Take a Governor to Work Day

[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.]

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About James Hanley

James Hanley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of either organization.
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10 Responses to Take a Governor to Work Day

  1. Lancifer says:

    You didn’t even mention the bane of my existence, grading.

  2. There are days I want to move back to Wisconsin just so I can vote against Walker.

  3. James Hanley says:

    Lancifer,

    You don’t have TAs.

  4. Lancifer says:

    I am assigned a grader each semester. They are paid for two hours of grading per week per course (I teach two). I am instructed that they are not allowed to grade exams. They are supposed to grade quizzes that take me about as long to deliver to them and coordinate with them and pick them up as it does to just grade the damn things.

    I get a new one each semester and they are almost always Chinese students that speak little English. By the time I get them trained they are assigned to another professor, have found a better job or have graduated.

    Last semester I had 163 students that each took 15 quizzes, 4 major exams and a final exam. That totals 3,260 items to grade. Each one consisting of up to 20 individual problems that were written out buy the student that I had to asses, not only look for correct answers, but award partial credit as well.

    The course guidelines forbid multiple choice exams. I spend many multiples of the lecture time grading.

  5. Lancifer says:

    A bit off topic, but I received an email from a professor here at IUPUI that is running a program that has the following goal, “The aim of our research is to advance STEM education as a vehicle for improving the social condition of African people.”

    Well, he has an Africany sounding name, and as you know my wife Kidist is Ethiopian, so I clicked on the link to his program.

    Well of course it isn’t designed to help Africans at all, just African Americans. The guy is a full on Marxist. Big surprise. His PhD is in science education.

    On his university sponsored webpage he references the “praxis of Paulo Freire”. I wondered what that might be. Off to Wikipedia!

    Paulo Freire defines praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.”[12] Through praxis, oppressed people can acquire a critical awareness of their own condition, and, with their allies, struggle for liberation.

    Swell. I get paid peanuts to teach these students mathematics so they can, hopefully, succeed in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) and this gentlemen is paid big bucks to fight in a racially defined socialist revolution.

    Here is a blurb he wrote to describe himself.

    Insert fake African name here, Ph.D. is a mild-mannered professor by day and a relentless revolutionary by night. As a revolutionary, Dr. (Africany Sounding Name) is guided by the counsel of Dr. Amos Wilson who reminds us that, “The function of education is to secure the survival of a people.” To this end he has committed himself to creating educational materials aimed at securing the survival the (sic) African people.

    I kind’a thought the “function” of a university education was to provide students with the knowledge and intellectual tools to compete in their fields of interest and the critical thinking skills necessary to make rational and informed decisions. Silly me.

    I really need to finish my PhD or get a real job.

  6. It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

    Upton Sinclair

  7. Lancifer says:

    madrocketscientist,

    I have read that quote many times, and it is certainly true, but it is also a double edged sword. People tend to be convinced of their own rationality and objectivity while doubting the motives of people with whom they disagree.

    Also, to whom was that quote targeted ?

  8. Scott Walker, although I think your Fake African guy would do as well.

  9. “Each one consisting of up to 20 individual problems that were written out buy the student that I had to asses,….”

    Whoa….T.M.I.!

  10. Lancifer says:

    Gabriel,

    Shouldn’t your comment have had a Beavis and Butthead style “Huh, Huh Huh, he said asses” in it somewhere?

    OK, I forgot an “s”. Good thing I don’t teach English.

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