By Jay Schalin
University faculty workloads are becoming an important issue in North Carolina and elsewhere. The savings for just slight tweaks in productivity are enormous, in the tens of millions of dollars. (This is primarily about the research schools—the focus at the master’s level schools such as Fayetteville and the liberal arts colleges such as Asheville is already on teaching, so teaching loads are not as much of an issue.)
Critics say teaching requirements are too low; the university system says they are already teaching far beyond what they are required to teach. In fact, in the new University of North Carolina Faculty Teaching Workload 2014 report (scroll down to Education Planning Committee) they claim that the average professor in the entire system is teaching 3.7 courses per semester.
That, however, is a laughable assertion, based on suspect definitions and methodologies. The university system uses the Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity to compute its faculty teaching loads. Unfortunately, that study inflates teaching loads; for instance, since a “full-time equivalent” professor is defined as any combination of part-time teachers who add up to four classes per semester, then part-time professors always teach an average of four classes per semester. Such circular definition produces a meaningless statistic.
That’s just one of the smoke and mirror ploys that permits such exaggerated claims. Consider that in the new report, UNC-Chapel Hill claims that tenured and tenure-track professors taught an average of 2.6 courses per semester (they are required to have a department average of 2.0). It’s not hard to verify those results. Take a humanities department, say English, that should have a relatively high teaching load since exemptions for research are (or should be) are less frequent than elsewhere, because research grants are harder to come by than in the sciences.
Follow Delaware Study definitions to the letter, check the department website to find the tenure track professors, use the school’s online registration, and see how many courses tenure track professors are slated to teach. In my faculty workloads study that came out last year, I followed that process for the entire tenured and tenure track English department, and came up with only 1.77 courses per. And in many cases, I was generous when I had to make an arbitrary decision.
So how can the UNC system make such inflated claims? One way is that, without rigid verification that questions the data provided by the schools, UNC can get away with whatever info they wish to give. With so much money riding on the legislature’s perception of teaching loads, the UNC system has considerable incentive to inflate their data. And the Delaware Study has considerable incentive to look the other way, as the study receives payment from the schools that participate in their study.
That is not mere supposition, either. In my previous study, I was privy to the data given by App State to the Delaware researchers. It was frequently wrong and produced inflated final numbers. It would appear that the Delaware Study is more fit for propaganda than for good policy-making.
I’m not asking for anybody to take my word for anything. It’s time for the legislature to perform its own independent study (albeit with input from knowledgeable people with no vested interests and not just the UNC system wonks, Delaware Study researchers, or the usual suspects/educational consultants).
The introduction of a bill last year with a 4-4 requirement for all professors was pretty much a fiasco, deservedly so. The legislature can do better this year with a more realistic understanding of the situation. Not only will it save tens of millions of dollars, but it will help reorient the system toward an emphasis on teaching and not toward unnecessary research.
Jay Schalin is director of policy analysis at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education.