Friday, April 03, 2009

Summer Teaching

So my university has instituted a new policy about summer courses. Historically, if a course made its enrollment and was held, a f-t faculty member would make .9% of her base salary for each course. If a faculty member chose to teach two courses (the maximum allowed), that means that in only 5-8 weeks (depending on the summer term in which the courses took place) a person could make nearly 20% of her annual salary. This approach was intended to encourage f-t faculty (on 9 month contracts) to teach over the summer, which helps students to graduate on time, brings in revenue to the university when students from elsewhere take classes while home over the summer, etc. Indeed, in the past, departments had been rewarded with extra pots of money based on the summer FTE hours that they generated, in addition to the individual benefit of being able to make nearly 20% of one's base salary extra. (We haven't seen that extra money for departments in a few years, I should note.)

Under the cover of the economic crisis, two significant things have happened. First, the administration has decided that summer pay should be prorated based on enrollments. This means that if you don't get x bodies into the seats of your courses, you will not make the full summer teaching salary. Second, the "minimum enrollment" for full salary is higher than the minimum for a course to go. So, for example, let's say one is scheduled to teach a gen. ed. course that has an enrollment cap of 25. In order to get the full salary for teaching the course, one has to have at least 15 students enrolled in the course. (Note: your salary won't increase if you are teaching to a full house.) If, however, only 11 enroll? Now, technically the course still might "go," but the faculty member would only make 11/15 of the salary he/she was expecting when he/she signed up for summer teaching. The faculty member might choose not to teach the class, but the faculty member has to decide no later than 2 weeks before the summer term starts. For a gen. ed. course, this policy is not too transparent: basically, it means that if a faculty member bows out, the department has two weeks to get an adjunct in there (teaching for much, much less). And if 5 students enroll in the two weeks before the course starts? Well, the faculty member who bowed out has no recourse to take the course back. The faculty member is just out the summer teaching.

This change happened pretty much by fiat, and it was announced after summer teaching schedules were made. Now, on the one hand, a person slated to teach a gen. ed. course probably doesn't have a whole lot about which to worry. Those tend to fill in the summer. But what if, in the interest of one's program, one agreed to teach an upper-level undergrad course or a grad level course in one's specialization over the summer? Well. The "minimum" for full pay for those courses is 10. (Yes, the number for undergrad courses and grad courses is the same.) The course that a person agreed to teach may have a significant impact on students' time to graduation, and there are not very many of these offered. At the same time, the audience for such courses is also much smaller. It's not unlikely that one might end up with, say, only 8 enrolled in such a course.

Let's say that there are only 8 enrolled. The faculty member still has the option, two weeks out, to say no to the course. But can another instructor be brought in to teach the course? In this case, no. First, our department policies are such that adjuncts can't teach upper-level undergrad or grad classes. Second, the whole point of these courses is that they are taught by "experts" in the field with specialized training and a specialized point of view. If a colleague of mine was slated to teach a grad level course in restoration drama, really only that colleague would be qualified to teach it. Not only couldn't an adjunct reasonably step in at the last minute, but I or another f-t person couldn't either. We wouldn't be qualified to do so. Also, I question the wisdom of thinking that anyone should prepare an advanced course with just two weeks in which to do so, having never given it a thought before then.

So let's say that the faculty member thinks, "No way, dude! I'm not teaching for less money!" in an upper-level/grad context. That means most probably that the course will be canceled, right? But what if those 8 students all really need the course? Where does that leave them? And who is the bad guy here? The faculty member, right? The university didn't cancel the class. It wasn't technically under-enrolled. The faculty member decided not to teach it, screwing the students, when we all know that faculty members don't really work for the money but rather for their own personal edification and because they are committed to a "life of the mind." Thinking about monetary compensation for work is just gauche in this context, surely.

I'm scheduled to teach two summer courses this summer. I am teaching in the summer because it's a way to quickly erase my credit card debt without a lot of personal sacrifice and to come up with a down payment for a house. If I came into an inheritance, won the lottery, or similar, I would not be teaching in the summer. That's a fact. I am not teaching in the summer because I just love teaching so much. I'm teaching in the summer because I want the cold hard cash. I know. I am a mercenary. I am a bad person.

