Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What are you doing...what can you no longer do?

Faculty workloads have increased over the last few years and promise to get even heavier. The CLA 2015 report tells us that we need "to be as productive as possible." Yet the report does not define "productivity" and uncritically accepts "productivity" and "efficiency" as guiding principles that will produce better results in higher ed. At some point, we can no longer continue to bear increased workloads without compromising the quality of the learning experience in our classrooms, research productivity, and the provision of valuable public goods to our departments, colleges, and the University. What do you do and what can you no longer do?


  1. Over the years the cap for TA support has been increased substantially. My writing intensive class with 50 students used to have two TAs, now it has just one. My large lecture course used to get a TA with just 60 students; now the course must enroll 75 students to get a TA. This reduced TA support has forced me to cut back the amount of writing assigned. In the large lecture course, for example, students are no longer required to write a research paper.

  2. Concerning the extra work "expected" of professors in the School of Mathematics: For the last thirty years, at least, we have had paper graders for our 4000 and 5000 level undergraduate courses. These individuals graded the homework asignments in the courses. Beginning in Fall, 2009 semester and continuing into the Spring 2010 semester, the decreased budget does not permit us to have paper graders. Some of my colleagues, being, in my view, gluttons for punishment, have simply taken on the many extra hours of work involved in grading the homework assignments. The School of Mathematics had a faculty meeting to discuss this situation. I, in as forceful a manner as I could, asserted that I would not take on an extra ten minutes of work and, in particular, would not grade homework. In Mathematics 4152, Introduction to Mathematical Logic, a course that I frequently teach, in the syllabus handed out to the students on January 20, I made explict that homework would not count as a component of the course grade, but that I would hand out homework assignments and one week later hand out written solutions to the homework problems (something which I have always done), but that the homework would not be graded. In class I added a comment that, if the coaches and university president were, either fired, or paid one eighth of their current annual salaries, then possibly the School of Mathematics would have the funds for paper graders.

    William Messing

    FEBRUARY 18, 2010 5:00 AM

  3. In Classical and Near Eastern Studies we now teach fewer courses to more students, with fewer TAs, fewer faculty, and fewer staff to help. In addition to extra work this has many terrible consequences. I am seldom able to teach courses in my research specialty, and I cannot offer any courses unless they are sure to draw large numbers of students. Instruction in "the less commonly taught languages," e.g. Latin and Greek, suffers. Basic courses needed by grad students are taught on overload. Officers get few or no course releases. All of this makes it harder to do research or even to keep up with one's field.
    Another important casualty is lack of time for faculty to talk to one another, about research or indeed anything else. A reading group that has been going for 20 years has not had time to meet this semester. I have lunch with colleagues only 2-3 times per semester. We are no longer a faculty, but cogs in an assembly line. The situation has gotten worse each year, and is a major reason why I am on phased retirement. Indeed, if I were teaching this semester I would not have time to post this comment.

  4. What the administration has never adequately addressed is how terms like 'efficiency' and 'productivity' do not apply to the actual experiences teaching and learning. In their view, larger enrollments are more 'efficient' because you can cram more students into one classroom with one instructor rather than having two smaller classes taught by two different instructors. As the vast majority of studies in education demonstrate, the smaller the classroom size, the more likely students are to retain, learn, and synthesize new information. Increasing the size of our classrooms incurs a cost to both students and faculty. Students receive a subpar, factory-like education and faculty teaching workload increased. This is a 'productive' outcome?

  5. The Boutique ProfessorFebruary 18, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    I have only been teaching at UMN for about a decade and I haven't noticed a major shift in my workload over that period. Yet, like many, I have felt the pernicious pressures of what the university understands to be "educational efficiency." In my early years at UMN I was encouraged to offer courses derived from my intellectual and scholarly passions, and so long as those courses enrolled 15 students they were deemed worthwhile contributions to the academic mission of the college (CLA). My courses actually enrolled more like 30-40 students, a number that allowed me to learn the name of all of my students and to interact with them as human beings engaged in a complex process of learning. Now courses that enroll such "small numbers" are deemed "academically inefficient," and I am being pressured to offer courses that will generate suitably high enrollments (50 at a minimum and ideally more like 75-100). Those who initiate these pressures are absolutely deaf to the pedagogical consequences of a Fordist undergraduate curriculum based in large, impersonal classes and the pedagogies -- passive listening, rote transcription and regurgitation, mass standards of examination and evaluation -- appropriate to it. The Humanities cannot do its valuable public work in this kind of pedagogical environment, so as the pressure increases to solve the budget crisis through more "curricular efficiencies" of this sort, I see an ever more impoverished humanities curriculum at the UMN as the end result.

