Search This Blog

Jul 30, 2010

Simple Math and the Curriculum Creep

Formula Load Hours (FLH) seems to be the currency of this realm. The union has negotiated 12 FLH for all faculty, plus “other professional responsibilities” such as service, advising, etc. In addition, just our School reassigns the total of 309.5 FLH in the next academic year from teaching to other things, such as research, coordination, and various worthy projects. In a series of very interesting conversations, I was trying to figure out the logic behind the reassigned time and FLH we attribute to various courses. At RIC, we often give students 3 credits, but pay faculty 4 or more FLH for teaching the course. How do you know what project or course is worth in terms of time? I was looking for some underlying simple math that makes those things fair and equitable. What I am trying to avoid is the individual bargaining – I will do this for X FLH, but not forY FLH. Why? - Because in academia, everyone without exception is working harder than the next person. This is just how it is; we all are acutely aware of our own work, because we’re doing it. The other people’s work seems to be much smaller, no matter what. It is one of those existential biases we have by the virtue of being human.
Anyway, several people, quite independently of each other, have proposed this underlying math: a regular course is about 3 hours a week, for 15 weeks. So reassigned time, or more demanding field hours courses should be measured like that, too. If you can show 45 hours of work over the semester, it is equal 1 FLH. Makes sense? Not really. One thing about simple math – it runs in all directions. For example, the total load is defined at 12. Let’s just assume for the sake of argument, “the other responsibilities” amount to another 3 FLH. If you equate the FLH with 15 clock hours (one hour per week), this mean you’re only expected to work 15 hours a week. Imagine a headline in ProJo: “RIC faculty members admit their work week does not exceed 15 hours!” And then try to fight the public perception. Of course, it is not true, and everyone works much, much more than that. In fact, an average faulty member works 50-52 hours per week, with tenure-track but not tenured people working 52.5 hours. I would not be surprised is RIC faculty actually worked more than the average, because we’re a teaching-intensive institution, with very dedicated faculty. Each hour in class needs at least a couple of hours outside of classroom: developing syllabi, assessments, and teaching tools, grading, communicating with students, individual work, collecting data for accountability, etc., etc. There is no end to it, especially for someone new to the job, or someone developing new courses.
So the simple math should go more like this: my teaching takes at least four full days a week, and the other responsibilities take the fifth day. 15 FLH a week mean I work about 8 hours on each 3 FLH. Therefore, to be reassigned for 3 FLH, I will have a project worth about 15 full days, or 120 hours.
What we do is very hard to measure accurately. And the last thing faculty want to do is to become card-punching, log-keeping been counters. But some kind of a simple math underlying our reasoning is helpful I am not saying my math above is good or workable. The point is more basic: we do need some basic rationale for all these negotiations. One reason I enjoy working in higher education is that rational argument usually wins. I like to be persuaded by reason, and I like to persuade others the same way.
We also need to make sure our programs are sustainable. For each little bit of faculty work, there should be a clear revenue stream. There are two reasons for that.
  1. We cannot pile more and more work on students without having their currency of the realm – the credit hour – reflect the actual work load. That is what I would call the Curriculum Creep. Everyone thinks students need to know more in one’s subject, so we add and add. But then students cannot do the work, because their week is too full. As a result, the general quality of their training dilutes, and we achieve the opposite realm. Does anyone still expect two hours of home work for each credit hour in class? Really? The real solution should be like with the Federal Budget: pay as you go: a. no extra work is added without extra credit hours; and b. no credit hour is added without cutting it somewhere else. If this means a little turf war, fight the war, and find a rational argument to convince faculty in other parts of the program that your course is more valuable.
  2. We cannot kill the College’s budget by the death of a thousand small cuts. We make many small deals, and bargain for getting paid a little more, because of the curriculum creep. We start doing it on our own, because we care about students. But then at some point, it becomes simply unbearable, and we revolt and demand more pay – we forget that we created the situation, and just crave for justice. But then at the end of a year, those people who are responsible for the entire budget, take a look at the numbers and realize, there is no room for salary raises, and we do need to raise tuition. So, students who we were going to protect by not charging them enough, end up paying anyway. By haggling over a tiny pay increase for a small group of faculty, we may damage the chances of real increases. In the end, higher education is not exempt from the larger economic trends. Either we figure out a way of controlling our cost of doing business, or taxpayers will revolt.
I use the first person plural, because I have done all those things, and did not see them till I went to the Dark Side. So, this is the Darth Vader speaking; can you hear the heavy breathing behind the mask? And by the way, don't take this as a sign that I don't support the revision of our compensation for practicum courses. I really do and have been spending a significant portion of my time (I'd say about 1.25 FLH) trying to figure out that puzzle. I am very hopeful we can announce something next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment