I write in support of professor Bill Reader’s comments, both to the Faculty Senate and in his separate op-ed piece in The Athens NEWS (Dec. 12) on the Ohio University administration’s approach to the difficult budget decisions being made.
I would add that focusing on faculty instruction as the main tool to close the gap between revenue and expenses is like trying to stop the spread of cancer cells by killing the patient. Effective, but missing the big picture.
What I have not seen in the public debate about the budget issues is any true acknowledgement of current faculty workload, as well as how the proposed changes would affect crucial research.
As a longtime professor, I have sometimes heard comments from the public about a faculty member’s “easy” job. Sometimes an observation has been phrased as baldly as, “You only have to work what, 10 hours a week in the classroom, right? And you get summers off.”
When I look at the hours I spend on particular tasks, I can put them into categories. Beyond in-class instruction hours, these include:
• Creating syllabi and individual lessons (reading pedagogical materials and crafting lectures and class exercises).
• Supervising honors projects, theses and dissertations.
• Reading journals and books to maintain current expertise.
• Editing a journal.
• Reviewing books and book manuscripts.
• Judging manuscripts and papers for publications and conferences.
• Answering student and faculty emails.
• Doing community service, such as speaking to public groups.
• Responding to requests from news media.
• Attending meetings at a variety of administrative levels.
• Working in discipline-specific academic organizations. (I am a member of two, both history-based, and have served as an officer and president of both.)
• And serving on various committees.
Those tasks and class time take up about 60 percent of my time and require about 30 to 40 hours per week.
What that list does not include is research and professional/creative activity. For the majority of tenured and tenure-track faculty, expanding the world’s knowledge base takes up about 40 percent of work hours each week. We research and write conference papers, articles and books. Some faculty must do so. Publish or perish, you see.
When I was a tenure-track junior faculty member, I literally worked 50 to 60 hours per week during the school year. The 9-to-5 workday was for teaching. Nights and weekends were for research. When summer came, I had to volunteer to teach extra classes to supplement the family income, so I didn’t exactly get summer off. In addition to those work hours, I used summer’s “free” time to visit libraries and historical archives, continue to work on publications, and to attend academic conferences.
This brings me to a major disconnect at the heart of any discussion of expanding the number of credit hours that OU faculty members might be required to teach, in order to get more bang for the buck. While the OU faculty’s main mission is – and should be – instruction, it is research and creative/professional activity that get the most attention from our peers, here and outside Athens, during faculty and administrative discussions of promotion, tenure and merit pay.
In most cases, a tenure-track faculty member is unlikely to get tenure without publishing articles in high-quality journals or academic books, or otherwise engaging in highly visible and significant creative or professional work.
So, let me make this as clear as I can. To increase the instructional workload is to push junior faculty closer to their breaking point, as they will have that much less time to devote to the work that will get them the job security of tenure. Not only is this unfair to those faculty members; it also will not look good to those we recruit during job searches.
Senior, tenured faculty do not face the stress of the all-or-nothing tenure decision, but most of the tenured faculty I know maintain a strong commitment to research. To eat into their research time by expanding their classroom workload may cause some of OU’s best and brightest to look elsewhere for employment.
Michael S. Sweeney, who lives in Athens, is a professor of journalism in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.