  6. overworked academicFebruary 19, 2010 at 7:54 AM

    Belfiore’s comment reminded me of the many things I never have time to do anymore. 1) Go to lunch with a colleague – twice last semester. Typically, I eat at my desk so I can read email or get some administrative task done during lunch and still get home before 6:00 p.m. This means I typically work a nine hour day. Correction. It's a nine and a half four work day. I always check email again once I get home. 2) Have an intellectual conversation with colleagues – twice last semester I attended a workshop related to my research. The workshop meets much more frequently, but I was only able to go twice because it conflicted with meetings related to service commitments for either the College (CLA) or my department. 3) Teaching in my area of expertise – this semester is the first time in four years that I have had the opportunity to do so. Because my department is under such pressure to increase enrollments in its service courses – graduate and undergraduate – it has become a luxury to teach anything else. 4) Time to do serious intellectual work – during a break. Last semester I spent all four days of Thanksgiving break writing a book review essay. Over the winter break, I wrote one conference paper, a detailed abstract for another conference paper, copyedited an article, and prepared for two new courses. Next summer I will most likely be doing research and preparing for fall courses. 5) How I found time to post this comment - one of the meetings I attend on Friday mornings was cancelled. I now have 45 minutes left to devote to my research...

  7. I have been working at the U since 1993. Since that year, the time spent on issues related to teaching (such as the semester conversion process, LE requirements, SLOs, etc.) and College, University, and departmental service obligations have increased. Here are some examples: 1) For those of us who were around during semester conversion, you may recall that with that conversion from the quarter system, we are actually now teaching more hours in an academic year than we were before. (And, don’t get me started on how many hours were spent just talking about how to convert academic curriculums to the semester system.) 2) On top of increased hours in the classroom, the number of committee assignments in the College and the University seems to increase exponentially each year. And what productive work do these committees actually do? Most of the college level committees I have served on (e.g., the course approval committee) function as window dressing. 3) The number of new university initiatives related to teaching such as the new LE requirements, the new writing requirements, the new SLO requirements all eat up enormous amounts of faculty time and though they purport to improve the quality of teaching – they too are window dressing. In the past year and a half, approximately 4,000 courses went through the LE process. In my department, faculty spent on average six hours writing up the requirements for each course they submitted to the committee. If we adopt six hours as an average amount of time spent on these requirements, the total number of faculty hours spent on preparing LE submissions is 24,000 hours! Liberal arts colleges and research universities across the country have instituted similar processes. Why? One of the arguments advanced at higher education conferences is that these new "enhanced requirements" operate to convince the public that University X, Y, or Z is an academically rigorous one. So rather than showcase the considerable rigor that faculty members at Minnesota already employ in their courses, the University chose to spend 24,000 hours of faculty time in a public relations exercise. Now that's efficiency and productivity!

  8. What about the ways email adds to our workload on campus and at home? When I was department chair I typically received about 100 emails a day. As a result, I always took my laptop on vacation to check email because I didn’t want to come home to an inbox with 700 – 800 messages. Although the volume has gone down since I am no longer chair, I still check email multiple times a day and I am still likely to check it even when I am on vacation. My spouse frequently reminds me that there was once a time when people communicated without it. Perhaps email should be added to the list of things we choose not to do.

  9. Sick of Being a Participatory ManagerFebruary 20, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    The implication of proposed changes (and those that have already occurred) is that quality of education will be compromised. This is not just related to larger classes and less time available to work with students, but also the fact that reducing the time we have available for research directed impacts the quality of our teaching. If our research suffers, our teaching suffers. At this point we do our research late at night, over the winter break, or over summer -- all at times when we are so to speak 'off the clock' (during the semester there already are no 'non-teaching days', even if we're not physically in the classroom, which puts the lie to the crazy idea that furloughs won't affect students!).

    We also need attend carefully to what 'post-tenure' review is seeking to accomplish. I don't think it's an uncharitable reading to boil it down to this: if you don't meet certain standards of 'productivity', you will be offered a choice -- lose tenure or teach more classes. The administrative goal will be to increase the number of classes taught, thereby achieving 'efficiences' (rather than hiring more faculty to teach additional courses). Note that this will not be a REDISTRIBUTION of teaching duties -- that is, if some faculty who are 'unproductive' are asked to teach more (a choice that some faculty might take, given the alternative), this will NOT result in other 'productive' faculty being permitted to teach less so as to focus on research. Rather, it will likely represent a slow slide into a 2-3, or even a 3-3 teaching norm. We need to fight this.

