Seems I hit a nerve last week when I wrote about Teaching v. Research. Between the emails and the twitter chat afterwards, I can safely say I’ve never received as much feedback on a piece as I did on that one. As a result, I thought I should respond to a few of the key lines of discussion.
Interestingly, few critics seemed to have picked up on the fact that I was attacking the hypocrisy and sanctimony around the teaching/research discussion; instead, most tried to find ways to justify modern teaching loads. Some missed the point entirely, protesting that the reason profs were teaching less was because of increased expectations around research. This, of course, was precisely my point. I wasn’t accusing people of slacking – I was suggesting that priorities and activities had (stealthily) changed.
Others suggested that the reduced teaching load was an illusion, (e.g. “but our classes are so much bigger now!”) But class size and teaching loads are linked; if profs taught more, class sizes would go down. Teaching time may not be a strict function of classroom hours, but neither is it a simple function of students taught. Two classes of sixty students take up less time than three classes of forty. Maybe not 33% less time, but a substantial amount nonetheless.
The most substantive critiques were around graduate teaching, and how that should be counted. I admit to glossing-over this issue, so let’s talk about it here. Part of the problem is that there are many kinds of graduate teaching. In the sciences, it can be indistinguishable from research; in the Humanities, it’s quite the opposite. In some disciplines, Master’s level seminars are about the easiest thing to prepare for, though as graduate class sizes grow to undergraduate levels, the workload distinction varies, too. And on top of that is doctoral supervision, which can be extremely demanding (though standards vary).
We know virtually nothing about graduate-level teaching loads, though they have presumably increased along with graduate enrolments, and are probably distributed in a very uneven way. This leads to another question: is it perhaps the case that in addition to a substitution effect on undergraduate teaching, overall average workloads are also increasing? That seems at least plausible to me.
Bottom line, though: we don’t know enough about workloads. Faculty and administrations have kept this data hidden, even from themselves, for decades. It’s time for more transparency. Not only will it reduce BS, but it will increase accountability for how universities use their most important asset: professors’ time.