Sunday, May 19, 2013

Workloads in the Research University

In order to maintain a vigorous research program, faculty need time. They might buy out some of their courses through research grants. Equivalently, they may have professorial chairs that allow them to have smaller teaching loads. If they want to have a number of doctoral students, they probably need to be able to support them. What's happening in the background is often there are fewer regular faculty than traditionally, and so students in didactic courses are taught by adjunct faculty.

1. In many universities, the rules are that we can buy out a course for, say, 10-15% of 9-month salaries depending whether the sources of funding comes with federal overhead, little overhead, or no overhead. If you add in fringes, that is 13% to 19%, before overhead. Again, large research projects, or writing a book, demand that we have more time than is usually available in a regular teaching load.

2. The supervision of doctoral students is part of our regular workload as faculty members, and for many of us our research would not be possible without graduate students. What seems crucial is whether we support our graduate students with external grants, and for how many years.(In an engineering school, the teaching load might be smaller, but the demands for externally funded research are more substantial I believe. They might still allow course buyouts, but may have credits for PhD supervision and funding students. These credit systems can become byzantine.) 

3. In general, regular faculty numbers are now much fewer than traditionally, given size and budget.

    The question is the quality of instruction we provide and who provides it. For undergraduates, coming to a research university should mean they are exposed to regular faculty (including research and teaching as well as tenure-track) for the most part. We ask tough questions when we appoint tenure-track and teaching and research faculty, and those questions mean that the research university gives our students the best. 

        Adjuncts are always valuable for fieldwork or studio courses, but for didactic courses in the usual subjects it would seem that students should expect regular faculty. At the doctoral level, it is crucial that research and tenure track faculty teach the courses, since mentoring and modeling are what counts here.

        But, often, adjuncts teach many of the regular didactic courses at undergraduate and master's levels. As the university moves up, this will not be sustainable.  

        Now, adjuncts are much less expensive than regular faculty (tenure track, teaching, research) per course, so if we were to staff our didactic courses with regular faculty we would need a larger faculty and that would have budgetary impact.(Princeton uses regular faculty for all didactic and seminar courses, Chicago does not. Princeton's endowment/student is much larger than almost any other institution.)

        I have not addressed the issue of whether adjuncts are good instructors for these didactic courses. All the newspapers need to note is that the adjunct costs $6,000 to teach a course, and a professor teaches four courses (lets be nice and say half of time is research) and costs at least $15-30,000/course including fringes. If you don't include research time, and the newspapers won't, the disparity is much greater.
        I gather from some students there are some adjuncts who are not adequate teachers. I have no idea if this is the case. I am sure deans do the best they can. But, again, this is a potential time-bomb. Regular faculty might also be poor teachers, but then it is incumbent upon the office of the dean to have them get help.