Thursday, October 11, 2007

Collaboration, Pedagogy, and the Realities of My 4/4 Load

And some other things too.

In the comments to this post, Rokeya and I have been having a conversation, a conversation that emerged from a passing comment that I made about a syllabus I'm developing, which then led to the following question from Rokeya:

Moving on, I am curious about the etiquette at your institution in terms of enlisting the help of colleagues for these kinds of teaching-related issues. For instance, would it necessarily be read as a burden if you approached a colleague about this, or would your colleague feel honored that you would try to draw on his/her expertise and thus be likely, time permitting, to agree? The reason I ask is that this seems to be something very much determined by institutional and departmental constraints that I would like to hear more about. If the answer to the above question is "it would be seen as a burden," this brings up a really interesting and important question about what kinds of limits one finds at a teaching-intensive (here I mean 4/4 load) institution for feminist collaboration, or collaboration period, especially with regard to teaching.

In a comment prior to this one, Rokeya had suggested that I invite a colleague to come in to guest lecture on a topic that is not directly in my area of expertise. In my reply to her, I had noted that I thought that it was a good idea, but that I wasn't sure whether it would be practically possible, or whether such a request would be fair to one of the colleagues in question. And so now, I want to do a fuller post in response to this question, because I feel like it's a question that often doesn't get asked or answered, really. Before I begin, though, let me just state: I'm talking about my particular institutional context only. I would never suggest that all "teaching-intensive" universities look like mine, or that everyone's experiences would be the same. With that in mind, I welcome people to comment if their experiences differ from mine.

With this in mind, let me provide some context for what things are like at my institution. We are a relatively new (read: late-60's, early-70's) university. Historically, we have been funded way below similar regional institutions in my state, let alone the gap between us and the flagship and other main research institution in the state. When the university was founded, there were no local community or technical colleges in our area of the state, and so the university in many ways filled both a community college and a university role. It began as an entirely commuter campus, a place where people enrolled if they had absolutely no other options. I am in a very conservative area, with a lot of racial divisions and in which misogyny (or at the very least an accepted sexism) is pretty common both at the institutional level and in the student population. My campus is almost entirely white, even with efforts to "internationalize" and to increase ethnic diversity in terms of ethnic minorities from the United States. Now, my university is changing rapidly. We started with a mission that was all about educating the masses. While that is still the mission in many ways, just in my time on the tenure track here, we've stopped being totally open-enrollment, and the mission has become much more community-oriented, while at the same time research expectations are increasing. I don't think we'll ever be a research university, nor do I think we aim to be, even with the increased emphasis on developing grad programs (which tend to be "applied" programs). There's a big emphasis on us being a new kind of university, which is both exciting and difficult. That said, our teaching load is the teaching load of our inaugural mission, and does not reflect the true expectations in play for acquiring tenure. Teaching alone is NOT the thing that will get you tenure here anymore. Don't let the teaching load fool you.

It's also important to note that at my university there is a culture of dropping out after tenure for many faculty members. Unlike at other institutions, junior faculty bear the brunt of newly more rigorous service expectations. This isn't true for all tenured folks, for many around the university and within my department are very active. That said, many also feel like tenure affords them the option of ignoring the changing mission of the university.

What this has meant for me is the following:

