*(If you’re just tuning in today, you may want to catch up on Part 1 and Part 2)*

Back to our equation: X = aϒ/(b+c), where “X” is the total number of credit hours a professor must teach each year (a credit hour here meaning one student sitting in one course for one term), “ϒ” is average compensation per professor, “a” is the overhead required to support each professor, “b” is the government grant per student credit hour, and “c” is the tuition revenue per credit hour.

I noted in Part 1 of this series that most profs don’t actually teach the 235 credit hours our formula implied. Partly that’s because teaching loads aren’t distributed equally. Imagine a department of ten people, which would need to teach 2350 credit hours in order to cover its costs. If just two people teach the big intro courses and take on 500 credit hours apiece, the other 8 will be teaching a much more manageable 169 credit hours (5 classes of under 35 students for those teaching 3/2).

Now, while I’m talking about class size, you’ll notice that this concept isn’t actually a factor in our equation – only the total number of credit hours required to be taught. You can divide ‘em up how you want. Want to teach 5 courses a year? Great. Average class size will be 47. Want to teach four courses? No sweat, just take 59 students per class instead. It’s up to you.

When you hear professors complain about increased class sizes, this is partly what’s going on. As universities have reduced professors’ teaching loads (to support research, natch) without reducing the number of students, the average number of students per class has risen. That has nothing to do with underfunding or perfidious administrators; it’s just straight arithmetic.

But there is a way to get around this. Let’s say a university lowers its normal teaching load from 3/2 to 2/2, as many Canadian institutions have done in the last two decades. As I note above, there is no necessary financial cost to this: just offer fewer, larger courses. Problem is, no university that has gone down this path has actually reduced its course offerings by the necessary 20% to make this work. Somehow, they’re still offering those courses.

That “somehow” is sessional lecturers, or adjuncts if you prefer. They’ll teach a course for roughly a third of what a full-time prof will. So their net effect on our equation is to lower the average price of academic labour. Watch what happens when we reduce teaching loads from 3/2 to 2/2, and give that increment of classes over to adjuncts.

(.8*150,000) + (.2*50,000) = $130,000

X= 2.27($150,000)/($600+$850) = 235

X= 2.27(130,000)/($600+$850) = 195

The alert among you will probably note that the fixed cost nature of “a” means that it would likely rise somewhat as ϒ falls, so this is probably overstating the fall in teaching loads a bit. But still, this result is pretty awesome. If you reduce your faculty teaching load, and hand over the difference to lower-paid sessionals, not only do you get more research, but the average teaching load also falls significantly. Everyone wins! Well, maybe not the sessionals, but you get what I mean.

This underlines something pretty serious: the financial problems we have lay much more on the left side of the equation than on the right side. However much you think professors deserve to be paid, there’s an iron triangle of institutional income, salaries, and credit hours that cannot be escaped. If you can’t increase tuition, and more government money isn’t forthcoming, then you either have to accept higher teaching loads or lower average salaries. And if wage rollbacks among full-time staff isn’t in the cards, then average costs are going to be reduced through increased casualization. Period.

Or almost, anyway. To date we’ve focused just on ϒ – but what about “a”? Can’t we make that coefficient smaller somehow?

Good question. More tomorrow.