Paul L. Caron
Dean


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Great Disappearing Teaching Load: From 3-3, To 3-2, To 2-2, To 2-1; 1-1 Is The Next Maginot Line

Chronicle of Higher Education, The Great Disappearing Teaching Load: How Few Courses Are Too Few?:

Course ReliefYale has gone 2-1," a faculty member in political science told me, in the tone he presumably used in the classroom when discussing the perils of nuclear proliferation.

It became a refrain. During my 10 years as dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame, the question of teaching schedules — a phrase I unsuccessfully tried to substitute for "teaching loads" — hovered in the periphery of my day-to-day life. Sometimes it occupied center stage. At times I wondered if the question — "Could I have a course off for that?" — would be chiseled on my tombstone.

It’s a "first-world problem," as the kids say, and I hasten to acknowledge that deans or department chairs struggling with collapsing budgets, or faculty members routinely teaching four courses per semester, may want to proceed to the next article in The Chronicle Review.

For the rest of you, a question: How many courses per semester should a faculty member at a major research university teach?

The question is rarely asked — because it’s in no one’s interest to ask it. Not presidents, since in public institutions they, unlike faculty members, have to answer questions from more or less curious and informed state legislators about how professors use their time. Not provosts, deans, and department chairs, struggling to sustain the Maginot Line of standard teaching schedules while also competing to hire faculty members. Not graduate students, whose courses are typically taught by tenure-line faculty members anyway. And not professors, eager to conduct more research, certainly, but also craving the flexibility of a schedule not burdened by the day-to-day rhythm of class meeting times.

It’s actually in the interest only of innocent undergraduates, who don’t realize that the tenure-line faculty members supported by their tuition dollars may be teaching a decreasing number of courses. And although they don’t know it, it’s in the long-term interest of faculty members themselves. ...

John Boyer’s absorbing recent history of the University of Chicago is one of the few places where the topic is discussed. (Not coincidentally, Boyer is a longtime dean.) I suspect that the pattern he outlines there is typical: Tenure-line faculty members taught six courses per year (that is, two per quarter) through the 1960s, then five, and now, at most, four. Over time, teaching schedules, like salaries, began to vary a good deal by department or program.

Dame’s pattern was similar: Faculty members in the humanities, social sciences, and arts moved from 3-3 on a semester system in the 1970s to 3-2 and then 2-2 in the late 1980s. When I started as dean, in 2008, tenure-line faculty members in science and engineering taught 1-1, with the expectation that they would be running funded labs; those in business taught 3-0. The "0" came about when the business school identified a semester without teaching, remarkably, as the uniform policy at the top business schools. Humanities, social-science, and arts faculty members taught two courses per semester.

The first strike came in economics. "We need to go 2-1," the chair politely explained, "because otherwise we can’t hire anyone." He was right, and so we did, with the proviso that teaching would be more than 2-1 for faculty members without strong research programs. Economics at Notre Dame had a spectacular decade, zipping up the rankings. Now I’m warned, somberly, that "some faculty at Duke are 1-1." ...

[T]his is the puzzle: Why are tenure-line faculty members teaching less even as the financial situation of universities — including the most affluent ones — weakened in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis? The basic answer is that when one program reduces teaching schedules, faculty members at other programs use competing offers to begin the process of forcing change across the academic ecosystem. Anxious junior faculty members worry that their research productivity will be compared with that of peers at institutions less burdened by teaching then they are.

It’s also worth remembering that the standard teaching load — there, I said it — is generally a maximum. As programs, centers, scholarly journals, and institutes proliferate, they require leadership from successful faculty members and, for good reasons, course releases. Sometimes we give course releases as part of recruitment. Sometimes we give them for significant administrative service. ...

The long-term risk is that residential, undergraduate liberal-arts education becomes less tethered to the research university. The combination of undergraduate education and research is one of the glories of the American higher-education system, envied around the world. But it’s harder to celebrate as faculty members move further away from teaching actual courses on the ground.

An additional irony is that faculty members themselves do not realize that the most vibrant departments are not those where they see one another only at the Delta or United Airlines club. In healthy departments, faculty members talk with one another: about recent scholarship or discoveries, graduate students’ work, undergraduate theses, department curricula. Every dropped course, every incentive not to come to campus, erodes the culture upon which good departmental decisions depend. It may even weaken the capacity for good intellectual work. That less teaching leads to better scholarship remains a curiously underresearched assumption.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2019/02/the-great-disappearing-teaching-load-from-3-3-to-3-2-to-2-2-to-2-1-1-1-is-the-next-maginot-line.html

Legal Education, Teaching | Permalink

Comments

If people produce something, I see nothing wrong with this. If not . . .

