Gov. Scott Walker’s suggestion to ask professors in the University of Wisconsin System to teach one more class raised concerns among faculty that the university could lose some of its prestige in research.
Last week, Walker said the UW System could save money if faculty members added another class to their current workload, helping the system deal with a proposed $300 million in cuts from state funding.
“They might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester,” Walker said.
Grant Petty, president of PROFS, the group that advocates for UW faculty, said last week Walker’s comments imply he does not understand the current workload for faculty.
“It does seem to portray a lack of understanding of how faculty operates and what they’re actually doing with their time that contributes to education without necessarily being in the classroom,” Petty said.
Tristan L’Ecuyer, a UW assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, said the idea of teaching another class does not necessarily pose a problem, but sacrificing other aspects of the job does.
This week, UW published a study on workload, representing the four major fields – biological science, physical science, humanities and social science – and including 11 departments. The study showed the average faculty work week during Fall 2013 was at 63 hours, up from 57 hours in 2010.
The faculty’s work was broken down into four components: instruction and mentorship of undergraduates, graduates, research and service.
Instruction of undergraduates averaged 14.2 hours per week, while that of graduates averaged 6.6 hours. Outside of teaching their own classes, faculty also frequently act as guest lecturers for varying institutions.
“I gave a guest lecture in a freshman engineering course in November, where I invited students to contact me about research opportunities,” said Tracey Holloway, professor of environmental studies in the Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE). “I give a lot of guest lectures – about one every other week – so I interact with lots of new students.”
Supervision in directed study, independent study and research is also something to consider.
Holloway currently works with eight undergraduate and four graduate students. Because only some of the students are conducting research for independent study classes, not all of this work shows up on her teaching record, she said.
L’Ecuyer said with an increase in instruction, a reduction in the university’s vast scope of research is a concern.
“Our research reputation here is almost as important as our classroom [and] educational reputation in terms of attracting the best students,” L’Ecuyer said. “It’s what gives us this national reputation that we have for being a really great school.”
More than $500 million dollars in federal research awards were brought in by faculty and staff in 2012-13, according to university statistics published last week. On average, each faculty member is bringing in roughly $242,000 to support their research.
“Bringing in grant money is a big part of my job, since over 25 percent of the university’s income comes from grants,” Holloway said.
According to the workload study, faculty currently dedicate 21.3 hours per week to research. Research conducted with students consists of 8.4 hours per week.
“We are great at research because we have such great students, and we have great students because of UW’s excellent reputation and top-notch faculty,” Holloway said. “Students come to UW-Madison and take classes from professors who are ‘big names’ in their fields – writing textbooks, leading research teams, making discoveries and innovations.”