Hours in the Classroom

March 4, 2013

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, has proposed in his budget bill that boards of public colleges and universities be given the ability to unilaterally increase the workloads of faculty members.

The proposed change modifies the state code that governs the function of boards at public institutions. Should the budget pass, the code would state that boards "may choose to modify [colleges'] faculty workload policy” to require all full-time faculty members to teach one additional course in one of the next two academic years. The increased workload then becomes the new minimum for faculty members to maintain. ​Faculty members at most public colleges and universities are unionized, and have workload provisions in their contracts, but the proposal would permit the boards to ignore those provisions.

The budget bill requires legislative approval, but both houses of the General Assembly are controlled by Republicans.

The proposed change is the latest in a string of policies or proposals that Kasich has argued will save taxpayer funds and make institutions more effective, but which faculty members say will damage higher education.

“Because it first of all gives universities a choice of raising it or not -- and if you raise them, you have to raise them across the board -- that really puts a great constraint on university administrations,” said Rudy Fenwick, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Akron.

Minimum workloads vary between Ohio's universities. In the sociology department at Akron, Fenwick said faculty members are required to teach at least two courses per semester. Meanwhile, the University of Toledo is considering raising its minimum workload to four courses per semester. Ohio State University has already decided that, if the legislation passes, the institution will not use it to raise workload levels, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Fenwick, who heads the Ohio Faculty Council, which represents four-year college and university professors, warned that raising the workload for full-time instructors could drive top researchers away from Ohio institutions. He also predicted the language would not make it into the final budget bill, despite legislators’ push to brand the change as a cost-cutting measure.

John McNay, professor of history at the University of Cincinnati and president of the Ohio branch of the American Association of University Professors, said Kasich should instead consider trimming the administrative side of higher education to find savings. "One thing we know for sure is that all those administrators are not teaching students," McNay said. "What we need is less vice presidents of this and that and less vice provosts, and we need more faculty."

Both Fenwick and McNay criticized the idea that instructors’ performance should be judged solely by how much time they spend in the classroom, which they said doesn’t take into account the time spent mentoring students and junior faculty, and conducting research.

“It would be like determining the governor’s workload just by the time he spends at his desk,” McNay said.

 

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