  1. I do an extraordinary amount of service. In the first year, I was basically protected. I was on one pretty inactive department committee, and I judged some writing contests. After the first year, things increased exponentially. First, service is huge here. We must demonstrate service in at least three areas in order to achieve tenure: department, university, and community. Professional service is also highly desirable. Because of the recent emphasis on "community" in terms of the university mission, community service has become the most visible (and most important) kind of service that one can do. This must be connected to one's field in order to count (so no, you can't just volunteer at a soup kitchen or something). In some fields, this is easier to accomplish than in others. In some specialties within my own field (note: not my specialty), this is easier to accomplish than in others. Another thing to note is that the university no longer counts advising as service for tenure/promotion purposes. It is "teaching" apparently. (Obviously I think this is bullshit, actually for a great many student-centered reasons, but never mind that for the moment.) If I were to average the time that I spend on service, as if it didn't happen in big clumps but rather happened in regularly scheduled time slots every single week, I would average that I spend 5-8 hours a week on service. (Clearly it doesn't really work that way though - some weeks include like 20 hours on service, some weeks none.) I should note that when I was on the market last year and interviewed, people noted on more than one occasion that they couldn't believe the amount of service I'd done and that was expected, in the context of telling me that they wouldn't expect such things of me. I should also note that my mentors were astonished that I'd managed to publish at all - let alone the amount that I have done - given my service load.
  2. Research, while not really rewarded, is valued (nominally, as it increases the prestige of the institution) and expected. The minimal expectations are two conferences a year and one published article in a peer-reviewed journal at the time that one goes up for tenure. Not onerous, really, but given the vagueries of academic publishing, this can be stressful, unless one has absolutely no life. This has not been stressful for me because of a series of happy accidents and because I have absolutely no life.
  3. Teaching is a 4/4 load. Three of the four courses are definitely going to be "service" courses, and typically two of those service courses for me have meant teaching composition. Note that I am not a composition specialist and that composition has nothing at all to do with my research. Also note that composition is grading-intensive, and the majority of comp courses at my university cap at 22 (the NCTE guideline for caps in composition is something like 16) and when I began it was 24. The third "service" course is typically a survey or a course like introduction to literature. The fourth course is one in one's specialty BUT. If you don't make your minimum enrollment, then you will be given a fourth service course. If you do not teach upper-level non-service courses in your specialty, you will have difficulty getting tenure. On top of this load, I have approximately 25 advisees. I'd estimate that about 10 of them want to meet with me each semester. These meetings take approximately 30 mins. each. On top of those "official" advisees, it's not unusual to advise students who are not officially assigned to me, so add another five to that original number of ten per semester. But so for the four courses, we've got 12 hours a week in the classroom, and probably a minimum of 12 hours a week for prep (before you've got the courses under your belt, maybe less if you've taught things multiple times). This is not counting time that you need to spend reading novels and such. It also doesn't count grading time, which you probably spend at least 3 hours a week on top of prep doing (and that's a conservative estimate, imagining that you're the most efficient and organized person in the world). This does not count time spent responding to student emails or meeting with students. Add another two hours per week for that (again, a conservative estimate).
You'll notice that I allotted no hourly estimate for research. Let's just add up the teaching and service for the moment. That puts one at 39 hours, approximately, ignoring the research component of the job. That figure also ignores responsibilities like department meetings or "visibility" things like chatting with colleagues in the hall or attending workshops about teaching or advising or whatever, which are also essential for achieving tenure, as if one isn't "visible" then people think you're not really "committed" to the institution. (I've got a colleague who had a baby last summer, and she often is scolded for not being more "visible" - even though in her first year-and-a-half at our institution she's served on a search committee and taught 11 service courses.)

So, this has been a long explanation of my situation. Let's return to the question at hand about collaborative teaching. Any request on top of that load is a burden. Even if one wants to do the thing that is being requested. Even if one believes in the thing that one is being requested to do. Any request cuts into one's life, and most requests are almost entirely invisible given the number of "required" things. If you are a committed person, and you do a good job at the tasks you take on, you are only given more things to do. If you are a slacker, there are few consequences, particularly after tenure. Any thing that you agree to take on as "extra" takes away from something that you "must" do. This is true even for me, a person who has a fairly mainstream and conservative field of specialty and research interests. I have friends who specialize in areas that contribute more to the "diversity" mission, and they are not merely overburdened - they are assaulted by any request above and beyond the minimum. And if they say no to whatever is requested, they will face dire consequences for doing so. And yet, they face dire consequences for saying yes, too.

This week, in the brief interactions I've had with all but one of my colleagues (and that one is on sabbatical and has a specially titled professorship), everyone has dark circles under their eyes and is entirely harried. Overworked. Lost. Part of what needs to happen is a reduction in teaching load, which would fall in line with the true mission of the university as it now stands. Except that some of the old guard (some of whom have been around since the early 70s) don't really recognize the ways that the university has changed, or if they've recognized those changes, they think that they are a bad thing, and so they resist that change, because it would mean that the university that they will retire from won't be the same university that they signed on for. And so because the 4/4 works for them (because the new requirements aren't something that they have to address, because they've been tenured for 20 or 30 years), they resist moving to a lower load. They also resist expecting more of the students who enroll, because they think that the students in 2007 have the same issues that students in 1977 had. The administration isn't invested in moving to a lower load because it will affect the bottom line, and this is a business, at the end of the day. So expectations increase, and they do so on the backs of the faculty, and particularly on the backs of junior faculty. Our university has "always been one where faculty do more than the minimum," and if you don't agree to do so, then you're not "collegial" or you're not invested in the success of the institution. Again, this affects can affect one's ability to achieve tenure comfortably.

So what "opportunities" are there for feminist pedagogy and collaborative teaching? You know, I don't know. I feel like my department is actually really humane when it comes to recognizing the pressures that faculty face at this institution. That said, we're still overburdened. My colleagues still don't have enough hours in the day. Since coming here, seriously, I've not thought in any real way about the possibilities for collaboration that Rokeya suggests in her comment. I've seriously not thought about much other than keeping my head above water.