Now, the one course is a gen. ed. course, and I would be surprised if it doesn't make the minimum enrollment for full pay. Of course, this is still a gamble, but I'm confident. The other course that I agreed to teach, however, is a grad course. I said I'd teach it to help out our DGS, and I did so when the old rules were in place about pay. Priority registration only began yesterday, and there are four students enrolled, and I think another student will likely enroll today. This is a very good sign, right out of the gate. BUT, it's entirely possible that I will not get to 10 students. In my head, I've decided that I would be willing to teach the course as long as I get 8, my personal cut-off. (The course would be good for my research, and I'm willing to take that much of a hit in the service of my research if necessary.) That said, it sucks that I'm in the position of making the call to cancel the course if it only makes it to 7. The reality, though, is that I'm not willing to do 100% of the work of this course if I'm only making 70% of my summer salary for it. The amount that the course would contribute to my research wouldn't make up for that 30% pay cut.


Anastasia said...

this is exactly how they pay adjuncts at my institution. If you have less than ten students, you generally have a choice about whether to go ahead. If you do, your pay is prorated according to the number of students. so if I had nine, I would get 9/10 of my full (crap-ass) pay.

I teach gen ed courses in the regular undergrad program, so this is never a problem. the evening program is another story. There are some classes that never make enrollment but always go forward because the instructor just loves teaching them. Said instructor usually has a full-time job doing something else and does this adjuncting thing because it's nifty.

Yeah. Well. When my course the first half of this semester didn't make, no way was I teaching it as a pro-rated course. I am doing this for money, not love.

This is a problem, though, because my course competes with another taught by a well-liked instructor. I am an unknown, the program is small, and students won't sign up for someone they've never heard of if they can help it. That means my chances of ever making enrollment are not great.

For the second half of the semester, I agreed with the dean that if I had at least 5 in my evening course, I would do it. His view was that my best hope of making a go of it as a teacher in the evening program was to take the financial hit this time, get good evals, and then watch my courses fill up after my students tell their friends and classmates that I am a good teacher.

That's the only reason I agreed to it. Like I said, I am not doing this for fun. I enjoy it, sure. But this is about money.

In the end, I have 11 students in my class, which is perfect. My class is capped at 25, with a 10 minimum, so 11 is ideal--full pay, not full class.

It does suck that you're in the position of making the call, though, instead of the university, especially if students are looking to these courses to help them graduate. That's a really awkward position.

Dr. Crazy said...

Ultimately, I think it's a bad policy all the way around to do this prorating business, whomever the instructor is. It's all very "students as customers" in its approach to education, and I think that it sets a really bad precedent in terms of how we evaluate the value of a class or classes.

That said, I'm less put out by the policy for lower-level required courses, in part because multiple sections of those courses do run throughout the summer terms, and the likelihood of a student being totally screwed is much lower, if the faculty member chooses not to teach a scheduled course. (We can debate about the fact that the policy is a disincentive for permanent faculty to teach in the summer, and the role that this might play in retention/recruitment of students, keeping gen. ed. uniform in terms of what students get out of those courses, etc., but in terms of a student's time to graduation, this policy wouldn't seem to be ridiculously bad in that context.) My problem with the upper-level undergrad and grad courses falling under the same policy is that typically these courses are unique - one section is offered, serving a limited student population, but a student population that *needs* that one particular course. If the instructor cancels, that student could potentially need to pay tuition for a full semester longer than he/she would have had to do if they could have gotten that course in over the summer, or would have to pay to take a credit hour overload in a future semester, which could also hurt the student's ability to excel in courses in that overloaded semester. So the bottom line of the university may win (or come out even) with this policy, but otherwise, well, the whole thing strikes me as diabolical.

I am disgusted that people would prorate adjunct's crappy pay. Disgusted. At least that hasn't been instituted here yet.

Rose said...

Maybe I'm out of touch and naive, but I haven't heard of this way of paying faculty--adjunct and non-adjunct--for teaching. It puts the whole burden on the faculty member, and very little on the institution. It's disgusting. The institution should put a firm limit on the number of students required for the course to make (maybe raise it, in some cases), and pay the faculty member a standard salary not dependent on enrollment.

dr four eyes said...

