Assignment realities at community colleges and public research universities

David C. Levy’s screed at the Washington Post this weekend is typical of crankiness among some of those who don’t know much about higher education, believing that face time with students is the bulk of time that faculty teach in higher ed. More than that, he went after community college faculty as the place to push more work. Really? Of course there are some community-college faculty who are minimalist clock-punchers, but full-time community-college faculty typically teach five courses a semester, are on campus four or five days a week (or are available to students in online classes around the clock most of the week), and work long hours away from campus. In my experience, most community-college faculty are the salt of the earth, and picking on them says more about Levy than about community colleges. Then let’s begin to talk about the use of adjuncts at community colleges — how exactly are they overpaid, Mr. Levy?

My world is the public research university, and since I am in annual-review season, I am looking at assignment data for my own department this week. Here are the medians and mode for my department in 2011 (with full-time, regularly appointed faculty–including adjuncts and GAs would make this much more complicated):

Category of assignment Mean Median
Teaching 57% 58%
Research 29% 24%
Service 10% 7%
Other1 4% 0%

The department has a mix of classes from introductory, lower-division 70-student classes to advanced doctoral seminars.2 Five of the twenty-one continuing full-time faculty had a significant amount of their time bought out by grants they successfully wrote, which boosts the mean research assignment. Two of the faculty are instructors who devote almost all of their time to teaching with a small amount of assigned time for service.

It’s important to note that the assigned time for teaching generally does not include workload “credit” for all the teaching-related activities that surround doctoral research education. Instead, it accounts for classes and some other instructional effort around curriculum; for example, two of my department’s programs have separate accreditation agencies overseeing their work, in addition to the general accreditation of the college, so they have to track and report data. But there is plenty of ambiguity. For example, when you are meeting with graduate students in a research group, is that research or teaching? Both, of course. Is working on a dissertation committee teaching or service? What about the email a colleague sent to a masters student about the number of credits to register for in the fall? He is not receiving any assigned time for advising, but that essentially is advising. Oh, yes, and the email was sent at 10:35 p.m., 8 minutes after the student’s query to him. This is the reality of faculty work life: varied, interesting, and generally with long hours.

Finally, Levy’s mode of arguing assumes a seat-time method of accounting for work time in education. I thought we were supposed to be rethinking that. Huh. I guess not.

Separate from the merits, some have argued that as the head of the Cambridge Information Group, which owns ProQuest and RefWorks, Levy is part of the publishing world that impoverishes academic libraries. Since ProQuest and EBSCO competes both for access to publishers and libraries, I regard them more as organizational middleware than problematic, unlike the publishing vampires at Elsevier, Wiley, and the like. Oh, and regardless of Levy’s connections to RefWorks, Zotero is an open-source, free, and developing alternative to RefWorks and ProCite.

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  1. This averages in administrative work for the department chair and one faculty member’s one-semester sabbatical. []
  2. While I am chair, I am not teaching as much as my colleagues, but I am making sure I take on a fair load in terms of the class mix I have; for example, this summer I will be teaching an undergraduate schools-and-society course with intensive writing requirements, as I did last summer, while I will be teaching a doctoral class in fall. []

One response to “Assignment realities at community colleges and public research universities”

  1. CCPhysicist

    I’d argue (and did, on DD’s blog, once I saw his bio) that Levy is personally responsible for what he complains about elsewhere. He was a long-term president at one university that now charges $30,000 per year in tuition and was president of another that now charges $20,000 per TERM in tuition!

    This is a guy trying to preach to us about productivity?