Friday, January 11, 2013

UVic humanities teaching loads

There's a little extra controversy this year among departments in the Faculty of Humanities here at the University of Victoria, about the different teaching loads for faculty in different departments. Now, this is precisely the kind of thing that Humanities faculties the world over specialize in, internecine sniping of one kind or another, but that's not what's going on here.

The issue is straightforward. In 2010/11, the Department of English proposed the the Dean a plan whereby they'd be able to move from a 3/2 teaching load for research faculty, to a 2/2 load (from 5 to 4 courses per year). It wasn't a perfect plan, but it really did have only a small cost to the Dean. The Dean, though, asked the department to defer for a year, so that other departments had a chance to move to 2/2 as well. Recognizing the value of solidarity, English agreed.

(An external review of the department, by the way, was what triggered the effort in the first place: the reviewers felt that the faculty's publication record and reputation meant it ought to be at the 2/2 disciplinary norm in this country for research-intensive schools.)

During 2011/12, most of the Humanities departments developed 2/2 plans that were approved by the Dean. At the end of the road, though, the Provost decided that everyone could move to 2/2 -- except English, which would have to remain at 3/2. And there was great rejoicing amongst English research professors, as you might imagine.

The ultimate reason remains somewhat obscure, but it has something to do with delivery of first-year composition, something to do with the department's use of sessional instructors, and something to do with the teaching load for regular faculty. I've written elsewhere already about the comparison between sessional faculty and regular faculty, and I've started looking at the enormously complicated question of first-year composition, but the one thing I hadn't yet done was compare English to other departments.

English is the largest Humanities department, and the Department of History is the next-largest. It therefore makes sense to compare the two of them, because if relative teaching load was a factor in the Provost's decision, the data should clearly support that. I've excluded sessional instruction in both departments, as well as individual supervisions and teaching performed by faculty members from other departments.

Here's what you find for the 2011/12 calendar year:
  • average number of sections taught per faculty member: History 3.28, English 3.49;
  • average number of students per section: History 25.80, English 24.97; and
  • average number of students taught per regular faculty member: History 84.52, English 87.08.
In other words, even though many of History's courses have larger cap sizes, 2011/12 saw only marginal differences between the teaching loads of History professors and English professors at the University of Victoria. History professors taught slightly larger classes, and English professors taught slightly more students.

Data on comparative teaching loads simply cannot be the basis for preventing English research faculty from moving to 2/2, and for allowing History to make the move.

The digging continues. Up next, some thoughts about the role of sessional instruction in different Humanities departments; the differences between literature instructors and composition instructors; and analysis of teaching loads in additional Humanities departments. Stay tuned!

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