Monday, March 23, 2015

More Hours in the Classroom

It is time for that ritual post--responding to those who think that being a professor means we work 10 hours a week.  One of my earliest posts compared a prof to an iceberg in that much of what we do is unseen (and that we destroy ships).  An op-ed in a Canadian newspaper (which was so awful it does not deserve linking) made the claim that our teaching is only ten hours a week and that we should not do the research stuff that much.  More significantly, the governor of Wisconsin, a state known for its excellent institutions of higher education, has been saying that profs need to teach  more classes and do more work.

Before I start: a caveat--I teach a 2/1 load--two courses one semester and one course the other as I buy out one class a year with the funds that come with my endowed chair.  So, I am a particularly poor situation to make any arguments since I am in the classrooms less than my colleagues.  But I am self-aware, not humble, so I will argue anyway about these claims. 

Let's consider this a challenge: if folks want us to teach more, what do they want us to do less?  Because, yes, Virginia, Scott Walker, most profs work 40 or more hours a week as it is.  So, if you want us to do more time in the classroom, we are going to do less of something else.  Just tell us what you want us to do less of:
  • Teaching:  Yep, we could spend more time in the classroom and less time teaching.  How does that make sense?  
    • One of the biggest time commitments is to the supervision of undergraduates and grad students.  At liberal arts colleges, they spend far more time supervising each individual undergrad.  At most universities, one can spend a fair amount of time supervising various kinds of undergrad theses.  In my previous job, I did some of that, and it takes time.  I did supervise a bunch of PhD students and still do some of that, and I now supervise MA students in greater volume.
      • Maybe we should have fewer graduate students, which would reduce how much time we spend on supervision.  But that is a decision that should be made directly and not through the back door of higher teaching loads. 
    • One could spend less time preparing lectures and seminar discussions.  Yes, this actually does take time.  The more classes you teach, the more prep work that is required.  Sure, over the course of time, each class is mostly prepped.  But in most disciplines, there is new stuff to learn to teach, so we need to read books, journals, newspapers, and other media through we learn stuff.  Yes, we keep learning.... if we have the time. 
    • One could reduce the time spent on teaching by having more multiple choice exams.  There is room in the academic enterprise for these things, but they do not really test thinking as much as they test memorization (at least as far as I have been able to design such tests).  To really educate the next generation to think better, we need to see it on paper--via papers and essay exams.  Which means grading, which takes time.  More classes mean less time for grading.
  • Research: This is usually the target of the teach more crowd.  Why?  Because research is useless?
    • No.  It is not.    I have argued elsewhere that teaching and research inform each other.
    • One example of the relevance of social science research that is often targeted.  There has been much scholarship on what kinds of political institutions make ethnic conflict more or less problematic.  While there is much about the relative success story of South Africa, one key ingredient is that they brought in the experts--the academics--who studied such stuff and asked how they should design their constitution.  Afghanistan? No, not at all.  
    • If you take a look at the map around UCSD (the place I know best, but true elsewhere too), you will see that it is damn near surrounded by bio-tech and information technology companies.  Tis no accident.  
    • I am currently reading a book on a key moment in Canadian history: the Normandy campaign.  Why is this relevant?  Because it shapes how Canada sees its military and others see it, which might just shape the role it plays in future multilateral military operations.
    • The reality is that universities are the epitome of economic multipliers--money goes in, and it spurs the local economy... more so than prisons or military bases.  And much of that is related to the spinoffs from research.
    • It is certainly true that not all basic research turns into tangible economic outcomes, and that private actors can do research, too.  But much of what private actors do is subsidized by government one way or another.  Plus the accidental discoveries of random academics often have huge value-added.  And are often, of course, inconvenient for the powerful.  Which is why the freedom to engage in whatever research one wants (within limits--no longer experimenting on students that much anymore) is so very key.  That government labs and private labs are unlikely to produce that inconvenient stuff that is often so important in the long run.
    • Via grant-writing, we are expected to raise money for our research--much of that money does not end up in our pockets.  Actually, none of it does.  Much of it funds graduate programs, some of it funds travel/equipment, and much of it funds universities via "indirect costs" that never go through the professor's account.  
  • Service:  Much of that research stuff and that teaching stuff requires service to function.  
    • We need people to spend time reviewing manuscripts (articles, books, chapters) so that we can be sure they are worthy of dissemination via reviewed outlets.   I often say that I don't work that much on weekends, but then I realize I do most of my article reviewing on weekends.  I am probably not the only one.
    • We spend much time evaluating ourselves so that we only hire, promote and tenure those who are deserving.  This takes a tremendous amount of time--reading files, writing recommendations, listening to talks, etc.
    • Speaking of recommendations, not sure if it goes here or under teaching, but if you ask folks to teach more, they might have less time to write letters of recommendation for their students.  Which might hurt their employability.  Oops.
    • We are expected do outreach more and more--give talks to folks in the community, actually do community service, speak to the media not just to provide expertise but raise the visibility of our university, engage in social media to promote ourselves and thus our university, etc.  If we are in the classroom for more hours, we would have to cut back on this. 
    • Self-govern.  Sure, we could have more administrators hired to do much of our self-government for us, but that would require more money.  So, if we teach more, are you going to hire more administrators to do the self-governance that we would not have time for?  Maybe.  
I could go on, but the point here is clear--you want profs to do more time in the classroom, it will come at some cost--less time doing supervision, less time bringing in grant money and producing new knowledge, and less time doing the service that makes this academic enterprise work.  

Could I teach more and still be productive?  Sure, but I would have to do less stuff--I would have to say no to more students who need me to be a second or third reader on their theses and dissertations.  I would have to say no to public engagement.  The fundamental fallacy of the past decade or two of management has been that we can do more with less.  The reality, as Dave Perry put it for his analysis of the Canadian Forces budget, is that we would have to do less with less.  Indeed, with more teaching slots going to adjuncts, the research/supervision/service load is increasingly concentrated on the smaller number of tenure track folks. 

To argue that professors are wasting heaps of time is to engage in the same kind of fantasy that we can cut government budgets by reducing the number of civil servants without losing any service.  Most of the people in government jobs are doing something real.  Most, although certainly not all, professors are working pretty hard.  The idea of waste allows one to dodge the real tradeoff--if you want more of x, expect less of y.  But that tradeoff is quite real.  So, just be honest, and tell us what we should do less of in exchange for more classroom hours.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is in fact because the article is so awful that it deserves "linking".