[Co-published at Hit Coffe]
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has proposed budget cuts for the University of Wisconsin system and suggested that faculty could help balance the budget by teaching an extra class.
In the future, by not having limitations of things like shared governance, they might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester.
There are multiple problems with this statement. First, I wonder if Walker is confusing shared governance with unionism, thinking that the elimination of public sector unions in Wisconsin eliminates shared governance at the university? But unionism is about working conditions, whereas shared governance is about the overall organization, operation, procedures and focus of the organization (e.g., the process for proposing new courses or changes to degree requirements). The boundaries between the two are undeniably blurry–at my own school we often have to pause and reflect upon whether the particular issue we want to address is most appropriately dealt with in the Faculty meeting (shared governance) or in the Union meeting (unionism). It’s a bit amusing, since the two bodies almost wholly overlap, but nonetheless the forum matters. And from my non-expert but not wholly ignorant perspective, teaching load is purely a working conditions issue, not a shared governance issue at all.
Second, Walker makes the basic error of assuming people are just reactive, instead of active: that they will just do as the rule tells them to do, instead of finding ways around the rule. (One of my standing rules of policymaking is to make policy for the people you have, not the people you wish you had.) The top researchers especially will be able to avoid this rule, because they are in demand and will be welcomed at other institutions. In 2009 UW-Madison ranked 9th in the country for federal research funds – receiving almost $600 million – and ranked 3rd in the country for most research and development expenditures, at over $1 billion. Damage UW-Madison’s research program by forcing those professor to spend more time teaching, and you’ll damage the reputation of the state’s flagship institution.
And teaching does take time, not just the hours in the classroom. Even for my most well-prepped class, American Government, I normally put in about 1/2 hour of prep for every hour in class. I know the material, but without review I may not remember all the elements of it that I want to address, or my presentation may not be as orderly and coherent. Imagine memorizing a speech, then giving it twice a year–if you could do it well each time without reviewing it again, my hat’s off to you. New courses, or courses I teach only occasionally, require more than 1 hour of prep per hour in class. That greatly cuts into the time available for research, which is one of the primary reasons faculty at teaching-oriented colleges and universities produce less research than those at research-focused universities.
Then there’s the time spent just thinking. On any given day at any given time someone peering into my office might assume I’m just browsing the internet for cat videos, reading for pleasure, or just staring blankly at the walls. But keeping up with developments in my areas of focus takes time. I not only have to read about them, I have to think about them. I’m familiar with faculty (and administrators) who have skimmed a book or research paper, pulled out an idea couched in memorable phrasing, and then proceeded to misapply it because they didn’t really take the time to think about it. (In one memorable case, as a graduate student I pointed out that a professor had misapplied an important idea from a notable economist, to which he replied, “I guess I ought to read that paper.”)
Thinking takes up just as much time when trying to write a research paper, or any document really. My department completed our program review document last week. On Tuesday I spent most of the day just writing the one page executive summary. (Have you ever tried summarizing a 100 page document in one page, while emphasizing your own tremendous awesomeness and how any imperfections could be solved easily if somebody outside your department would do the right thing while not offending that person who could do that right thing by making it sound like it’s their fault?) On Friday I spent 5 hours reviewing and editing the final draft. And today, Sunday, I am working on a new assignment for my American Government class that will require them to work with real data, which requires long pauses in writing while I think about how to make the directions clear to non-data oriented students.
Teach another class? I’ve actually done a fair amount of that lately, kinda sorta. That is, I’ve taught some overloads lately, but they involve 1/2 courses where I co-teach with someone else, so in a sense I’m only developing 1/4 of a course. It still takes time, though.
This is not to say “pity us poor college profs.” It’s not a bad gig. I worked a lot harder, at much greater personal risk, and for much less pay as a bike messenger. One of my own profs had previously worked at a nitroglycerine factory, until the old guys there–who all had occupational-induced emphysema–told him to get out and go to college so he didn’t end up like them. It’s just to say that the job takes time; that classroom-hours are not synonymous with workload; and that Walker can only get what he wants by damaging the impressive reputation of UW-Madison and thereby diminishing the reputation of the state as a whole.
[Disclosure: I do not teach in Wisconsin or at a public college/university.]