Thursday, April 21, 2016

Big Thirsty: Fewer Students or More Money? From Cassandra.

Ben alluded in a recent comment to the difficulty of giving students the individual consideration they want, and may need, when one teaches many students at once (which is further compounded, as he points out, when teaching 400 students officially represents only 30% of one's job). 

This reminded me of a perennial debate among my full-time contingent colleagues.

All of us would like to have a lower teaching load (we're currently at 4/4 with no service or research requirements; would like to see 3/3 or 4/3 with service and perhaps some sort of research leave/reduction possible now and then), and feel we'd serve our department and our students better in those circumstances. 

At the same time, all of us want (and many of use need) to make more money (our tenure-track colleagues, who make at least 1/3 more, are justifiably complaining that they can't keep up with the local cost of living; the same, of course, is even more true for us, and our part-time colleagues, who make even less, really can't stay in that capacity for long unless they have some sort of savings/equity from prior stages in life, or another income source in the household). 

We suspect that if we make progress on one issue, we'll then be told that said progress makes progress on the other issue impossible.  It's probably out of our hands, but we still occasionally discuss which we consider the higher priority. 

Personally, I used to concentrate on the load, but have more or less figured out how to manage that, and, much as I long for the sort of input and inclusion service might (but only might) bring, I tend to focus on the money.  Others come down on the other side of the question, and I understand and respect their reasoning (in fact, I think they've probably go the welfare of their students more at heart, though I suspect the welfare of mine would be improved by my taking the occasional summer off, which is probably what I'd do with the money. Also, it would be all too easy to officially lower the load and then raise the course caps, which in my case would result in the functional equivalent of the same load, give or take a few hours in the week in the classroom). 

I realize CMers have varying loads (including 4/4 and even 5/5 with service and summer work, 6/6 on several campuses with shitty pay and no benefits, etc., etc.), but I'm wondering:

Q. If you had to choose just one, would you choose to have higher pay or fewer students? 


  1. If it was a lot fewer students, like teaching a class of 25, I'd take that. It's more fun to teach and they learn more when I can do something other than write on the whiteboard for an hour. I'd even teach an additional class like that because the whole process is more rewarding for me and the students. (I teach 2/2.)

    Now, if you're talking about lowering my 100 student section to 80, I'd just take the money. Those fewer students will not fundamentally change the classroom environment. My choice might be different when I'm grading the 75th exam and I've still got a ways to go.

  2. I'd definitely go for the money, because no matter what happens, I never get fewer students. No matter what is promised to me, no matter what the rules supposedly are, a few more students slip into my big (100+) introductory physics and general-ed astronomy classes, always. Often, it's more than a few.

    More money at least has the prospect of being self-limiting. If the university administrators were to realize that the extra money to pay me was straining the budget, MAYBE they'd give me fewer students.

    Maybe...I hate it whenever as soon as I finish writing a sentence, I realize what a hopelessly naive, utopian science geek I obviously am for writing it. I know perfectly well that they will just cram in more students, and if they decide they don’t want to pay me any more for any extra students, they will then cram in more extra students, regardless.

    And of course they also expect a vigorous research program that involves students, too. That goes without saying: or apparently, much or any thought.

    1. P. S. I've had a similar choice in the past, between research grant funding or release time from teaching to do research. Experience has shown to go for the funding, because it's real and doesn't evaporate just before the beginning of the new semester, unlike release time. And of course, as a hopelessly naive, utopian science geek, it took me more than one "early-semester surprise" to catch on to how this goes.

    2. Come to think of it, the reason that funding doesn't evaporate during the first week of a new semester is that it can't be taken away from me if I've already spent it, immediately upon receipt. Never mind holding any back for spare parts, learning from experience, etc. Say...if I get back to work on that disintegrator gun, I could make students do that, too.

  3. Pay me until the students and the admins start to believe that what happens in the classrooms and the library and at the study desk is something more than "a hoop to jump through" or something to buy.

    I hate typing that. I'd retire this semester--if health care benefits were not tied to employment.... but that's for another discussion.

  4. More students for more pay is already a decision I've *made*! I started at 3/3/1 which wasn't so bad. I wrote some articles in my spare time and got most published. And while I got paid little money by the publishers, my school has an incentivization program for writing stuff. It honestly feels like meeting sales quotas (the more you write, the more each piece of writing is worth up to a certain cap, depending on your seniority) but I definitely won't argue with money.

    Pay is tied directly to how many courses you teach and last summer my Dean stopped me and said "Hey, you wanna take on some more courses."

    And I leaped at the chance. So now I'm going to be 4/4 and I'm wrangling with scheduling to get three summer courses (summer courses are awesome to teach; almost exclusively competent, professional people who are going back to get their degree and they pay more money).


