Wednesday, December 07, 2011

 

Overloads

Reading the academic blogosphere, you’d think there were only two kinds of faculty: tenure-track (or tenured) and adjunct. But that’s not true.

Some other types are well-known. For example, many colleges and universities have “visiting” full-time positions. These are term-limited, full-time positions off the tenure track. They were originally intended as sabbatical or medical leave replacements, and sometimes they’re still used that way. Some colleges have full-time faculty with no clear expiration date, but without a tenure system. (That was my situation at Proprietary U.) Monday’s story about Grand Canyon University treats this as news, but honestly, I did that back in the 90’s.

But then there’s the full-timer, tenure-track or tenured, who teaches overloads.

At my college, as at many others, full-timers who teach overloads get adjunct pay for the extra classes. (I’ve also heard of pro-rating, though never in a community college context.) From a budgetary perspective, there’s really no difference between Full Professor John and Adjunct Jane picking up that extra class. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to the Full Professor Johns of the world as “overloads,” as opposed to “adjuncts,” but that’s just a linguistic convenience; institutionally, they’re the same.

At some levels, overloads are wonderful. They allow faculty to earn some extra money, which some of them really need. We already know they’re good teachers, so the quality control issue isn’t so urgent. (Amazingly, some manage to maintain high levels of performance even with workloads I would have considered herniating.) They already have offices and they already know the college, so they can provide the kind of attention that we may not be able to count on at adjunct pay. (Some adjuncts go above and beyond and provide that anyway, of course.)

But overloads do raise a few issues.

The most basic one is workload. When I have professors who routinely teach, say, 24 credits in a semester, I have to wonder why others claim that 15 is humanly impossible. Their colleagues obviously don’t think so.

Then there’s the dicey issue of entitlement. When a professor gets those extra, say, nine credits a semester for years on end, she often starts to think of it as her salary. And she will defend her salary against any perceived threat, such as new full-time hires. This can lead to distortions over time.

With department chairs, the issue can get even stickier. The temptation to self-deal in scheduling, so that the chair gets every section she wants, can be hard to resist.

From an institutional perspective, there’s a further issue with human frailty. If someone teaching a standard full load goes out on medical leave, we have to cover 15 credits. If someone teaching several courses above that goes out on leave, the coverage hole is that much bigger. The more you rely on any one person, the worse off you are if that one person gets sick.

The overload issue also makes it difficult to answer a superficially simple question, like “what percentage of your classes are taught by adjuncts?” Before answering that, I need a definition. Is John’s sixth course considered adjunct or full-time? He could decide not to teach it without losing his full-time job, and it’s paid at the adjunct rate, so that would suggest that it belongs in the adjunct category. But John is full-time faculty, possibly with tenure and certainly with an office and institutional support; by that criterion, it seems like full-time. Given the number and level of overloads taught, this is not just a marginal quibble; it materially changes the answer to the question.

(In a collective bargaining setting, the issues get even more complex. We have to specify upfront which sections are overloads and which are regular load, so that when we do faculty evaluations, we look only at the proper category. I can’t base a full-timer’s evaluation on his performance in an overload section. Don’t ask.)

A few years ago I inquired about limiting the number of overload sections that full-timers could teach, only to be told by the college attorney that I couldn’t apply a differential quota to people who happen to have full-time jobs with the college than I could to people who didn’t. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, the attorney mentioned that even if I tried, in the brief interim before the inevitable legal challenge they would just go to other campuses. At least this way they’re here, and students aren’t losing their travel time that could have gone to mentoring.

I’m not sure why overloads are so invisible in the popular discussion, since they’re very real on the ground. If anything, I’d like to see a more robust discussion of them so we can start to come to grips with some intelligent policies around them. In the meantime, some professors will claim that their existing workloads are unconscionable and others will routinely do half again as much without breaking a sweat. And I have to believe both of them.