If I'm remembering correctly, I think my alma mater took this logic one step further for it's continuing education program (targeting "adult"/returning students). Summer classes not only prorated faculty pay by student enrollment, but tied those enrollments to a time line. If X students = full pay, you couldn't just start the class with X students; you had to keep X students enrolled until a certain date (say, week 3 of a 6 week program). If students dropped in week 2 (and were thus entitled to a certain % of refund), then faculty pay was cut as well.

I don't remember all the details--this policy was developed after I left and was recounted to me by a former professor--but you get the gist. My former prof also told me about how another prof had learned to work the system: offer "sexy" classes in the summer and keep the load relatively easy to keep students enrolled. That prof was making lots of money that way (money that served largely to support his kids' college funds).

The faculty pay policy was developed by a business management faculty member who was in charge of the CE program. He did a lot to grow that program and bring a lot of money into the college...but I also heard criticisms that he was so focused on $$$ that students weren't necessarily being well-served.

SEK said...

Second, the whole point of these courses is that they are taught by "experts" in the field with specialized training and a specialized point of view. If a colleague of mine was slated to teach a grad level course in restoration drama, really only that colleague would be qualified to teach it. Not only couldn't an adjunct reasonably step in at the last minute, but I or another f-t person couldn't either. We wouldn't be qualified to do so.

On a basic level, I see your point, i.e. if I designed a course that reflects my very specific interests, it's unlikely that anyone else would be as qualified as I am to teach it. (The whole "you're an expert in your dissertation/book scenario.") But I'm not sure I buy into the idea that being an adjunct generally makes someone unqualified to teach an undergrad course in Restoration drama. I might not be able to, but an adjunct who specialized in Restoration drama certainly would be. I suppose a different way of saying that is this: shouldn't the degree matter when it comes to qualification instead of the employment status? (If the market reflected the distribution of expertise, I could see that being the case.)

Bardiac said...

The prorating thing sucks. Jut blah.

Dr. Crazy said...

SEK - Thanks for your comment, because it gives me the opportunity to clarify what came across a bit muddled. Short answer: I agree with you.

Longer answer: One thing that would prohibit us in my dept. from using an adjunct for such a course is departmental policy, influenced by the preferences of our accrediting agency, that courses that count toward major degree requirements should be taught by full-time faculty. The other issue as I see it is that while in a market like Boston or NYC or San Francisco it might be possible to find contingent labor to teach specialized advanced courses, the reality on the ground at my institution would be that we wouldn't have the restoration drama specialist on call if the full-timer decided to bail on the course. So it's not that a person would by virtue of their employment status not be qualified, but department policy and logistics would get in the way of staffing such a course at the last minute, even if the department wanted to do so.

For lower-level courses (like a comp class or an intro to lit or survey) there's a much bigger pool of potentially qualified instructors, the courses are typically ones that instructors already have a syllabus ready to go if they get a late assignment, and there aren't policies in place to prohibit another person being brought in to staff the course.

I hope that clarifies where I'm coming from on this.

life_of_a_fool said...

I wish our summer teaching pay were a percentage of our salary! I'd make much more for summer teaching that I do if it were 9 % of my salary.

Our university (I believe) has a similar pro-rating policy. All our summer classes are on the continuing ed side (and our evening undergrad classes during the year? I think). They are more flexible about canceling classes, but if it is below the minimum, they may pro-rate it. Luckily, this hasn't happened to me, and the minimum has been low (I think my first summer class had 7 (undergrad) students; that just made it, but it did, and I was paid the full amount).

From your perspective, I think the worst part is that they changed the policy after getting people to agree to teach, so you were making your initial decisions based on faulty info. From your perspective, the solution (in the future) is to only offer to teach classes you are confident will meet the minimum, but if the university/department is explicitly looking for people to teach certain required specialty classes that are likely to have lower enrollments, yeah, someone needs to come up with a better solution.

My university also has a fair number of students who register very late. So, low enrollments may well jump up right as the semester starts. Since they've become much more stringent about canceling low enrollment sections, I know of some people who recruit students to enroll, to protect the class from cancelation, and then withdraw before they're penalized. That wouldn't work under dr. four eyes' alma mater's system, but if there isn't a timeline limit, it may help you this summer.

