Wednesday, October 08, 2014

How doing more leads to doing less

In a post called "Do More" (see it here), Bardiac describes the common dilemma of faculty members facing falling enrollments and rising budget deficits: the administration tries to solve the problem by making faculty work harder, dumping on our heads the responsibility for attracting and retaining students while also reducing access to the resources we need to do our jobs.

I've come to the conclusion lately (and if you need proof, look at this post) that I am simply not capable of working any harder than I currently do. My body won't take any more long hours over the computer and my brain is being reduced to mush by huge steaming masses of pettifogging paperwork, contentious committee service, and the often irrational demands of underprepared students. Fortunately, an administrator assured me--to my face!--that budget cuts will not affect workloads in my department. 

And then they raised course caps in freshman writing courses.

Granted, that's only an extra two students per class, but that's two more drafts needing detailed responses and two more papers to grade for each assignment and two more needy and underprepared students requiring one-on-one assistance during office hours, multiplied by however many sections of freshman writing we happen to teach.

At the same time we're dealing with the administration's desire to cancel underenrolled courses, which in my department tend to be upper-level literature classes, but since our majors need those classes in order to graduate, we are pressured to teach those cancelled classes as independent studies--which amounts to an uncompensated overload.

Something's got to give, and in my case all the options have significant drawbacks:

I could require less writing in all my classes and switch to less labor-intensive methods of assessing student learning, like multiple-choice tests that can be graded by a Scantron machine. Less work for me, less feedback for the students, more opportunities for cheating, fewer opportunities for students to develop their writing, critical thinking, and literary analysis skills. And let's just put some blunt truths out there: teaching writing is the best thing I do and I'm pretty darn good at it, and it would be a shame to cut students off from the opportunity to benefit from my skills.

Alternately, I could cut down on the things I do besides teaching: committee work, service to the department, research and writing and publishing and conference presentations. I don't need to worry about how this might affect my annual reviews since I'm a full professor and there are no more rungs to climb on the ladder, and I know my colleagues are perfectly capable of taking care of campus business without my input. 

But if we are all expected to "do more" with more students, then we will all have less time available for work outside the classroom, and who will chair those important committees then? If we're up to our eyeballs in papers to grade from larger classes, who will come to campus on a Saturday morning to meet with prospective students during admissions events? Who will write program reviews and assessment reports? Who will do the extra work required to teach learning communities and first-year experience courses and capstones and other labor-intensive classes?

As for research and writing and publishing, I'm already astounded at how much my colleagues manage to do despite our heavy teaching load, but making that load even heavier is not going to encourage further professional development. Will we have to change our expectations for tenure and promotion? How will that change affect the college's academic reputation and its ability to attract and retain high-quality faculty members?

The letter granting me promotion to Professor reminds me that senior members of the faculty are "expected to provide the administration with wise counsel." My wise counsel is this: faculty members are not teaching machines but human beings; if you keep piling work on our backs, eventually we're going to break.


Bardiac said...


Anonymous said...


Contingent Cassandra said...

Amen, indeed. We, too, have been experiencing increasing course caps in writing-intensive courses, with threats of more to come. Yes, I can streamline, but I've already been working on that over the past decade, as I reconciled myself to the fact that my university is probably never going to consider coming anywhere near meeting ADE/NCTE guidelines for maximum student/course/prep load for teachers of WI classes. At this point, my approach is about as minimalist as it can get.

JaneB said...

Speak it! Speaking truth to power, how much is that needed...