And so on to the "other things" that I promised. I'm not sure that it's fair to expect any professor, male or female, feminist or non-feminist, in any institutional context, to be collaborative in their teaching or to address any particular issues in depth in their classroom if those are not in the professor's field of expertise. I certainly don't expect my colleagues who focus primarily on race/ethnicity to invite me into their classes to guest lecture on issues surrounding sexuality or gender that they don't concentrate on in their own work, nor do I expect them to offer the focus that I would offer on those issues in their classrooms, when those are not their areas of expertise. What I would hope is that they would encourage students to take a course or two with me. I would hope that they would acknowledge their own weaknesses and direct them to courses that would supplement those weaknesses. This is not to say that I believe we should ignore those things that we are not expert in, but it is to say that it is not pragmatic in all situations to give full voice to every single issue in every single class. And in a job situation like mine, I am reluctant to pile more work on the backs of colleagues who already are overworked. I'd much rather say, "Hey, we're not addressing these issues in depth in this class, but if you want to explore them more deeply you should take Dr. Postcolonial's class next semester because it's really great and you'll learn a ton." That helps students, because it means they'll get a more in depth treatment of things that I couldn't adequately cover, and it helps my colleagues, because it will mean that they won't need to worry about their upper-division enrollments, their courses not making. Again, this doesn't erase the necessity to address multiple perspectives in a given course. But it does mean that one need not address all perspectives (whether they have to do with race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, class, The Canon, whatever) in a full way in every single course that we teach. We have colleagues, and a full curriculum in a major, for a reason. It's because all people can't do all things, nor should they, I think. My students need my perspective. Not as the one true perspective, not as a perspective in which weaknesses aren't acknowledged, but as an expert perspective about the things that I've studied for years. I'm not certain of the value of diluting that perspective in favor of addressing things in depth that I'm not really qualified to address in depth. Note that I'm not in any way saying that it's ok not to address race/ethnicity at all, or that it's ok not to address any other issue (class, gender, sexuality, whatever) that is pertinent. But given the practical realities of what it is to teach at an institution like mine, I do think it's ok to address an issue in a less than expert way and then to direct the student to another course if they want to study that issue in depth. I don't think that such choices constitute bad pedagogy. I don't think that such choices necessarily constitute tokenizing or marginalizing pedagogy. I think that such choices constitute a viable option, a responsible option, for dealing with complex issues that have no easy answers.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

this is an excellent post, and has given me something to think about. I think I'm going to post the question on my blog: What are your teaching/research/service expectations? Do you feel they are reasonable, in the context of your own institution?

Sisyphus said...

Wow. That is a lot of service. And a lot of comp.I haven't caught up on the proposed course post yet, but I'm sure it's got lots of good stuff in it.

The Constructivist said...

what you wrote about time and service rings true of my institution as well, although teaching loads vary depending on how much departments have compromised on class size. in mine, for instance, we cap our classes at 25 in our 4-class semester and at 30 in our 3-class semester, but history and philosophy, which expect more research production, have accepted a deal where they get a 3-3 in exchange for 1 large lecture course per year per faculty member. so the expectations for tenure vary by department here, which is something a university-wide task force is looking at closely here (in response to pressure from state central to incorporate letters from outside reviewers of your tenure file--ugh).

i've been able to invite lots of people to an interdisciplinary course in multiethnic studies this semester, but typically, yeah, you're on your own and are fortunate just to get someone to cover a class you have to miss for an emergency (I just had a great time running the discussion in our chair's senior seminar section, the last before break, on a work I've never read, and several others can be counted on to step up, but most times it's easier just to cancel the class).

we've managed to get our comp class maxes down to 20 over the years, but that still doesn't make it any easier to teach, and we've been relying more and more on part-time faculty and TAs to offer enough sections and still cover our heavy gen ed responsibilities, responsibilities to concentrators from the School of Education, and, of course, to our own majors. That many of us are/have been heads of interdisciplinary programs is another factor impacting what courses we offer and how the service load is distributed among us. Fortunately we haven't had the newly tenured burnout issue crop up, despite many of us starting families, so new faculty are protected a bit--but still, any service at all is going to strike a new Ph.D. as amazingly difficult and time-consuming.

Anyway, thanks for the great post and for giving those of us at similar institutions to yours much food for thought/comparison.

Dean Dad said...

Excellent post.

The manager in me can't help but see a bright, direct line between 'overburdened new faculty' and 'people dropping everything the minute they get tenure.' That's a sign of crappy management. And resolving the conflict by intensifying it is a sign of horrific management.

Condolences on having morons running the place.

rwellor said...

Dean Dad may have put his finger on what this 'overload' does when he says

The manager in me can't help but see a bright, direct line between 'overburdened new faculty' and 'people dropping everything the minute they get tenure.

You work in the mines and then when you see daylight why wouldn't you run?

But as someone who has worked in marketing, instruction and tech support I will always be here to say that when we in education whine about our workloads we should be cognizant of the fact that our work doesn't slowly break us down.

And instructors/profs get overload, summers, holidays, sabbaticals, and many other benefits that few other jobs get.

Not saying we can't bitch about workload (though I'd try to separate my bitches about workload from bitches about procrastination), but saying we really need to step back an put it in context.

We don't lay tile, we don't work barges and we don't get minimum wage.


We win..