  5. Depends. Our classes are a pretty nice size already, but if fewer students meant fewer sections, I'd take that over higher pay in a heartbeat. Even a 4/3 would make an appreciable difference; 3/3 would be a miracle.

    1. Preps do matter. Since I teach almost entirely a single course (which comes in different disciplinary versions, but my approach, which is inquiry-based, is very similar in all sections, in part because students tend to sign up for the section that will fit their schedule rather than the one they're supposed to take because it fits their discipline), that doesn't really play a role in my calculations, except when I dither over whether to request a lit class (which comes along once in a blue moon) or not. When I do get one, I am reminded that adding even one prep (especially a new one) to a 4/4 load does, indeed, make a huge difference in workload.

      I don't know how people who do 4/4 and 3 or even 4 preps do it. I did do that once or twice, when I was younger, in visiting position, but I can't remember how (which may say something not only about my relative youth and energy compared to now, but also about the traumatic, or at least overwhelming, nature of the experience).

  6. Frod points out the realities, but as long as we're dealing in the fantastical, at this point, I'd take meaningfully smaller class size. That could be accomplished, e.g., by hiring more faculty to share the load.

    More money will not put the years back on my life that I am losing because I don't get enough sleep or exercise. I have no free time in which to take reasonable vacations in which I'd spend that money now. At my current pace, even if I retire early, I doubt I'll have many years of "deferred vacation" till declining health renders my current plans unworkable. A large fraction of what hasn't been spent on healthcare will go to the state upon my premature death.

    I am not a limitless wellspring of fucks; there are only so many fucks I can give, and there is no amount of money that could make me give another. I would like to distribute my fucks more equitably amongst a smaller group of students. I am close to the point where I am on my last fuck, a very important fuck at that: it's that I give a fuck about giving a fuck. If that one is taken from me, it will not benefit my employer or myself.

  7. "I am not a limitless wellspring of fucks" heh

  8. More money. I'm on a 4/4 with quite a bit of service, but reasonable class sizes: 25-30. I've learned to manage the grading load, but not the lack of pay. Still making considerably less than I did in my previous career that ended more than a decade ago.
    -- Agnes of Dog

  9. I'm astonished at how much a smaller class reduces my work (I teach remedial writing). My class last semester was 17 students, and almost killed me. My class at this point (they dropped like flies right around the withdraw date) is down to 6. Grading take a fraction of the time. I can spend more time one-on-one. The amount of prep. time is the same...

    I don't know. I think I would be happier with fewer classes (or students) than with more money.

    1. As Madame Librarian states, it truly does depend on the type of class taught.

      One year, I taught a 4/4 load (with a research side job) as an adjunct at 2 schools. For one course, I had an office; for the others, I had to meet with students for office hours in the hallway, cafe, or some other public venue. 4 of the courses were writing intensive; the other 4 had writing components like multiple short papers and essay exams (which, in retrospect, I should have tossed in favor of multiple choice tests).

      It was too much work. I made about $34k that year, which sounds GREAT! Except, oops, I lived in an expensive metro area, and even the rent on my vermin-ridden, one-room hovel wasn't covered by what I cleared for 2 courses per term.

      The kicker was the class sizes. As a newish instructor of writing, the professional recommendations were about 15 students for the 1st year, with a bump to 20 once experienced (Is that still true, Writing Profs?) Most of my courses had enrollments DOUBLE what they should have been. This means I should have been paid double, right? It still wouldn't have been worth it, but my living conditions might have been better. Or I could have dropped to a 3/3 and not gone crazy.

      -Anon y Mouse

  10. "much as I long for the sort of input and inclusion service might (but only might) bring"

    Careful what you wish for Cassandra. I used to do a lot more committee service than I do now (since I took on more teaching). "Input" and "Inclusion" aren't the words I'd use to describe it!

    1. I do realize that I may be suffering from a grass-is-greener view of service. Still, after some time sitting through department meetings where I can speak but not vote on most matters, I'd still say that the only thing worse than doing service may be being forbidden from doing service.

      The sorts of things we'd like to be doing are things like classroom visits/evaluations, which are currently conducted by a mostly tenure-track lit faculty supervising a mostly non-tenure-track comp faculty. They do their best, but there are some major gaps in understanding.

      Of course, since such activities have to do with employment decisions, they'd be even trickier to put in the hands of contingent faculty than, say, curricular review or assessment (which we already do to some extent, on a stipended basis).

  11. My initial reaction was much like Frod’s, but OPH’s middle paragraph really hit a nerve, and I suspect that as I get ever nearer the big five-oh my views will change.

    However, if the question had been on a choice between more money or fewer instances of institutional bullshit, there is no doubt that Mrs EC1* would not be seeing a larger paypacket any time soon.

    *Mrs EC1 would likely point out that she earns more than me anyway, and I’m – at best – a dilettante in comparison to her.