Comments:
I may be cynical, but I know how its possible to take an extra 9 hours and not break a sweat. It depends on how you set up your work. The lecture is easy - but what do you do about grading? Is it all scantron based or do you require the students to write essays, which you then read?

Are your lectures fresh, or do you use the same notes from 10 years ago or better yet just push the DVD/VCR button.

No, Dean Dad - just as I tell my dean - you get what you pay for. If I'm working 12 hour days, adding load will not increase my work time, it decreases the time I put in the work!
 
We have overloads in K-12, too. They usually come about when we have, say, 13 social studies classes, but only 3 teachers. The standard load is 4 classes per teacher. That leftover class needs to get taught and it's not enough to really hire even a part-timer for (we don't do adjuncts and part-timers are usually at least half-time to 3/4 time). So someone agrees to take the extra class for extra pay. Because we're a private school, though I suspect this happens in public schools as well, the next year may not be the same. We may be back down to 12 SS classes. I think the issue of workload is the biggest one. It depends completely on the grading because often the prep is the same as at least one or two of the classes you're already teaching. If it's a course with a lot of papers, that's difficult. Mostly tests with right or wrong answers, a little easier. But math and science often end up with students who want to meet before and after school for help. The more students you have, the more chance for that kind of request. So, we tend to try not to do overloads when we can. And what I've seen so far is that teachers will do it for a year and then not do it again for a while after that, if ever.
 
There is another category that does not quite fit into your scheme, but is what some places might mis-use the "visiting" position for: the full-time with benefits but no tenure that is the "teaching professor" in an R1 department. At one neighboring university, it looks like one prof has 1000 students in [Gen Ed Course Type] while all of the other faculty together teach a few hundred in honors classes.
 
I would have to agree with the first Anon commenter - there is no way that 'overloads' aren't breaking a sweat without streamlining their work in extreme ways. Freeway flyer adjuncts (I am one) who combine teaching many courses with travel also do this kind of streamlining, and in some instances it does mean at least a different kind of quality, less writing for the students for example.

I have to quibble with "the lecture is easy" comment. It can be, if one has been teaching the material for a long time, but if one is forced to teach a new course or in a new area then the lecture is anything but easy. And this scenario happens to adjuncts and overloads a lot, and on short notice. This year I had two weeks to prepare to teach a course in an area that I had not taught in for about 5 years. I had a lot of prep to do! The course went well but it was more work pulling those lectures together than for my 'standard' courses that I teach every year.

In the heavily unionized environment that I work in (Ontario) overloads and even over-loaded adjuncting is, technically, against union policy (there's a cap on the # of courses one person can teach) so happens more rarely than in other environments. But it does happen and in one of the Locals there has been a nefarious power struggle going on for years. People making over $100,000 as adjuncts have been teaching over the cap for years, and they alienate members with less seniority and hang on to positions of authority in the union in order to keep their over-the-cap positions. I have stopped teaching at the particular university because I was finally at the seniority level at which they were beginning to target me for harassment.
 
We limit the number of overload hours, with special exemptions for cases where you need someone like a licensed RN with an advanced degree to teach a class. Those don't grow on trees.

You didn't explain why you were not allowed to evaluate the full-timer's adjunct work to decide if they should be assigned extra classes. If your lawyer says to treat them like other adjuncts, evaluate the extra classes that way.

I saw no mention of service, or even additional office hours, in your discussion of this issue. There is a fairness issue if people who never look at an exam to grade it can also argue that they don't have time to serve on a committee or do advising because of all of the time they spend in class and carrying Scantron forms to the scanner. They get paid for an overload while someone else serves on a committee for "free" while grading hundreds of pages of math problems or essays.
 
We have precisely the problems that Dean Dad and CCPhysicist mentioned. Our department was allowed a new, full-time position based on the "adjunct/FT ratio" but when the new person came on, they had a hard time making load (without an unreasonable schedule) because so many of the "adjunct" classes were actually overloads by senior FT who were unwilling to let go. Meanwhile these faculty have no time for any significant service AND complain about how hard they work.
 
