A Heavier Load in Ohio

Governor’s plan to force faculty to teach one more class every two years sparks more bitterness.
March 22, 2011

A proposal for Ohio’s faculty members to teach more classes has drawn fire -- even though similar plans have been attempted elsewhere successfully.

In his budget address last week, Governor John Kasich unveiled a plan that included a mandate that professors at public institutions teach one additional course every two years. While significant details remain undefined, the plan is meant to apply to all professors while also providing flexibility for administrators and controlling costs, said Connie Wehrkamp, Kasich’s deputy press secretary. She did not specify how much money the plan would save the state.

It would be left to the new chancellor of the University System of Ohio, Jim Petro, and the Board of Regents to work with colleges and universities to figure out the best way to implement the increased load. Wehrkamp noted that current workload levels result in colleges having to hire additional part-time instructors to cover gaps. The result is that universities spend more money to hire adjunct faculty while effectively denying students access to full-time professors, she said. “This change could reduce costs as well as improve students’ academic experiences,” she said in an e-mail.

Faculty members have been wary of (and even hostile to) the idea. David Witt, professor of family and consumer sciences at the University of Akron and past president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, assailed the plan’s underlying logic and referred to it as “a sequence of non sequiturs.”

Many accused Kasich of hypocrisy. “The governor and others have continuously talked about giving public institutions of higher education more ‘flexibility’ and ‘reliev[ing] them of regulations,' then they try to pass down mandates like this,” said Sara Kaminski, executive director of the Ohio Conference of the AAUP. “It appears that we have a situation on our hands where elected and appointed officials who know very little about the inner workings of higher education are trying to make significant reforms without even consulting the group that the changes primarily affect: professors.”

Tensions between faculty members and the governor and legislature have been especially high since the State Senate passed a bill to strip professors of collective bargaining rights this month (though Kaminski stressed that the AAUP is considering each proposal on its own merits, not opposing it simply because the administration supports the union-killing bill).

Some faculty members expressed concern that Kasich’s teaching load proposal would disproportionately affect junior faculty, who are trying to fulfill teaching, research and service obligations and could find their long-term job security compromised (larger teaching loads might crowd out their research and weaken their bids for tenure). Moreover, faculty members say the elimination of collective bargaining would rob them of their best mechanism to make sure that a plan like Kasich’s would be implemented in the best way possible in each department.

“Having a faculty union is a big help in enforcing faculty development measures,” said Witt. “Without our collective bargaining contract, all that can be swept away as the contract expires.”

It is too soon to tell whether colleges in Ohio would consider lengthening their pre-probationary tenure periods, as some universities and medical schools have done recently. Ohio university and community college officials contacted for this article said they were waiting to see more detail from the governor before rendering an opinion or thinking about changing their policies.

Workloads tend to vary from campus to campus in Ohio, and even from one department to the next. At Miami University, a full teaching load was defined in 2008 as either three courses each semester, or three classes in one semester followed by two the next (both assume a three-credit hour course as the unit of measure). But a resolution reviewed by the University Senate still acknowledges the need for flexibility depending on pedagogical techniques and disciplinary requirements. “Faculty may undertake different mixes of assignments and still be rewarded for helping to fulfill Miami’s mission,” the resolution states, while adding that department chairs, program directors and deans are best equipped to balance faculty and institutional needs. “Faculty time is the university’s most precious resource."

But quantifying how that resource gets allocated, in Ohio and elsewhere, remains a troublesome task. Judging faculty member productivity solely by the number of hours spent directly with students is a common, if flawed, practice -- and can make faculty a tempting target. Linda Chavez, an appointee of President Reagan and a Fox News analyst, recently summed up this strain of conventional wisdom. Citing statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, she described faculty members as overpaid and underworked, spending less than 24 hours per week with students and pulling down close to $80,000.

Those kinds of statistics simply distort the truth, say many professors and others. Several said that face-to-face time with students during class or office hours represents a small piece of what they do. Their jobs might begin with teaching, but often include conducting their own research, advising doctoral or master’s students on their theses, and serving on committees and other duties. Such work cannot neatly be captured on a timesheet, though some institutions, including Kean University, in New Jersey, have tried to make faculty members do so.

Even some in Ohio who have advocated against collective bargaining for faculty have echoed this argument. “As people who are inside higher ed know, professors have different responsibilities,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, who mentioned community activities and research as other labor-intensive areas of work in which professors are likely to engage. “Getting too focused on classroom hours without understanding the full details is a mistake.”

Johnson, who has said he hatched the legal reasoning that stripped faculty members of their right to collectively bargain, added that he rejected the top-down philosophy embedded in Kasich’s workload proposal. “I don’t think that the legislature or anyone in the governor’s office should be establishing such a specific policy,” he said.

At the same time, proposals to boost the workload of professors are not new. The chancellor of the University System of Maryland, William E. (Brit) Kirwan, garnered kudos nationally for adopting an “Effectiveness and Efficiency Initiative" in 2003 that has led to $130 million in cost reductions, according to the system.

That initiative held down tuition increases, standardized credit requirements for graduation, boosted enrollment and improved academic programs, among other measures. It also streamlined administrative and human resources functions -- which many professors in Ohio would welcome. "Since most of our university presidents seem so keen on gaining additional ‘fiscal flexibility’ at our expense, I would like to see any sort of similar documentation of the substantive contributions made by upper-level university administrators either to our individual universities or to the economic vitality of our state," said Marty Kich, vice president of the AAUP at Wright State University, and a professor of English.

But the Maryland initiative also increased teaching loads by 10 percent -- with the loads measured according to department rather than by individual faculty member, so that different levels of teaching and research could be accommodated. "Even though faculty teaching loads increased 10 percent, faculty largely supported the measure, because it was focused on improving student learning," Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, wrote in Inside Higher Ed in 2007.

That kind of shared purpose has been lacking in Ohio, according to several AAUP representatives. “Part of the problem with the increased teaching load proposal, and other Kasich administration proposals related to higher education, is the fact that faculty have been left out of these discussions completely,” said Kaminski.

“If the governor wants faculty buy-in, he has to be willing to have a conversation with us,” she added. “But the attitude from the beginning has been ‘get on the bus or get run over.’ ”

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