Faculty Work Discussions Continue - May 2001
Over the past semester, there have been a number of meetings to discuss the issue of what changes if any are appropriate at TCNJ. The possible types of changes most often mentioned during the course of these discussion have been either transformative or incremental although no clear definition of what constitutes one or other has been decided upon. It may be that the difference between the two is just a matter of degree of modification rather than a particular change itself.
It appears the key issues in the faculty work discussion relate to 1) improving the quality of instruction provided to our students 2) reducing the number of courses taught by faculty to permit greater involvement in scholarship, research, and service and 3) making a teaching career at TCNJ more attractive to prospective new faculty.
As Provost Briggs explained using a familiar formula, the equation must balance and there are limited ways to achieve the reduction in teaching load which relates to keys issues 2 and 3 above. The most appealing way is to reduce the number of courses required for graduation from approximately 40 to 32 or 34. That means a reduction of 15% in the total number of classes typically taken and, one would assume, a similar reduction in instructional content. In order to compensate for this reduction, courses will have to change and various adjectives describing the "new" courses have been used including terms such as "more intensive," "enhanced," and "improved."
Research, it has been suggested, indicates that students donít remember everything they are exposed to in classes so, it is reasoned, it is more pedagogically-sound to have a greater portion of student learning take place outside of class in small groups or experiential learning environments. The fact that students donít remember everything taught in a class probably does not come as a great surprise to most faculty but the question of what should be eliminated from courses now being taught in order to reduce the typical student load from the present 40 to 32 or 34 courses is an important one.
Someone suggested that research is needed to determine exactly what students donít remember in each course and then just eliminate that material from the new "enhanced" or "intensive" courses. That way our instructional productivity would increase as well as student learning. No doubt the "perfect" world would then exist.
A document containing assumptions on which to build future discussions and make decisions was circulated by the Provost before and at his May 2nd meeting titled "Assumptions" and it raised a number of questions. The Faculty Senate had three committees looking at the issues of Faculty Work, Student Work and Academic Programs but the Provostís document only referenced the Faculty Work and Academic Program reports. In fact, only one of two options presented in the Faculty Work report were
mentioned in his document. The first option where faculty would be expected to teach three courses per semester and also engage in some form of scholarship, research or service (SRS) or teach a fourth course if the individual volunteers to do so in lieu of any SRS activity was included. Not mentioned is the fact that a faculty memberís activities in the SRS category could be deemed inadequate by a dean or other administrator and that person assigned an additional course to teach in-load. In the Unionís view, that arrangement is fraught with dangers and ambiguities which will lead to major problems and disagreements.
It is unlikely that faculty members would volunteer to teach four "new" courses in-load as suggested especially when the majority of faculty are teaching three. It is far more probable that the only individuals teaching four courses in-load will be those assigned the extra work because their SRS activities were judged to be inferior or insufficient. Additionally, each person teaching four courses in-load instead of three would be saving the college money.
The faculty work committeeís second option in which all faculty are assigned three courses a semester in-load and engage in SRS activities as part of their normal work assignment is the one which is equitable and less controversial than option one.
Unless the expectations for the SRS category are clearly defined and scrupulously assessed, there is the likelihood of disagreements for anyone who is required to teach an additional course. The second option is the only viable one at this point.