Phi Beta Cons

Will NC Bill to Improve Teacher Quality Improve Teacher Quality?

This teacher doesn't think so

I am skeptical of Bill 593 under consideration by the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill, whose short title is “Improved Professor Quality,” says that the Board of Governors “shall adopt a policy applicable to all the constituent institutions that requires all professors teach a minimum of eight class courses per academic year.”

Most criticism of the bill has focused on the importance of research, but I think the bill is wrong on teaching. I understand that the idea is to get tenure track professors into the classroom more. But although financial exigency may compel some colleges and universities to insist on a load of eight courses to save money on instruction, no one should be under the illusion that teaching quality will improve as a result. Even if  we imagine that research demands on professors will be reduced, so that they can meet them during the summer, and if we assume, conservatively, that professors will spend two hours of preparation for every hour they spend in class, that adds up to thirty-six hours for class and class preparation time alone. That does not include grading, mentoring, and attending to the committee and other volunteer work involved in governing a university. However professional and caring professors may be, they will have to cut corners with respect to, for example, teaching students how to write, or how to undertake long-term, multi-stage research assignments.

As I have written here, I sympathize with the proposition that too many colleges and universities aspire to be research powerhouses, and agree that some now looking to advance in the prestige race by focusing more on research would do better to focus on teaching. I agree with my friend and fellow PBCer Jay Schalin that “the university system is not a jobs program for academics” and that reduced teaching loads, which require colleges and universities to hire more instructors, need to be justified.

But even if one is willing to lose top researchers to other states or to private universities, it is unlikely you’ll leave behind a corps of dedicated super-teachers. People who love teaching more than research usually prefer to have the time to work closely with students, to offer them the guidance they need to meet high expectations, and to prepare to teach new things, rather than doing the same thing year after year. Super-teachers are not as mobile as super-researchers, but they are no less likely to want out if the bill’s supporters have their way.

Jonathan MarksJonathan Marks @marksjo1 is professor of politics  at Ursinus College and the author of Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Cambridge University Press, 2005). He has written on ...

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