I often get into discussions that go like this:
Me: Over time, the number of classes each professor teaches has gone down. Places where people used to teach 3/2 (three classes one term, two the other) now teach 2/1. Places where 4/3 or even 4/4 were common are now 3/2. This has been one of the main things making higher education more expensive in Canada.
Someone else (usually a prof): Yeah, but classes are so much larger now than they used to be.
Me: Do you not think that teaching fewer classes maybe the cause of higher average class size? Do you think that if everyone taught more classes average class size would fall?
(nota bene: This isn’t the whole story, obviously. Student-staff ratios have gone up to such a degree that even if profs were teaching the same number of courses, numbers would still be up a bit. Though how much is hard to say, because of the changing use of sessional lecturers.)
Someone else: Does it matter? Same number of students, same amount of work.
Me: Is it? Are three classes of fifty students actually the same amount as five classes of thirty students? Doesn’t less class prep time more than make up for the increase in marking?
Someone else: Um, well, yeah. Probably. But we’re still doing lots of committee work! And tenure requirements have become much more punishing than they used to be! And those teaching loads don’t count graduate student supervisions.
Me: No doubt, committee work can take up a lot of time – though much of it exists simply to make the university less effective. But that research one – that’s not distributed equally across the university, is it? I mean, we know that the pace of publication falls pretty quickly after tenure is granted (see figure 3 of this PPP article by Herb Emery). And not all university research is of the same quality: Well over 10% of all Canadian faculty (24% in the humanities) have never had a publication cited by anyone else (HESA research, which we demonstrated back here).
Someone else: And graduate supervision?
Me: Fair point. But graduate supervision is all over the place. Supervising a PhD in Science tends to be more intensive than in Arts. And course-based Masters’ student are increasingly more like undergraduates than doctoral students in the loads they bring. Hard to measure.
Someone else: But shouldn’t all this be measured?
Me: Of course. But notice how Canadian university Collective Bargaining Agreements avoid the question of overall workload, even though they often get really specific about teaching loads. Universities don’t want to measure this stuff because it would expose how many profs are working way too hard, and unions don’t want to measure this stuff because it would expose how many profs aren’t. Look how hard both sides worked to discredit the HEQCO paper on professorial productivity, which posed exactly that question.
Someone else: is this ever going to change?
Me: Governments could put pressure on institutions to actually enforce the bits of the CBAs that require faculty to actually do the hard-to-measure stuff (committee work, research). Junior staff could make more of a fuss within the unions to start ensuring equal treatment of workloads within the bargaining unit. Short of that, no.
Someone else: Aren’t you a bit cynical?
Me: Around here, hard not to be.