UT faculty slams plan to slash costs, courses, bump up class sizes

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  • Proposed work loads for full-time University of Toledo professors would force most to teach more and would likely increase sizes of many classes and reduce course offerings.


    The new teaching-load criteria, presented to deans and department heads last week by university administrators, are a response to impending financial deficits that only can be fixed by major structural changes, UT administrators said. The proposed rules inevitably would lead to more courses taught by full-time staff, reducing a need for part-time professors and cutting the number of low-enrollment courses offered by the university. It also likely would mean a decrease in unfunded research performed by professors.

    Responses by professors have been anything but muted. At a Faculty Senate meeting Tuesday, professors asked whether administrators had considered how the proposed rules would affect teaching quality and the university’s reputation.

    “We will go back to being ‘Bancroft High’ with this kind of standardized teaching load,” said Renee Heberle, a political science professor.

    Scott Scarborough, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said the proposed rules are an economic necessity because the university projects a budget deficit in fiscal year 2014 of more than $30 million. Cuts to the administration and other areas have been exhausted, Mr. Scarborough said, forcing UT to look at its academic offerings.

    “These work loads that we are talking about are not out of line,” Mr. Scarborough said.

    The new work loads stay within contractual guidelines for professors but effectively would cause them to teach more.

    Tenured and tenure-track professors still would be guaranteed 20 percent of their time for unfunded research and 10 percent of their time for service, but they would be expected to teach up to the contractual maximum of 12 credit hours each semester. Exemptions would be granted for professors with funded research, work with interdisciplinary schools, and on a case-by-case basis.

    In comparison, tenure-track faculty members at Bowling Green State University typically spend about 40 percent of their time teaching, 40 percent on research, and 20 percent on service, though those ratios change depending on department, a university spokesman said.

    Lecturers — full-time teachers who aren’t granted research time — are expected to teach 15 credit hours each semester, though they can opt out of that course load with exemptions similar to those with or seeking tenure.

    Those teaching loads long have been the maximums at UT. Most don’t teach that many classes, with professors instead filling their time with additional research or service activities. It now would serve as the expectation.

    Courses with low enrollment would not count toward a professor’s credit-hour requirements; the university expects about 30 students in undergraduate courses and 15 in graduate courses.

    Low-enrollment courses wouldn’t necessarily be eliminated, and core classes would be safe, but conversations must be had about electives with few students enrolled. These classes just are not financially sustainable, Mr. Scarborough said.

    That, professors said, could lead to a snowball effect, driving students away from programs that have traditionally had small classes.

    “The enrollment requirements ... will devastate our programs, graduate programs, and undergraduate programs, which will in turn devastate our good faculty, which will in turn devastate our attraction of good students,” said Don White, a professor in the mathematics and statistics department.

    Immediate savings would come from steep reductions in the need for part-time professors, Mr. Scarborough said. The university spends about $6 million to $8 million a year on adjunct professors, many of whom would be rendered unnecessary with full-time staff members expanding their teaching load.

    Additional savings would come later, when a wave of expected retirements from senior professors arrive, Mr. Scarborough said. Junior staff members would cost less, especially if the university adjusts its staffing mix toward more lecturers as opposed to tenured and tenure-tracked professors.

    “I think the tenured and tenure faculty rank will continue to be a vital part of the university,” he said, “but I think they will be a smaller part of the university.”

    Several professors at the Faculty Senate meeting echoed Mr. White’s characterization of the proposals as “devastating” to both the quality of education provided by UT and to the university’s reputation.

    Some argued the university eventually would face bigger deficits because more students would transfer or drop out, causing enrollment to decline more. They questioned the wisdom of a universitywide teaching-load policy, when different departments had vastly different class settings and enrollment expectations.

    While the new expectations would reduce research work at UT, Mr. Scarborough rejected the idea that teaching and reputation would suffer. Instead, he argued, the new benefits would improve undergraduate education at the university.

    The inevitable result of the teaching loads would be that more tenured and tenure-track professors would teach undergraduate courses instead of part-time staff or teaching assistants, which is something students want, Mr. Scarborough said. Besides, he said, many professors would find exemptions to the guidelines; most likely would end up teaching three, three-credit courses a semester.

    Mr. Scarborough did acknowledge that the classroom-size requirements would force the university to examine how many of its graduate programs the school could maintain. Low-enrollment graduate programs are not money-makers, he said.

    A major exemption in the work-load requirements is for professors who teach distance-learning classes such as those based online. For every 40 students enrolled in that professor’s class, that professor would be granted a three-credit exemption, meaning a professor with 160 students in a single online course could be exempted from his or her entire expected course load, he said.

    That, Mr. Scarborough said, was meant as an incentive for professors to move toward new course delivery systems that are more cost-effective.

    The Faculty Senate meets Jan. 29 and will discuss the new expectations again, but the discussion likely will have little influence on the changes.

    Courses must be entered into the university’s registration system in February for the fall semester. To cut the fiscal year 2014 budget, the changes must happen now, Mr. Scarborough said.

    Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com, or 419-724-6086.