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Feb 13, 2019 4:32:14 AM

The article strikes a true note. This is indeed how faculty at my university talk about teaching loads. The issue is obviously very politically sensitive, both as a distributional matter between departments and also as to relations with state government overseers. At Wisconsin the legislature, concerned precisely about allegedly disappearing teaching loads, requires the universities to report statistics about them on an "accountability dashboard". My institution's is here: https://www.wisconsin.edu/accountability/faculty-and-staff/. It is interesting--and not surprising--that statistics are not broken out by department (but, as per the law, you *can* look up how much individual professors teach, including me--https://www.wisconsin.edu/accountability/faculty-and-instructional-academic-staff-teaching-workload/), and don't reflect the way that faculty themselves talk about teaching loads (e.g. "1-1", "2-1").

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Feb 13, 2019 5:00:04 AM

Wait until someone discovers that All Souls, Oxford’s most prestigious college, has not teaching responsibilities.

Posted by: Bill | Feb 13, 2019 7:14:01 AM

"It’s actually in the interest only of innocent undergraduates, who don’t realize that the tenure-line faculty members supported by their tuition dollars may be teaching a decreasing number of courses"

Actually, it's probably in students interest to have faculty who are doing cutting edge research and keeping up to date in their fields, while making time to meet with individual students outside of class.

This is a lot easier with a lighter teaching load.

We can have low quality teaching in higher quantity, or we can have higher quality and lower quantity.

With all due respect, the quality of the University of Chicago or Notre Dame (or most universities) was much lower 40 years ago than it was today.

A lot of distinguished professors from back in the day wouldn't get an entry level tenure track job today.

Posted by: Students interest | Feb 13, 2019 11:11:12 AM

"Actually, it's probably in students interest to have faculty who are doing cutting edge research and keeping up to date in their fields, while making time to meet with individual students outside of class. "

By this metric law professors should be giving more assignments and grading feedback than undergrad professors, given that the average law prof teaching load is so very much lower. And yet... Perhaps this is one of those false Laffer Curve things and if we reduce law teaching loads to 0-0 law students will get unlimited feedback?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 14, 2019 8:50:02 AM

“By this metric law professors should be giving more assignments and grading feedback than undergrad professors...”

Yes, if you were paying attention in law school you would have observed law professors already give more assignments and feedback than undergrad professors. Law professors assign multiple cases to read per class. During class, law professors go into great detail with students dissecting the case and teasing out the details. Students are provided immediate feedback through the Socratic Method. Perhaps you were one of the students who never read, requested a “pass” when called upon, and never paid attention during the discussions.

“...given that the average law prof teaching load is so very much lower.”

Law professors must devote a significant amount of time into class preparation. We must study cases in depth in order to have an adequate discussion with a class. The undergraduate professors on the other hand, need little preparation for class. They read power point slides supplied by text book publishers out loud to their class.

Posted by: Feedback | Feb 14, 2019 9:39:12 AM

"Yes, if you were paying attention in law school you would have observed law professors already give more assignments and feedback than undergrad professors. "

Nope. One final, one hundred percent of grade, just like Every. Other. Law. School. And once students get wise and just read the Aspen E&E for their classes, the workload on our end is notably lower than at a decent undergrad program. These are some of the many reasons why rest of the academy snickers at law school pedagogy (or lack thereof).

"Law professors must devote a significant amount of time into class preparation. "

Right, because Old Colony Trust might have changed since last semester. Or Pierson v. Post. Uh huh. And because no other part of the academy, where the normative teaching loads (ie. Not Yale) are 4-4, need to prepare for classes in, say, astrophysics, mechanical engineering, etc. Sure, sport. Truly you are the ubermensch of all the world.

"They read power point slides supplied by text book publishers out loud to their class."

This is a Breitbartian-level hot take on college classes.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 14, 2019 10:46:56 PM

"By this metric law professors should be giving more assignments and grading feedback than undergrad professors, given that the average law prof teaching load is so very much lower."

Professors generally don't give feedback to undergraduates. Graduate students and teaching assistants give feedback undergraduates. Professors give feedback to graduate students, and show up for the lecture. But grading and feedback is low level work that someone else handles.

Law schools (with one or two exceptions) don't have PhD programs, so law professors actually do most of the work for their own classes.

Posted by: Teaching load | Feb 15, 2019 3:22:06 AM

Sooo...among the hand-wringing about law schools costing too much and not attracting enough students, and under-educated Americans supposedly needing more taxes, universities embrace professors clamoring to teach as FEW as possible?

*Please* take a break from those hundreds of footnotes no one wants to read anyway and any journal that insists on months of micromanaging them, send your concise good ideas to folks like Congress and Professor Caron, and teach your children!!

Posted by: Anand Desai | Feb 16, 2019 11:15:32 AM

"Professors generally don't give feedback to undergraduates. Graduate students and teaching assistants give feedback undergraduates"

Unless you went to, say, a liberal arts college where there are no TAs or graduate students. There are some hundreds of such institutions sprinkled across the country; not everyone goes to a 50,000 student mega-public flagship or an Ivy where they expect you to be so blinded by the prestige and confirmation bias that you can't see how absurd it is your Econ 101 or Comp Sci 101 class has 800 students and the professor is only a passing presence in the class. Actually, that sounds like most 1L lectures.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 16, 2019 8:05:19 PM