Associate dean combats critics

By Sean McClellan

College professors and the arena of higher education have been under fire lately, but one college at NIU is fighting back with statistics of its own.

NIU and other public institutions have been criticized in the media and on Capitol Hill recently for not teaching undergraduate courses and spending teaching time on research.

One of the main concerns raised by a Congressional investigation last week was that graduate assistants (GAs) were teaching more classes than faculty.

In an Associated Press article, the Congressional investigation, which was led by Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., reported that “colleges are charging higher tuition and fees while offering fewer courses and relying more on teaching assistants to instruct undergraduates.”

The article also stated that the traditional 15-hour teaching load for professors has dropped to as low as six hours to allow more time for research.

Joseph Grush, associate dean of NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, disputes the recent wave of professor-bashing. “Those who wish to bash the professorate probably do not know the difference between courses and sections,” he said. “Not only are they bashing the faculty, but they’re bashing the next generation of teachers.”

The Congressional study specifically referred to the numbers of teaching assistants versus the number of tenured faculty who are teaching classes.

Grush produced some statistics of his own which he said disputes the Congressional claims. For example, at NIU, the department of psychology has GAs teaching 30 out of 32 sections of Psychology 102. In defense of this system, Grush said, “Students don’t major in Psychology 102.”

The remainder of the courses needed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology are taught by tenured faculty, he said.

Grush also said although GAs and temporary faculty might teach more sections than faculty members, faculty members teach more types of classes.

However, GAs are not left in a swim-or-drown situation when teaching a section. “(GAs) are supervised by faculty and are not turned loose,” Grush said.

In the psychology department, GAs meet three times a week with tenured faculty and have their classes monitored periodically. In addition, they are trained one week in advance about how they are expected to teach their classes.

“I don’t think you could design a more pedagogically sound way of doing this. How else do you learn to teach without going into the classroom?” said Grush.

The Congressional investigation also uncovered that tuition and fees rose by 141 percent at public four-year schools from 1980 to 1990, and by 12 percent for the 1991-92 school year.