This is interesting -- and a topic that is rarely talked about, it seems. However, I have one small tidbit to add to this conversation.

I teach at a small rural community college. A few years ago, we had a spike in enrollment, and no extra full timers. Because we could not find qualified adjuncts (again, I live in a rural area), the full timers were more or less forced to teach overloads (yes -- we got paid, but I found teaching 21 credits, on top of other service at the college, very hard to do. I teach writing, and yes, my students write papers -- no true/false questions for me!
Someone may say that I wasn't forced to teach overload, but the other option was cancelling classes that were full! Not a good choice.

Now, we have more full timers who actually want overloads (I'm not one of them), adjuncts are upset -- I feel bad about the situation, but I don't know what else can be done. The college's official stand is that adjuncts should not be making a living off the courses they teach, but we all know they are. Until more honestly (and fairness) is used with dealing this issue, I'm not sure we will find a solution.
 
In my last post, I wanted to write honesty (not honestly) should be used. Sorry for the typo!
 
For sure, overloads can be a real can of worms.

At my SoCal cc, our collective bargaining agreement limits full-timers to six units--usually two classes--of overload. When classes were cut two years ago, our union also negotiated language that would give classes to more senior part-timers before any full-timer received an overload.

That decision raised more than a few hackles--and, to be fair, some full-timers really do need the extra income--but our decision to collectively bite the bullet wasn't nearly as controversial as it might have been.

Workload issues are important, too. As a Union Guy, I never want to get involved in I-work-harder-than-you arguments, but, at the same time, I know that English comp teachers (like me) find it impossible to teach even one overload, while folks in other areas were (past tense) able to work double loads (mostly teaching online courses). That's a real disconnect.

And how about someone accepting reassigned time--which means a reduced full-time workload--to do a special project and then taking on an overload class?

Bottom line for me is that the whole idea of overload classes devalues my work. Full-time faculty members who get $80K or $100K (this is California, remember)for teaching ten classes and then teach overloads for 1/3 to 1/2 as much are saying that they're willing to work for cheap.
 
As a regular adjunct in mathematics, I find prepwork to be the biggest use of time. For a three credit class, each week I'll spend two and a half hours in the classroom, three hours preparing that lecture, and a half an hour grading. So, for three credits, I spend six hours a week working. For five three credit sections, the hours in the classroom and grading would increase, but the prepwork wouldn't.

The fixed costs for each class are high, but the marginal costs are low. Teaching Intro Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Pre-Calc, and Calc I would be difficult. Teaching eight sections of Introductory Statistics would be easy.
 
I just learned that if you take on an overload, and then one of your classes gets canceled due to low enrollment, you can't use your "overload" class to make your FT load. Which makes ZERO sense. (We also can not use online courses to count toward load. online are always "overload").

At my last school taking an overload was seen as a postive--helping out the college. It was always offered to FT people first, and you were capped at how much you could do on overloads. But you also had to do committee work and all the other things expected. (Even if you were temporary or visiting FT.)

At the CC I'm at now, in order to get an overload (sorely needed because cost of living is outrageous in my new location and they don't pay enough to cover that), I have to take a class away from an adjunct. This sucks. I've adjuncted, and relied heavily on those classes to get my family through the semester. Other FT faculty have overloads--some have as many as three extra classes on top of the 5 we already do. I doubt the person teaching 8 classes is doing fair justice to all those classes. Not when we're expected to do research and complete a PhD for tenure. (Yes. At a CC.)
 
