The Corner

Politics & Policy

Deceiving the Taxpayers about How Much Professors Really Teach


Like all other government employees, faculty members in public university systems want the rest of us to think they work very hard. That helps damp down opposition when they ask for more money. Toward that end, reports that inflate their amount of teaching time are useful.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jay Schalin examines the latest faculty workload study put out by the University of North Carolina system and finds it quite misleading. He argues that the teaching load is “grossly inflated.”

For one thing, the choice of 2008 rather than 2009 as the beginning year for comparisons slants the analysis strongly in favor of the appearance of rising teaching loads. “When 2009 is used as the base year in the comparison, the claim that everything is rosy is revealed as completely false,” Schalin writes. “Instead, faculty teaching loads are shown to have overwhelmingly dropped. Only four of the 15 campuses increased the average number of course sections taught, with nine decreasing and two remaining the same.”

And some claims don’t pass the laugh test. At the UNC system’s flagship campus, Chapel Hill, the idea that faculty on average teach 3.1 courses per year semester is just not credible. Schalin explains why. “This is over 50 percent more than is required by the state system. And many professors have contracts that limit their teaching to no more than two courses per semester, which raises the question whether an average of 3.1 courses per professor per semester is even possible.”

The immediate target of this report is the UNC Board of Governors, which is composed of busy people with real lives and lacking in a staff of its own to analyze the data that the system puts out on itself. Schalin closes with an idea the Martin Center has been advocating for years — that the BOG have its own staff: “Without being able to conduct their own research — or at least closely examine the information given them — they cannot do their job, which is to lead. They are instead reduced to being blind followers.”

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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