    And then there are all the ways that we are asked to continuously evaluate each other through imposed metrics, and being forced to 'compete' for scarce research funds. I mean, how many hours of the day did it take everyone to fill out their 'imagine funds' applications this year? And then to sit on the committee judging them? Does forcing us to compete with each really make us work harder? Like we wouldn't do our research without these asinine processes? And do we really need administrators dreaming up endless new procedures to ensure that offer good classes (what, exactly has the LE makeover accomplished other than gnashing of teeth and an immense waste of faculty time....pushing our research even later into the night......)

  10. Professor of graduate studentsFebruary 20, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    I devote most of my time to graduate teaching, mentoring, and research. Last semester, I read and commented on the written work of my six graduate student advisees and met with them frequently -- especially those who have been on the job market. I also read and commented on the work of junior colleagues whom I mentor in my own department. Email certainly makes communication easier for sending comments when I am too busy to meet, but it can also be burdensome. I have let go of many service obligations to CLA. If a meeting with one of my graduate students and a CLA meeting conflict, I miss the CLA meeting. Graduate teaching and research is my priority.
    Increased size of undergraduate classes and the changes in requirements for hiring TAs have brought about changes in the assignments for those courses. I no longer give essay exams and rarely assign papers. It's easier for the TA to grade short answer exams. Again, when I have had to choose, I've made graduate teaching and research my priority. The U offers no incentives to do otherwise.

  11. No support for service learningFebruary 20, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    Here’s a specific example off how speed-up has affected the quality of education in my undergraduate courses. I used to have a civic engagement/service learning component in one of my classes. Students who elected the service learning option in this class were required to volunteer in a local organization for the semester and keep a detailed journal. (In the entries they were expected to apply concepts/theories from class to their volunteer experiences.) When TA support for courses was reduced and I could no longer have a TA to grade all the assignments (papers and essay exams) and the journals for all the students doing the service learning component, I had to do it all myself. It took only one semester to figure out that I couldn't keep up with the increased work load in my undergraduate course and all my other responsibilities (a department officer, CLA obligations, research, etc.) So I dropped the service learning component in the class the following semester and the paper assignment and I designed exams with lots of short answer question and one essay questions that I graded myself. Writing and critical thinking also went out the window that semester.

    Two years later under pressure to increase enrollments, my department raised the cap on this course and the enrollment increased from 39 students to 72 students. This new 'magic' number enabled me to have a 50 percent TA again. I thought that it might be possible to bring the service learning component back into the course. However, I realized that if I assigned a paper and several essay exams, it would be unfair to overburden my TA with grading the service learning journals too. (Recall that faculty are not the only ones experiencing speed up -- TAs and staff do 'more for less' now too.) I considered grading the journals myself -- 44 journals twice during the semester -- but didn't see how I could do it and keep up with everything else -- like research, for example. So, with great reluctance I decided again to drop the civic engagement/service learning component. I say great reluctance not only because I value this kind of learning, but I know it's been a positive experience for my students. (In fact, several were able to land first jobs out of college precisely because they had had volunteer experience with a local organization.) That's not happening anymore. And, as for the larger size of the classroom... Several of you have already written about the negative effects of larger classroom size, so I won't bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say, it made teaching/learning more difficult. The quality of the course has not improved.

  12. I've been at the U for nearly a decade, not long enough to recall an idyllic time when one could count on adequate TA support, maybe even a research assistant, not to mention staff who don't have so heavy a workload that clerical work is not left to faculty. But I've been here long enough to experience how the U administration has progressively increased the burdens we bear. Most of the substantive things have already been mentioned by other commentators; I was going to highlight the pseudo-accountability nonsense represented by the Stupid Learning Outcomes, but someone else already did, with figures for the wasted time, too!

    To the items already mentioned should be added the repeated iterations of "strategic planning": central administration decides to set in motion yet another propaganda initiative, and with great fanfare compels all colleges, departments, faculty, and staff to get on board and have lots of meetings to produce some kind of document that represents each unit's contribution to this initiative, which is meanwhile trumpeted to the public (as well as to the university itself) as a grand collective endeavor to, say, "advance the excellence" (whatever that means!) of the institution. And what good do all these efforts do for the university's mission? Less than none: practically nothing in those documents ever gets implemented; they are merely a gigantic waste of everyone's time. And who do these administrators think they're kidding anyway? The legislature and the public clearly aren't buying the propaganda any more, if they ever did, and faculty participate in this B.S. only because we're forced to.

    And yes, you can quote me, by name.