Teaching overloads is critical for me -- it helps me stay afloat financially on a low community college instructor pay. As for ability to teach extra hours, it can be done (I have done it for years), with great results. My students get the same level of professionalism and dedication, as supported by consistent course evaluations. I agree with Cody L. Custs -- if you teach several sections of the same course, prep time is reduced. Dean Dad, please don't take this as criticism -- I have read your blog for years and know that you care about your faculty. However, imagine yourself living on a faculty pay. Would you be willing to teach extra sections, to provide for your family? There are some faculty members, especially those who have taught for a long time and already have substantial salaries but no significant expenses (mortgage paid off, kids are grown) who are happy with their base pay and will actually complain about the number of hours, just because they can. However, there are not many of those where I am.
 
I think that it is perfectly fine for full-time faculty to teach overload classes, but only outside of their regular work hours. If full-time faculty teach overloads during their regular work hours, then they are unavailable for all of the other administrative, advising and department-based activities that make the difference between full-time faculty and adjunct faculty who teach a full-time load. At my college, we talk about 'moonlights' as after-regular-hours overload teaching. Bizarrely, I am now hearing a new term, "daytime moonlights" that refers to the practice of daytime overloads. In my division, we do not permit 'daytime moonlights', but that is apparently not the practice campus-wide, and that has led to allegations of inequity and the ever-popular 'capricious treatment'.
 
Al, what would normal teaching hours mean? Our jobs aren't 9-5. One semester I might have classes from 9am-1pm, other semesters I'll have classes 2pm-9pm. If I have mostly day time classes and 1 night class, can I not have an overload at all because my normal hours all over the place?
 
Alice hits the nail on the head. If you can't make a living wage as a full-time tenured prof at a community college (and you aren't living in Manhattan) then the system is broken. People are then forced to choose between a more frugal lifestyle and overwork.
 
By the way, the law on employment must be much different in Canada. Our university was able to limit the overloads any one full-time faculty member can assume and good on them. A few were shouldering heroic amounts of work personally but I heard that others were farming out to TAs all the assessment work in a series of personal moneymakers.

I've taught overloads almost every year for twenty years. I don't really want to do that. Many of those overloads were unpaid overloads: we floated our M.A. course for years on that basis. Now they're routinely paid but that doesn't mean that they're wonderful.

I'm teaching a paid overload this year because the administration played chicken with our M.A. program - intimating it would go back to unpaid status or be suspended. When they backed down from that position, we were left with the semi-impossible task of either taking the paid overload or finding qualified adjuncts to take some of our undergraduate courses. How many underemployed premodern history specialists who are at least ABD live in my area or can relocate in six weeks on the promise of not even a five figure income? Not many!

So I'm working an overload. And I'm fortunate to be paid to do it. But this isn't something that makes me happy: the extra money's nice but not when it comes at the expense of my research time and family time!

We used to do things differently. Up until two years ago, when we had more than one or two spare courses to offer, we hired a limited term full-time position. At least one term, usually two and sometimes for multiple years: the term-limited appointment allowed the faculty member to participate fully in the department. They can supervise senior theses and serve on university committees: they can get a chance to be a full-time part of the university culture as well. But no more: those days seem to be gone.

Reliance on adjuncts sometimes means twisting the curriculum to match what's available in adjunct expertise, not what's the plan. If you're down so many full-time bodies, you may need X many slots but you don't have the specializations the curriculum would expect. No more American history for our students (we're at a Canadian university so that's not quite as shocking as you might expect)!

So what do we do? Do the full-time faculty members revise our curriculum to make it "adjunct availability safe" - if we're all of a sudden having to rely on overloads, will we have a plausible course to farm out? We can't farm out grad courses to faculty who aren't accredited with the institution. We don't want to farm out methodological courses that are specifically designed for our curriculum and require a considerable amount of faculty buy-in to teach correctly. That leaves a few survey courses and the rest of our electives that could be suddenly part of an overload offering: that makes me nervous because the chances of finding someone who's able to teach the Ancient Near East or early modern Britain isn't too great in my relatively remote region.

