LA&S chairs defend workloads

By Peter Schuh

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a three-part series focusing on a Faculty Senate report on faculty workload and course load. Various departments and programs have come under close scrutiny with the threat of academic surgery by the Board of Regents, where the report will be seen. Today’s piece addresses the departments of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Officials of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences say there is method to what some might perceive as the madness of faculty workload.

Several LA&S higher-ups have stood by their faculty workload policies in response to a report presented to the Faculty Senate by the Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee, which examined NIU faculty workload and course load.

In addition to suggested guidelines on how NIU should review faculty workloads, the report details the maximum and minimum number of courses taught by NIU professors in the 1991-92 school year by department.

LA&S Dean James Norris admitted there were some discrepancies in course loads among the departments within LA&S, but added, “Course load is a very poor measure of a faculty member’s workload.”

Workload is the combination of faculty time spent in instruction of students, research and community and university service.

Several department chairs have stood behind their workload and course load policies in response to the report.

Marvin Starzyk, biological sciences department chair, defended the lower number of courses taught by those departments which deal with laboratory science.

“You have to look at the numbers with a little bit of interpretation,” he said. “Most of our courses are either four, five or even six credit hours, and you have to attach lab sessions onto them. You have to go by the number of courses; you have to see what’s involved in the courses.”

Physics Department Chair John Shaffer agreed with Starzyk’s statement and added, “Traditionally, laboratory sciences teach a smaller number of courses.”

In regard to those faculty members who teach less than the department standard, Shaffer said, “We don’t give people release from teaching loads unless they have funding from other places.”

Starzyk said although this is not always the case in the department of biology, the intention of releases from teaching loads for faculty is to allow them the time to conduct research which will earn them grants.

Additionally, he said the biology department is setting up a new system to more accurately rate the variety of courses taught by faculty members. He said this will help to more easily even out the teaching distribution.

Department chairs in the social sciences also have backed their policies.

Dixon Esseks, assistant chair of the political science department, defended his department’s policy of four courses per year for faculty members. He said nearly all faculty members within the department teach both undergraduate and graduate classes and work regularly on a one-on-one basis with graduate students.

“Almost everyone works with graduate students,” he said. “The one or two faculty who don’t teach three or four classes a semester.”

In addition, William Logue, history department assistant chair, defended his department’s policy which requires full professors to teach four courses a year and associate professors to teach five.

“This is a very strong teaching department as well as a research department,” he said. “I suppose the department’s course load is average or somewhat near that in regard to the college.”

Philosophy Department Chair William Tolhurst expressed his concern about a professor who had taught no courses during the 1991-92 academic year.

He said the professor was allowed to teach extra courses before 1991-92 in order to obtain early retirement. “This did not disadvantage students because he taught the courses in advance. We are concerned about the workload. We do realize the problems students have in finding seats in the classroom.”

Several LA&S chairs agreed with Norris that faculty course load does not necessarily represent workload.

Journalism Department Chair Daniel Riffe added about the report, “I think giving a range can distort (the numbers) because you might have one person teaching one course and ten people teaching three courses and it looks the same if you have ten people teaching one course and one person teaching three courses.”

Norris said he was pleased to see the report.

“One of the things I think this report shows is that the faculty on this campus are deeply involved in the shared governance system and capable of creating great documents.”