Chapter 14: Increase Teaching Loads

The corollary to the tenth point on eliminating some academic research is to increase teaching loads. At research universities in the United States between 1988 and 2004, it is estimated that teaching loads fell 42 percent.  Even in private liberal arts colleges that pride themselves on their attention to instruction, those loads fell 32 percent.  William Massy and Robert Zemsky have talked about an “academic rachet” effect, and the impact of this on instructional costs is huge, as demonstrated above.

The root cause of the fall in teaching loads relates to incentives and rewards. Faculty are rewarded for publishing articles, the results of which can be precisely measured (pages of articles published, numbers of citations in scholarly journals, etc.) and is observable nationally or even globally. Good teaching is less easily measured, and is observable locally. National reputations are built through research, not teaching. The federal government gives billions in grant money for research, not teaching. Grant recipients receive large summer stipends and often generous overload compensation. Two equally competent professors might receive $75,000 in salary, but the great teacher will get $5,000 for teaching one summer school course, raising annual compensation to $80,000, while the research grant recipient will get a summer stipend of perhaps $17,000 plus $15,000 in academic year overload compensation, for a total of $107,000. Is it any wonder that faculty push for lower teaching loads to increase their research prowess, in their mind increasing their chance for winning research grants?

There are two ways to increase loads: one by fiat or mandate, and the other by use of incentives. State governments could mandate all professors at state universities teach nine hours a week, for example. That approach has severe limitations, including failing to give institutions flexibility to vary loads with the strengths of faculty members—Nobel Prize winners would flee a state with such a law, and with good reason. Mandates can be made slightly less onerous by being placed at the institutional level—the average load of the full time faculty must equal X hours a week, with top researchers teaching less and excellent teachers teaching more. But universities and colleges strongly resist even this approach, which they view as an unwarranted intrusion on their institutional autonomy.

The alternative approach is to use a carrot rather than a stick approach. Explicitly reward teaching financially, both by increasing rewards for quantitatively and qualitatively teaching more, but also, perhaps, by lowering the rewards for research somewhat. Since there is a bias, due to information costs, in favor of hiring professors with good research credentials, at the local level perhaps universities should offset this by increasing the weight of teaching performance in the assessment of salary and promotion. Instead of weighting teaching and research equally (say 40 percent, with 20 percent for service and administrative contributions), increase the weight placed on teaching to 50 percent and reduce that on research to 30 percent. Recognize great teaching with large and well publicized teaching awards. But complement the financial incentives with mandated higher teaching responsibilities for the faculty. Very few schools are willing to do this, but increased financial stringency may lead to a move in that direction, one that hopefully will grow into a broader movement. Another step in the right direction would be to promote greater transparency in the provision of university information regarding teaching, student performance, and student post-graduate success in a manner that would diminish the influence of college rankings that especially reward research results.

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