offering that is germane to a student's program, the school ought to support it.

Posted by: TS | Jun 13, 2018 6:09:18 AM

There's an easy way to get better enrollments. Give the highest grades for the least amount of work. Make the class as entertaining as possible even if it means making it less rigorous or useful.

This is a brilliant plan for destroying the quality of education and promoting a race to the bottom.

Posted by: Grade inflation | Jun 13, 2018 6:32:35 AM

"There's an easy way to get better enrollments. Give the highest grades for the least amount of work. "

And schools like Harvard lead the way, having increased their average GPA by more than an entire point since the 1960s per the website The four worst grade inflation offenders in the entire country are Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Duke. Fact. It's been more than 15 years now since Harvard was temporarily embarrassed by the Boston Globe reporting that 91% of their graduates received honors. Now the peer pressure is so bad that a few years ago Princeton, which had been continuing to grade in a realistic fashion, gave in and started allowing grade inflation. Their press release pretty explicitly said this action was in response to student, employer, and graduate school expectations. In a world where the baseline grade at Harvard and Yale is a ~3.7, not even Princeton is immune.

And if you aren't willing to take my august word for it, there are plenty of long-time Harvard and Yale professors who have written excoriating editorials about the changes in grading policy at their schools over the years.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 13, 2018 8:38:46 AM