Next year I'm not supposed to teach an overload (except for graduate reading courses on the student topics that are within a few hundred years of my own specialization). The good lord willing and our administration NOT playing another game of chicken, I won't have to teach an overload. But I'm not holding my breath because they've demonstrated that it's in their interests to keep dancing on this knife-edge of staffing only we're the one who gets cut when someone slips.

Sorry for the long, long post but this is an issue that's affected me for years and only seems to be getting more and more problematic.
 
By the way, we're limited to 21 credit hours per semester (16 credit hours are required and 5 additional hours can be picked up as an overload, at the part-time faculty pay rate). Summer pay is extra but limited to 33% of the annual salary.
 
@Janice: Farming out work to TAs is not something ever available to the community college faculty. :) Also, in my case, it's not just "extra pay is nice but I would rather spend time with my family or doing research." Rather, "I need extra money to pay my bills." I would love to work less hours but extra income is critical.
 
Our union is taking on the "moonlights as evening/early a.m./hybrid/online classes" right now. At my last college, faculty could overload at any time of the day. At my current college, there is concern that faculty will stop participating in/be unavailable for meetings. Another argument is that faculty won't be in their offices when students or others come by.

My last institution was on semester system, so an overload constituted six classes. My current institution? Quarter system. Moonlighting is not easy, regardless, in 10 weeks. However, with no increases three years running and no projected salary changes, moonlighting is becoming a necessity.

The union was not successful with this issue during the last salary negotiations. We'll see what happens this time. My perception? Faculty who are taking on overloads/moonlights typically don't suddenly cease their role in shared governance. What about the faculty who teach the minimum number of classes all the time and don't participate in meetings or other expected campus duties?

Regarding the office hours issue, one additional daytime class is not going to prevent faculty from holding office hours. In fact, varied office hours may actually be more convenient for a wider number of students.

Thank you for raising this issue. Ellen Bremen @chattyprof http://chattyprof.blogspot.com
 
What about the places that put pressure on full-timers to take overloads? I know three people personally at three different places that have to put up with such working conditions. Ask them what their teaching load is, and they'll say "Well, it's supposed to be 4-4, but everyone really has to take an overload and teach a 5-5." I guess it shouldn't be surprising that these are right-to-work states.
 
To clarify, our college has NONE of the problems listed by Anonymous @6:52AM as being also mentioned in my comments. My Dean would never assign an overload to anyone before assigning a full load to every full-time faculty member, new or not. Indeed, those assignments will be made before the start of the fiscal year, including for positions that are still in the process of being filled. No one gets an overload until the regular slots are filled.

We also have a process that tries to balance service, but there is never any way to balance grading.

One change in recent years is that our young faculty are requesting a full load in the summer, tying up slots that used to be taken by year-round adjuncts. Our adjuncts are hurting because our new hires have loan debt to deal with and older faculty have 401(k) losses to replace, and full-time profs get first call for summer classes as well as overloads.

I also don't understand comments like what chattyprof wrote about office hours. You can't teach during your office hours, and you must add office hours for every overload class. A max overload here would require 12 office hours per week, and missing those is like missing a class.
 
"The most basic one is workload. When I have professors who routinely teach, say, 24 credits in a semester, I have to wonder why others claim that 15 is humanly impossible. Their colleagues obviously don’t think so."

FSM preserve us.
 
Ok, I'll say this slowly. Just because some people can work 80 hours a week doesn't mean that everyone -- or even they -- should.
 
Having picked up the mess left by colleagues who are overloading*, I wonder how many people who think they can work 80 hours a week really do.


*Full day teaching load, then adding night classes and online classes.
 
I'm late to the conversation, which is my significant loss.

I taught an overload for years, starting while full-time visiting, then in the early years of the tenure track at the same institution. It was never paid, I never felt like I could say no, and it took years and years of subtle complaints until I got relief and release for _some_ of the overloads.

