Contra Mozilla

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A UNC Professor's Workload

I see that the North Carolina General Assembly is considering legislation which would require a 4/4 load of all professors in the UNC system. That's 4 courses in the fall, and 4 more in the spring (one would hope that they consider how many credit hours each course is worth, and that they factor for "special courses" like labs).

To put this into some perspective, I work at a mostly 4-year university (we offer a few masters degrees, and one or two Ph.D.'s) whose focus is supposed to be teaching. My load is 4/4. Starting out, this is a heavy load. I am then required to do service to the university (code for doing a bit of extra work outside of teaching and research), plus some research to get tenure. If I do not get tenure, then I get one "grace" year and then get fired.

This is  a pretty heavy load, all things considered. This year I was a visiting professor, meaning that I conducted next to no research. I have been on campus every day between 8:30 and 9:00, and have gone home closer to 7 than 6 most nights. I also come in to work on some Saturdays for a few hours, but as the semester is finally winding down, I am getting to have more weekends to spend time with family. My research starts back up this summer, and unless I teach during the summer, I don't get paid (even if I do work full weeks here on research). I am expecting longer days in the fall semester as a consequence.

I also spent 8 years getting a Ph.D., with my typical work week exceeding 90 hours for the last year and a half or so (and usually over 60 in the years prior to that), while being paid barely enough to make ends meet. My salary now as a professor is well south of 70k per year for all of this, and I live thousands of miles from my family because this is the job which was available. I happen to really like my job, so these are not all complaints, only observations.

My thoughts on the matter are that universities should consider allowing two paths to tenure. The first is the research path, in which the classroom teaching load is lighter (a 2/2 or 3/3 load seems about reasonable), but in which more quality publications are required; this path makes more sense at Ph.D. granting institutions (which should be on the whole less common). The second is a teaching path, in which the professor has a full 4/4 and research is more akin to a hobby, an "extra" thing which he is allowed to do but not expected to do.

There can also be a change in how tenure and promotion are awarded: begin by promoting to associate professor after 5 years or so, then grant tenure after another 5 years, and finally promotion to full professor another 5-10 years after that (increment size may vary). The requirements for each promotion might be thought to vary somewhat, too, for example by allowing either a very light teaching load to start out along with ht research, or allowing a very light research load but a full teaching load. After all, classes do actually get easier the second time around,  and the third, and so on. But that first time around, they can be a lot more work than you'd guess, and for a young professor who is just starting out, there are many different classes which he will see "first time around."

Bottom line: I have no problem with requiring a 4/4 load out of people (I have such a load right now), or even with requiring this plus research and service (in small quantities). That is, provided that it be made possible to fit all of this activity into the same 40 hour work week that the people who are passing the laws often enjoy, or at least that such work weeks become attainable in short order. A 4/4 is also much easier when you've taught through all courses 2 or 3 times, but if there's also a full research and service (and in many cases, administrative) schedule in place to boot, then those 4 courses are going to start to look very static after the second or third time through.

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