Not that we’re busy or anything

News Item: Gov. Scott Walker said the University of Wisconsin could ask its faculty to teach more classes and do more work to offset funding cuts in Walker’s state budget proposal.

Why this will not go over well with the faculty, from Professor James Hanley, who does not teach in the UW system:

My department completed our program review document last week. On Tuesday I spent most of the day just writing the one page executive summary. (Have you ever tried summarizing a 100 page document in one page, while emphasizing your own tremendous awesomeness and how any imperfections could be solved easily if somebody outside your department would do the right thing while not offending that person who could do that right thing by making it sound like it’s their fault?) On Friday I spent 5 hours reviewing and editing the final draft. And today, Sunday, I am working on a new assignment for my American Government class that will require them to work with real data, which requires long pauses in writing while I think about how to make the directions clear to non-data oriented students.

There are, of course, worse ways to make a living:

This is not to say “pity us poor college profs.” It’s not a bad gig. I worked a lot harder, at much greater personal risk, and for much less pay as a bike messenger. One of my own profs had previously worked at a nitroglycerine factory, until the old guys there — who all had occupational-induced emphysema — told him to get out and go to college so he didn’t end up like them. It’s just to say that the job takes time; that classroom hours are not synonymous with workload; and that Walker can only get what he wants by damaging the impressive reputation of UW-Madison and thereby diminishing the reputation of the state as a whole.

As is often the case with politicians, Governor Walker got this idea into his head, and just having that idea proved to be so invigorating that worrying about things like mere consequences got pushed to the side.


  1. fillyjonk »

    3 February 2015 · 9:47 am

    He also talks about the “invisible” work….the administrative type stuff outside of class, the advising, the committee work. That adds up, and frankly, it’s all the outside-of-the-classroom stuff that wears me down. The worst is dealing with some of the interpersonal stuff, whether it’s serving as a peacemaker or a cheerleader or whatever role is needed that day.

    Also, I think we’re seeing an increase in students who are not well-prepared for higher education, coupled with an increase in the sense of student entitlement (“I pay your salary, so I should get….”)

    I like my job, don’t get me wrong, but when I’m handed yet another stack of forms to fill out and send to Office X Because of Reasons, I just kind of sigh. (newest suggestion: we report attendance on a daily basis, because of Financial Aid…. Given how slow and buggy most of the campus interfaces faculty have to use are, I am just dreading this becoming a reality)

  2. fillyjonk »

    3 February 2015 · 9:50 am

    Also, at least on the campuses I’ve been on, “shared governance” is so different from “unionization.” Shared governance tends to be about coming up with ways to make things work more smoothly and posing them as suggestions that can be taken or not; unionization seems to be about different groups demanding things.

    I taught two extra classes (on top of the 3-4 I normally teach last fall; I do not recommend it.

  3. McGehee »

    3 February 2015 · 9:53 am

    I can come up with a much better argument for reducing university funding: it is a medieval model that has been captured to serve ideological ends — under the false pretext of enhancing economic potential (while forcing its marks to mortgage those speculative futures).

    In the 21st century, we can do better than this.

  4. Tatyana »

    3 February 2015 · 11:21 am

    Having taken Coursera class I can attest personally to very real advantages in online education, without inconveniences of “attendance”, ever-multiplying bureaucratic statistics and skyrocketed prices. The pluses: I can listen to lectures at the time convenient for me; there are forums where students are engaged in lively discussions, occasionally by 3 times more qualified participants than the lector. There are minuses, of course: quality of lectures are not that great (my data is limited to only one course, remember), blind peer-review method of evaluating coursework is counterproductive to a purpose (if I am judged by even less-knowledgeable student, I am getting unfair marks), the sheer number of students (thousands at a time) lives any questions one might have unanswered by an instructor.
    Still, I think this is progressive direction and it’d make sense, both economical and effective, to include improved versions of it as much as possible into educational process.

    All industries have to change with times and choose more lean model of business, I don’t see why academia is an exception.

  5. James Hanley »

    3 February 2015 · 12:39 pm

    I’m not sure what McGehee means by “captured to serve ideological ends,” so I don’t know if I have any agreement with that or not, but it is a medieval model that’s being challenged by innovation right now. In some respects that medieval model isn’t all bad–cloistering oneself for a period of intensive study has it’s advantages. But it was always a model suited for a subset of the population–it’s an elitist model. I hope it doesn’t die out completely, but it should be, and probably will be, limited to a smaller set of institutions, a handful of elite schools. The other schools are going to change. The difficulty is that nobody can really predict the successful model, so we’re in a period of experimentation, which is good, but it means schools are scrambling to figure it out and will be for at least a generation, likely more. And most schools aren’t well suited to the challenge–if we faculty and administrators were really entrepreneurial we’d probably be out making real money. It will all get worked out eventually, but it’s going to be a wild ride getting there.

  6. Francis W. Porretto »

    3 February 2015 · 3:39 pm

    As of 1988 — sorry, I don’t have more recent figures — the average university professor, assistant level and above, taught an average of nine hours per week. If that’s in part due to administrative overhead, perhaps the universities should look at reducing that overhead.

    The University of Wisconsin is a major sinner in several regards. For many years it’s been damned near impossible to graduate there in four years, specifically because of the way the university schedules required courses. Care to guess who benefits monetarily from that arrangement?

  7. mushroom »

    4 February 2015 · 10:52 am

    It’s the administrative personnel at any university or any public school that can easily be reduced. A personal and often-mentioned favorite position is that of “middle school media coordinator”. There’s probably an “assistant middle school media coordinator” and a “senior middle school media coordinator” to go along with that.

    You know how it is often the case that your stuff will expand to fill all your available space. The same thing happens with any publicly funded entity. Personnel will expand to absorb all available monies.

RSS feed for comments on this post