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.
3 years ago