Thursday, December 8, 2011

The value of time teaching

Dean Dad posted yesterday about the issue of full time professors taking on extra classes for approximately adjunct pay (overloads). This spawned a lot of comments, and if you like thinking about university unionization, its an interesting read.

Some of the discussion boils down to the fact that community college full time faculty are not paid enough. Some point out that their university pressures faculty to take on more classes at reduced pay. Some claim to cope by doing a shoddy job on the extra classes, while others tell stories of professor farming the work out to TAs. Some point out that taking on extra load at reduced pay devalues the work of the professors to the university.

I have never been one to believe the poor graduate student stereotype for students in the sciences/engineering. I also find it hard to believe that someone with a PhD in STEM fields lacks the skills to get a job that pays their bills. But this is a belief, unsupported by facts. I didn't carry through a huge amount of student loans from undergrad. I've never been in a community college system. And I know that many humanities PhDs have to pay for their degree. This level of distance made me unable to comment on the post, but it made me think about what/how the university places fiscal value on teaching.

In my third year at grad school, for various reasons, graduate students were offered $500 to take on an extra section of a course (about 2 hours of work/ week). This was a reasonable price on the value of our time, if you considered us to be working 40 hours a week at our given salaries. However, as an hourly rate, it is less than half what a graduate student gets paid to teach a summer course. Why would the department pay less for its teaching during the semester than during the summer? The answer probably depends heavily on the fact that if you didn't pay us enough to teach, and our advisor didn't extend a grant to keep us for the summer, we'd find another means of employment.

On the other hand, when an advisor wanted to "buy out" our teaching for a term, he/she paid nearly all our salary to the department for that term. $500 for 2 hours/week is not a reasonable fraction of the price an advisor has to pay for the student not to teach.

So I guess my question is this: If the university is willing to pay $X for my teaching an extra class, what would the university say if I said "Reduce my pay by ~$X. I want to teach one fewer class this term?"

Okay, I know the answer to that questions. But at what $Y would they take my offer?


  1. I can tell you from the faculty buy-out standpoint. The nominal teaching load in my department for research-active faculty is 3 courses per year. Therefore, if we want to reduce the load from 3 to 2 per year, we are asked to provide 30% of our academic-year salary from grants (i.e. buy-out at 30% of academic salary). I think this is outrageous, and would make sense only if all I ever did was teach, so I am buying back 30% (i.e roughly a third) of all of my time. This is quite ridiculous, but there is nothing anyone can do about it.

    In reality, teaching one course per semester (one that I have taught before) takes about 10 hours of my time per week, the rest is research and service. So buying out 1 course is really 25% of my time in one semester (if you - haha - assume I work 40 hrs/wk), or 12.5% of my time in an academic year.

    Buying out at 12.5% would be way more feasible and more people would do it, but the point is the powers that be don't want people buying out with the terms that benefit people. If you do buy out, the department and college want to really make a hefty sum on letting you take back 10 hours a week one semester.

  2. GMP you are saying right , i agree with you.