Surely I wouldn't grumble had I been paid something--anything--but what I found is that teaching significantly more hours than my peers not only exhausted me, but put me in a disadvantageous position vis-a-vis my peers who were teaching normal loads. I think I made it through OK, but we'll see when I get my tenure decision in the spring.

Now I may be facing a similar choice: allow my all-important first-year language sequence to go to an adjunct (this at what DD calls a "snootly liberal arts college") or take another unpaid overload, this time pretty massive. The long-term health of my program--almost a one-person gig--matters a lot: numbers go down, and the program closes down, tenure or not.
 
@Alice, I do understand the extra income is vital. Being the sole income source for a family of four has been really tough and we're only now at the point where it isn't hand-to-mouth. So I remember when that overload income was vital!

For me, the money's not a driving factor but the realization that, if I don't take the overload, we're likely not to be able to attract someone with the right skillset to a town that's four hours north of anywhere. Similar to @Anonymous7:07am, I feel hostage to the program and the students' needs!
 
I'd like to chime in that teaching hours in one class or discipline don't equal the same number of hours in another in terms of workload. Anyone who has taught first-year writing knows that. It's not the hours in the classroom that get you--it's the intensive and painstaking grading and the many many hours of office hours.

Though disciplinarily, this can cause friction, as people who teach entry-level lectures which are graded by scantron constantly bemoan how our English dept is 'overstaffed' and that their classes are too small--we should teach more of these classes, at higher numbers and offer fewer upper-level courses to our majors.

I'm frequently tempted to offer them a first-year writing course and see how long that argument lasts, even if I only have fewer than 20 students--and I enjoy my first year writing classes.
 
@Anon: surely there is some way to make this work, including a direct cash transfer to the adjunct in question in order to get them to work closely with you and focus on the program.
 
At the CC I work for, we have strict rules regarding overloads and adjunct loads. While full-timers generally get first dibs on things, we're not given overload hours unless all of the adjunct instructors get a load that's fair to what they've had (calculated by a formula). Basically, an adjunct won't lose hours because a full-time instructor gets greedy and wants an overload.

Also, overloads are capped to avoid someone teaching 24 hours a week.
 
I work in the Virginia Community College System with a normal teaching load of 30 credits across 2 semesters. While I despise teaching overloads, it is pretty clear to me that if I don't agree to do it; my reputation becomes that of a teacher who simply doesn't care about the college or students. No, I do care about the college and students, and that is why I want to deliver quality teaching and not be trapped in a sweatshop-like overload to prove that I am a good teacher...a team player.

Because so many Community College students struggle academically. I always have about 10 each semester who take up all of my office hours and then some for one on one help. It seems like tutors are only hired for general education courses so non-gen ed faculty are essentially tutors. For this reason, it boggles my mind that anyone would voluntarily teach overload. I often wonder how many of the professors who teach multiple overloads each semester have someone to assist them with grading....husband, wife, child, parent which I have never had. Or perhaps they have maids or cooks. But I have to work, so I curse under my breath and take the overload.

How does one tell a Dean thank you but no thank you when pressed to teach overload and still keep a job?
 
I can tell you that at my college, the senior professor who is nearing retirement routinely teaches between 19 and 21 credits and has blocked and delayed the hiring of new faculty to ensure that she can keep those overloads. We have have started a Masters program and all of the work for that program goes to me, the assistant professor teaching a normal load. In addition, the quality of the classes she teaches is definitely affected. Unfortunately, there is little I can do about it. I have discussed this issue with the faculty member, the dean and the department chair. No action. We have a union, and the union does not like the situation. None the less, the union does not want to limit her ability to schedule herself in this way. Coming from the private sector, I find this situation morally reprehensible. I am seriously considering leaving, which would out our new graduate program in jeopardy. AS you can imagine, we are not paid very well, so it is difficult to find faculty. Of course, I have relationships with the students and a commitment to them, but I am now planning my exit strategy.
 
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