Working on the Chain Gang (Not)

by Jay Schalin

With everybody looking to cut costs, lots of people are starting to look in the same direction: faculty workloads. The Life of (Professor) Riley may come to an end.

Charlotte Allen kicked off a discussion on several higher-ed sites with a July 24 article on Minding the Campus discussing how and why Rick O’Donnell — a proponent of less research and more teaching by faculty — was quickly hired and fired by the Texas university system. She criticized some research hastily put together by Center for College Affordability and Productivity founder Rich Vedder, which claimed that a few professors did much of the work, while some others did almost none. Vedder responded with a defense on July 28. (Duke Cheston of the Pope Center weighed in on Vedder’s methods earlier this year.)

The next day, Mark Bauerlein blogged at the Chronicle of Higher Ed about the Chronicle’s survey that said a majority of college CFO’s would increase faculty workloads (or do away with tenure or institute mandatory-retirement ages — both impediments to increasing workloads) as the first thing they would do to cut costs, if they didn’t have to worry about the repercussions. Bauerlein’s post drew praise on August 5 by Frank Donoghue, an English professor who suggested that the research requirements in his field are out of line with the need.  

I did my own faculty-workload study this spring countering a claim by the UNC system that the average professor teaches 3.37 courses per semester. It seems that most university systems use the Delaware method, which I later found out counts labs and recitations for other courses as courses in their own right, resulting in inflated figures. My results were roughly 2.4 courses per professor per semester.

Despite a little internal bickering, everybody in the discussion is pretty much in agreement that colleges are not exactly sweatshops for the tenured.