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The Blue & Gray Press | October 18, 2017

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Policy Upsets Professors

By ANNIE KINNIBURGH

Despite recent changes in policy, a survey of UMW professors indicated continued dissatisfaction with the current administrative strategy regarding faculty course loads.

According to the survey, 50 percent of the 60 professors surveyed said that they were unhappy with their course loads for this semester.

The average course load of a UMW professor is 3.3 courses per semester, according to Acting Provost Nina Michalevsky. She said that 42 percent of full-time faculty members were teaching four courses or more per semester.

According to J. Milton Adams, vice-provost at the University of Virginia, the average U.Va. professor teaches two courses a semester.
“That load has not changed the last ten years, despite faster growth in the number of students,” he said.

At the University of Richmond, the average course load was reduced in 2001 from six courses per year to five courses per year, according to Acting Provost Joe Kent.

Rosemary Barra, vice president of academic affairs, said that the discrepancy between course loads at UMW and at other schools is attributable to differing mission statements.

“The focus of this university is on undergraduate education,” she said. “At other institutions, professors are expected to do more research work outside the classroom, and their course loads are lightened in order to make that possible.”

For some UMW professors, however, the heavy course load has become an insurmountable obstacle.

Stephen Farnsworth, who resigned this spring after 13 years in the political science department, said that his course load was the deciding factor in his decision to leave UMW for a position at George Mason University.

“The schedule is exhausting,” he said. “At George Mason, I’ll be teaching two courses a semester instead of four.”

According to Farnsworth, the pressure of his course load encroached on his ability to complete academic work outside the classroom.

“My courses are better when I research them,” he said. “That many courses limit your ability to do the things that are important to being a professor.”

Of the professors surveyed, 96.6 per cent said that their course load had impeded their ability to do other academic work such as writing academic articles or research papers.

Barra said that although the administration would like professors to be able to complete independent research and is making efforts in that direction, research is not an institutional priority.

“We are not a major research institution,” Barra said. “And our professors are hired primarily to teach.”

Despite the difficulties of their course loads, many professors remain at UMW because of the lack of other options, Farnsworth said.

“It’s hard to get a job in academia,” he said. “It’s hard to get a job here, and it would be hard to get one somewhere else.”

However, he said that the there have been improvements in recent years. Over half of the professors who responded to the survey agreed that the policy regarding course loads has improved since the administration of former president WIlliam Anderson.

A faculty hire plan designed to keep the student-teacher ratio at 15:1 was created under Anderson and halted by former president Frawley, but Barra said that the plan did have an effect before its cancellation.

She also said that this year’s change in general education requirements would ease teaching loads by requiring professors to teach fewer sections of entry-level courses.

“These changes will allow professors to teach more advanced courses that will also coincide with areas of their own research,” she said. “In the long run, they will help.”

Farnsworth said that the improvements were a step in the right direction, but that more changes were required.

“The current dean is making progress,” he said. “The initiatives of recent years have helped and should be retained, but more efforts are needed.”

Farnsworth said that while incremental changes in policy have eased the pressure of too many classes, a true solution to the problem would require a more extreme change.

“What I think the institution needs most—and what the new president should make the top priority—is an across the board teaching load reduction,” he said.

Mikhalevsky said that the university is working toward this end by expanding the number of professors.

“We have been adding faculty positions over the past few years,” she said.

By adding faculty members and changing required courses, Barra said that the administration hopes to eventually decrease the average course load to an even three courses a semester.

“We realize that the course loads of our professors are on the high side and we’d like to see that number go down,” she said. “It would be wonderful to get down to three courses, but any changes will take time.”

However, Farnsworth said faculty concerns regarding the weight of their course loads have intensified over the years, and will continue to do so until substantial changes in policy are made.

“This will continue to be a problem for my friends and colleagues who teach here,” he said. “It’s a major concern for everyone.”