Janice said...

For our summer courses that aren't part of a regular load redistributed, there's a set $ amount which is prorated if the enrollment falls into the nebulous middle ground between "it's scrubbed" and "it can go on." I believe the administration's been reducing that gap just because it's hard to track and deal with -- now they want the course to make a hard number to go or to be scrubbed.

In order to not have courses called off, many of the faculty resort to postering the campus with advertisements. I don't suppose you can do something along these lines for the grad course?

Dr. Crazy said...

Janice -
I COULD embark on an advertising campaign, but I'm not going to do so. My back-up is that I had them put another gen ed course in the same time slot, and basically I think that if the grad course doesn't go, that one will. If by some quirk of fate both make their enrollments, I'll teach the grad course and an adjunct will get the other gen ed. In a worst case scenario, neither the grad course or the back-up will make, it will take me a few months longer to erase the credit card debt, and I'll just teach one course this summer, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Particularly with the grad class situation, I really think that faculty need to step up and just let the courses be canceled and then students can bitch to the administration, which will result in a policy change, if past situations are any guide in this. Our administration is very about responding positively to student outcry - not so much about listening to faculty outcry. But getting this in motion will require faculty to bite the bullet and to refuse to teach pro-rated classes. We'll see if that happens.

kermitthefrog said...

My institution has a policy like dr. four eyes', with the additional whammy that if you didn't make the cutoff, your pay was calculated on a per-student basis. So (and I don't see any reason to hide the numbers here) if you had 9 students you'd get paid around $4900 for a 6-week class, but less than 9, you'd get paid $500 per student. So teaching 8 students would actually lose you a whopping $900, or almost 20% of your total pay!!

This was almost my scenario this past summer, until my awesome departmental assistant discovered a clause that if a student *had* to take the course to finish up their credits for graduation, the instructor would get full pay no matter what. Of course, the program wouldn't have volunteered that info on their own, but after the assistant pursued it, I got full pay.

Yup. Universities love to screw the adjuncts.

heu mihi said...

Well, here at MY deluxe and faculty-friendly institution, we make $300 per student for summer courses (or so I last heard)--up to the full-pay cut-off, which is a whopping $2100. And until a few years ago, you didn't get paid for scholarship students on the grounds that the college wasn't getting any money from them. So you could teach a fully enrolled course with 6 scholarship students and make $300. For a full-semester course condensed into a four-week period.

Luckily, that second clause has been overturned. But there is so much outrageosity to the system--because here, too, a number of students do need summer courses to graduate. At least we mostly just offer gen eds in the summer, though, so it looks like they do tend to fill up and people can swap them around at the last minute if they need to.

H said...

Hmmm, I have been enjoying your blog... and keep wondering if you are at my institution, though I am STEM so not in your field.

Crazy Universities. The business model simply should not be used for education. If the goals are to keep the "customers" happy and make money, the education part gets lost.

Snarky Prof said...

How teaching is the only profession in which the professionals are also expected to be total martyrs? Even Kohl's doesn't cut your pay if enough customers don't approach your register in the hours you are assigned to work. Gah!

rwellor said...


Heh, I teach a class with 52 students, so I shouldn't ask this, but isn't pro-rating what you should expect if you insist on course caps?

Once you begin this kind of bean counting, should you really be confused when someone else starts the same game?

OTOH we could argue that the students in the smaller class are getting even better instruction and thus should pay more tuition?

I dunno, I'm not sure that if you argue teaching more students requires more pay, that you can then argue that teaching fewer doesn't require less pay.

Dr. Crazy said...

Actually, rwellor, I'm arguing that we should set the standard for how many students should be in a course based on our judgments about what is the best for student learning. I don't think that we should be paid based on bodies in seats at all, because I don't think that education is about number of customers served.

# of students just shouldn't be linked to pay for a course - period. Educators (administrators in conjunction with faculty) should decide what number of students makes sense for a particular course, and then either that course should run or it shouldn't. (Note: I'm not saying a course with 3 students enrolled should run. I'm saying that the university should take responsibility for canceling courses that are under-enrolled.)