Gabriel Rossman blogging at the National Review Online

Good friend and super smarty guy Gabriel Rossman blogged for the National Review online about changing higher education. I’m dubious of higher teaching loads for the regular faculty. I think we’ll probably see tenure die off and most undergraduate teachers will become contract labor with longer contracts prized like tenure track positions now.

I don’t understand the arguments for why private universities will cut down on the PhD programs. It’s exactly in those institutions where the possibility for cross-subsidizing programs is easiest.

At every research university I’ve worked–that’s four by now: USC, VT, UCLA, and the UI—we already have so many tiers of teaching that the idea of a “standard load” means nothing anyway. You do something administrative, ranging from the super-crucial and time-consuming stuff like managing programs or high-profile centers to running a center that hasn’t done anything since 1972, you get course relief. You get a chair; again, course relief. Since one of those, and likely more than one, covers almost all of your senior faculty, most of them are teaching 1/1 at most. Again, some roles merit the relief, while others strike me as Potemkin Village roles created just to get course relief for oneself. The people picking up the slack are junior faculty putting in their time and adjuncts.

You could argue that there is a market for those: since course relief is prized and since people who don’t like teaching aren’t likely to do a good job with it, why not allow those types to shuffle off behind a curtain and hope their empires/centers become useful ones? But if there were an economy instead of a basic spoils system,you’d see more empires disbanded if the centers are unproductive in terms of dollars. I’ve never seen a research center disassembled unless the emperor resigns/retires and there’s no heir apparent, and there is usually an heir apparent hand-chosen by the emperor.

And then there’s the unevenness of teaching loads within teaching loads. I bought out a course this spring, and I am still teaching more students in my class than many of my colleagues do in an entire year. That’s after doing the same thing last fall. I have one class of 60 people, and that’s somehow teaching one class, just like teaching a class of 10 people is one class. Then there are the people who never see an undergraduate except on their way to and from the parking garage or on the football field because the very idea! that they might sully their time with anything but graduate teaching is, simply, Not Ok.

It makes no sense and is grossly unfair to departmental nice guys like me and the (usually) junior people who get stuck with it, but universities routinely do it anyway and it’s like that, as far as I can tell, in most universities. For the Republicans who want university professors to stop researching and start teaching more, I’m no economist, but the last time I checked the way to foster greater performance in a particular dimension was to compensate better for excellence and productivity along that dimension. Instead, we have a system where teaching a full load is for suckers and doing a good job at it is, as far as I can tell, nice but hardly worth of good raises or promotion.