You may recall that last week I posted some curious data from CUDO, which suggested that the ratio of undergraduate “classes” (we’re not entirely sure what this means) to full-time professors in Ontario was an amazingly-low 2.4 to 1. Three quick follow-ups to that piece.
1. In the previous post, I offered space on the blog to anyone involved with CUDO who could clear up the mystery of why undergraduate teaching loads appeared to be so low. No one has taken me up this offer. Poor show, but it’s not too late; I hereby repeat the offer in the hope that someone will step forward with something convincing.
2. I had a couple of people – both in Arts faculties at different medium-sized non-U15 Ontario universities – try to explain the 2.4 number as follows: teaching loads *are* in fact 4 courses per year (2/2), they said. It’s just that once you count sabbaticals, maternity leaves, high enrolment (profs sometimes get a reduced load if one of their classes is particularly large), leaves for administrative duty, and “buyouts” (i.e. a prof pays to have a sessional teach the class so he/she can do research), you come down to around 2.5.
This is sort of fascinating. I mean, if this were generally true, it essentially means that universities are managing their staff on the assumption that 35-40% of staff resources are theoretically available for teaching. Now, obviously all industries overstaff to some extent: sickleaves and maternity happen everywhere. But 40%? That sounds extremely high. It does not speak particularly well of an institution that gets its money primarily for the purpose of teaching. Again, it would be useful if someone in an institution could confirm/deny, but it’s a heck of a stat.
3. Turns out there’s actually a way to check this, because at least one university – give it up for Carleton, everyone – actually makes statistics about sessional professors public! Like, on their website, for everyone to see! Mirabile dictu.
Anyways, what Carleton says is that in 2014-15, 1,397 “course sections” were taught by contract or retired faculty, which translates into 756.3 “credits”. At the same time, the university says it has 850 academic staff (actually, 878, but I’m excluding the librarians here). Assuming they are all meant to teach 2/2, this would be 3,400 “classes” per year. Now, it’s not entirely clear to me whether the definition of “classes” is closer to “credits” or “course sections”; I kind of think it is somewhere in between. If it’s the former, then contract/retired faculty are teaching 22.2% of all undergraduate classes; if it’s the latter, then it’s 41.1%. That’s a wide range, but probably about right. And since Carleton is a pretty typical Canadian university, my guess is these numbers roughly hold throughout the system.
However, what this doesn’t tell you is what percentage of credit hours are taught by sessionals – if the undergraduate classes taught by these academics are larger, on average, than those taught by full-timers, then the proportion will be even higher than this. I’ve had numerous conversations with people in a position to know who indicate that in many Ontario Arts faculties, the percentage of undergraduate credit hours taught by sessional faculty is roughly 50%. Elsewhere, of course, mileage may vary, but my guess is that with the possible exception of the Atlantic, this is the case pretty much everywhere.
I could be wrong, of course. As with my CUDO offer, anyone who wants to step forward with actual data to show how I am wrong is welcome to take over the blog for a couple of days to present the evidence.