The Change All Around, Part 2

An ideal teaching environment

In my second post about factors that are affecting my teaching this semester, I’m going to zoom out to the institutional environment. When the spring semester ends, I will have taught seven distinct courses, two of which were online and in two sections each, so a total of nine classes for the academic year. I am also a department chair, for which I receive one course release each semester. My contractual teaching load is seven courses per academic year, so as calculated by the university, the overload teaching and department chair duties boost my workload by 57 percent. Yet in relation to my salary, I am only compensated an additional 18 percent.

Economically this is irrational, so why do it? One reason is lost income from teaching during the summer, when I am off contract. The enrollment in the online program that I teach in has dropped by two-thirds since the 2008 economic crisis, and whereas I used to teach three courses every summer, now I teach only one. Overload teaching during the academic year makes up for income that I would have earned from those canceled summer courses. But the increased workload during the academic year means that I am putting less effort into my teaching and that the needs of students get less attention.

Meanwhile enrollments in the disciplinary-based courses that I teach in the fall and spring semesters are trending downward — a process driven by the changing interests of students who attend the university and a Balkanized curriculum designed to protect departmental turf. Some people might think that teaching more courses with fewer students is not really an extra burden, especially if some of those courses are online, but as I have mentioned before, much of what I like to do in the classroom and online simply isn’t possible with fewer than a dozen students, and it only works well with a class of at least twenty. For me, exceptionally small classes are usually more trouble than they are worth.

More troubling is that courses that regularly enroll only a handful of students contribute to gross inequities in faculty workloads, which in turn affect colleagues’ prospects for promotion and tenure. Simultaneously these low-enrollment courses ramp up the university’s instructional costs, which boomerangs back onto faculty in the form of fewer resources that can make teaching a more satisfying experience for faculty members and more effective for students.

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