Thursday, March 12, 2015

Different Worlds, Different Teaching Loads, What is Right?

One issue that has arisen in connection with the article you must not download is how many courses law professors should be expected to teach each year. At my school it is 9 credit hours which usually means 3 courses a year. A commentator on my last post writes:

"I only have my own observations and anecdotes to back this up, but my understanding is that this "4-course-load/7th-year-sabbatical" arrangement is pretty common in legal academia, and that 3-course loads to allow for scholarship and frequent sabbatical semesters are only common among the more elite schools and some of the wealthier non-elites."

 Frankly, I too only have anecdotes and do not know what the average is. Here at Florida the 9 hour load is very imbedded. In fact, in a recent strategic plan it was proposed that every fifth year we teach 12 hours to allow for smaller classes in the first year. That would be an extra course every 10th semester. The resistance was so strong that that part of the proposal had to be dropped in order to ensure passage of other components. In fact, as I understand it, we all technically teach 12 hours but somehow end up with 9 if we say we will do research and the 9 has become what people believe they are entitled to.

Almost certainly the number of courses or hours should not be simple a matter of  inertia or threats that the faculty will balk at other important changes unless it gets its way. Plus, to me at least, the number of students taught and how productive someone is with respect to meaningful scholarship should figure into the calculation. A nine hour load for some people who have taught the same course for 20 years and teach 80 or 90 students a year is a different teaching load than someone teaching 9 hours that includes a new course and 100 students. In the first example, 12 or 15 hours seems fair;  in the second, 9 hours is enough.

In short, framing the issue as 9 hours or 12 hours or 15 hours misses the point. Ideally teaching loads would vary depending on the difficulty of the actual teaching. That is not to say that people do not have different teaching loads but I have yet to detect an actual institution and student benefit-based approach to these differences. In fact, once there was a dean who, when asked to explain the differences in teaching loads, seemed to have a great deal of difficulty coming up with any reason why some people taught more and some less.

Maybe a good starting point is this: Everyone starts with 12 hours. Those who opt for no research or are teaching less than 100 students in courses they have taught for years are elevated to 15. (Rapidly changing courses that require a huge amount of prep no matter how many times taught would not fall into the "easy prep" category.)  I am sure they will consider that fair,  right? OK, maybe not. Those who present a research proposal that addresses an important issue of public importance would get 9.  The reduced load would be a case by case decision  like a research grant in other disciplines. I won't hold my breath.

Did I say do not download that article?


James Milles said...

It's not just elite schools that have a 9-hour course load. It also includes schools that want to be elite, or that want to recruit faculty who might otherwise go to an elite school, or even a peer or aspirational peer school.

Scott Bauries said...

James, I'm the one who made the comment referenced, and I agree with you, but how many schools out of the 200-plus law schools in the United States is that, really? I would say (again based only on my own observations and anecdotes from others) most of the "top 50," plus a few others outside that group that have more money to spend than most--perhaps a half dozen. The question arose for me because the article assumes a baseline teaching load of 12 credits, which is uniformly reduced across the board to 9 credits to account for scholarly production. This raises two issues:

First, is the 12-credit baseline the correct one, if what is meant by it is the number of credits that a faculty member who does not do any scholarship would otherwise be teaching?

Second, assuming that is the case, is it plausible that the three-credit (25%) reduction applies across the board?

I find the paper's answer to the second question implausible. Giving due respect to what you and Jeffrey say, I would predict that, if we were to survey the nation's 200-plus schools for average teaching loads, the average would be closer to 12 credits than to 9.

But that may not even matter if the answer to my first question above is "no." I think it probably is. My teaching load normally is 12, but if I did not have/get to do any scholarship, I could certainly handle at least 18 hours in the same space of time, and I think that counter-factual is the one the paper is actually trying to get at.