Sunday, January 25, 2015

ASU Modifies Plan Forcing Instructors To Teach 5/5.

Arizona State University angered many of its faculty members last month when it announced that it was upping full-time, non-tenure-track composition instructors’ teaching loads to five classes per semester from four, without any additional pay.


  1. from Ilene in Indianola:

    Let's be clear about this. 10 sections of comp, 25 students each section, over the year, for $36k before taxes.

    Let us hear from writing instructors on the feasibility and desirability of that kind of contract.

  2. From the school's standpoint, it's feasible. Obvi.

    From the standpoint of the the people teaching: NO.

    Lots of CCs have 5/5 loads, but their starting pay is also higher than $36k. The Crampicle reports that a FT CC prof salary averages at $72k. For someone with a PhD.

    That said, this is the trend. My system is facing a "worst case scenario" cut of $300 million in the next budget, due out Feb. 3. They are also going to try to change shared governance and tenure. What is going to happen if that goes through? Class sizes will go up. Salaries (already among the lowest in the country, at least in my part of the system) will not. We will be expected to do more, and to be fucking grateful we still have jobs. That is the gist of the paltry $4k uptick (from $32 to $36K for a PHD SALARY). Be fucking grateful you have a job, because in composition they're stacked up behind you just waiting to get a chance to get their "dream job."

    Fucking hell.

  3. Let's do math. Five times 25 is 125 students per semester. Assume each student writes twenty pages a semester (woefully inadequate to teach writing) and you let them revise those 20 pages once (woefully inadequate level of revision). That's 40 pages per student. That's 5000 pages of grading per semester. Assume you write three comments per page on average (ha!) and one hundred words of summary comments (ha!!) per paper. that 15,000 marginal comments and (assume three papers, each one revised once, for six total), that's 75,000 words written over a semester. That's roughly equivalent to a medium sized popular novel.

    Yeah. That'll work.

    Stupid fucks.

    1. Oh, and make sure you do that within 40 hours a week.

    2. Oh, assuredly.

      Your comment is just the most depressing fucking thing I've read all day.

    3. Heck, if you've got 125 students, if you give them an assignment that takes *5* minutes to read/respond to in some way, you've just made yourself 10+ hours of work (not counting eating, bathroom breaks, or breaks to tear your hair out out of sheer frustration/boredom/desperation, and/or put your head on the desk and sob). If you're really efficient and manage to read such assignments in 3 minutes (and, honestly, there's very little that you can actually read and respond to in less than that), it's only 6 hours' work (which might translate to 8 once you allow for idiosyncratic responses, and, you know, being human and not able to keep up the pace for 6 hours straight). And remember that best practices in composition pedagogy call -- rightly, in my experience -- for lots and lots of these little "scaffodling" assignments, in addition to the major papers.

  4. No, I don't think it's feasible, or desirable, or wise, or anything else than penny-wise and pound-foolish.

    I know that some community college instructors manage a 5/5 load somehow (I don't know how, though I do know that full-timers at our local cc have supplemental "tutorials" associated with developmental comp built into their load, so they're often really teaching something more like two six-credit comp developmental courses with minimal additional prep for the additional 3 credits in each of those classes, plus one additional lit or more advanced comp class, which sounds marginally more feasible).

    From my own experience, I know that I can, by doing some streamlining/cutting corners (choose your interpretation), just manage to keep up with a 4/4 all-writing-intensive load (provided I don't get sick or try to do too much in the way of research, writing, conference-attending or major non-academic projects during the term). I could easily spend the same amount of time on a 3/3 load all-comp load (which would come closer to the ADE guidelines mentioned in the article), and my teaching would be the better for it (some cut corners could be restored, and I could maybe get sick during the term now and then without complete chaos descending). A 3/3 load would also allow me to spend a bit more time trying to get students who have disappeared from the class (usually because they're overwhelmed, as much by other aspects of their lives as by the course itself) re-engaged, providing extra help to those who are present but struggling, and/or spending a bit of extra time with those who are doing very well, and could use encouragement to stretch beyond the basic requirements of the assignment. I could also do a bit (but only a bit) of service/research "on the clock" (which I'd very much like to do).

    College writing is a tremendously complicated endeavor, requiring students to draw on all sorts of skills, from critical thinking and research to organization at all levels to citation to basic grammar, that most are still developing. Even if students have the beginnings of all the necessary skills, a good assignment will push them beyond their comfort level in one or more areas, and, if they respond to that impetus, the result is often quite messy on one or more technical levels. Or they write something technically correct but intellectually vapid/unambitious. It's exhausting as well as rewarding work, but any one human being can only do so much of it in a day, a week, or a semester. If pushed too far, we have to let something drop, which usually means either grading the hell out of grammar, citation, and other stuff with clear-cut "right answers," but barely engaging with students' ideas (which makes it very, very hard for the later teacher trying to push critical thinking), or trying to read past the technical mess and concentrate on the ideas (which leads to later teachers tearing their hair out, wondering why we don't "teach students to write," while never noticing that, underneath all the grammatical errors, there are actually some pretty sophisticated ideas). If we're going to pay attention to all aspects of student texts, we (and anyone who teaches a writing-intensive course in any departments) need a lot of time per student, which means small classes and relatively few of them.

    1. "It" in para. 4, sentence 4 = responding to student writing. The writing teacher doesn't always (ever?) get it right on the first pass, either.

  5. @CC: So that explains it. I'm one of the "later teachers tearing [my] hair out" over my students' writing. Most of mine have neither the mechanics down nor the "pretty sophisticated ideas", but now that I understand better what my colleagues are up against, I will look harder between the sentence fragments and malaprops.

    It is disheartening to hear that most of your students are "developing" skills in grammar. I still think of those as middle-school material. Community colleges (like mine) admit all comers, but when schools *can* have admission standards, why don't they?

    (That's a rhetorical curmudgeonly question.)

    ASU used to have a strong reputation in my field. Now it seems to be aiming for the status of U of Phoenix. Has anyone else noticed the NPR underwriting ads touting ASU's 100% online degrees?