The Final Say

Editor’s note: This article is a reponse to the above criticism of the author’s study on faculty workloads in the UNC system.

Dr. Fernandes makes two substantive criticisms of my study on faculty workloads. The first is that I neglected to include interdisciplinary courses in my calculations of professors’ teaching loads at her school. The second is that I did not duplicate the methods used by the University of Delaware that the UNC system uses as a measure of faculty workloads. Because the Delaware counts labs and recitations as classes, she suggests that I further undercounted teaching loads at her school.

To the first criticism, I am guilty as charged. It was an honest mistake. When I started the study, I checked for interdisciplinary courses as part of the procedure. However, the study was conducted under extreme time constraints—the information needed to be available for legislators in time for them use it during a fast-paced legislative session. After finding no interdisciplinary courses in two departments at other schools, I stopped checking for them, since doing so was quite time-intensive.

As Dr. Fernandes pointed out, this proved to be a serious error. It turns out that one-third of the classes taught by UNC-Asheville’s philosophy department professors are interdisciplinary. This fact changes the results of my workload significantly for Asheville: Philosophy department professors averaged 3.6 courses for the Fall 2010 semester instead of 2.4—for both my high and low measures. One environmental studies professor taught an interdisciplinary course as well, changing that department’s averages from 2.86 and 2.43 courses to 3.0 and 2.57.

I sincerely apologize for these errors. However, the errors had only minute impact on my two measures for the UNC system overall, which grew from 2.68 and 2.03 to 2.72 and 2.07 (courses per professor per semester).

But the second criticism, that we failed to follow the Delaware study’s methodology, misses the mark. In my report I said I was deliberately not using that study’s methodology. I tried to obtain it from the UNC general administration, but to no avail. But I wouldn’t have used it even had they given it to me, since it obfuscates the very simple question that I wanted to ask—how many courses do professors teach per semester? I chose a method that directly answered that question.

After seeing Dr. Fernandes’s response, I realized even more that I was correct to ignore the Delaware methodology, since it counts recitations and labs as courses. These instruction sessions are almost never courses unto themselves, but are requirements that must be completed to earn credit for a main course. For instance, when you take Biology 101, you must take the lab connected to it as one of the requirements for Bio 101. When you take Political Science 101, you may be expected to attend the recitation connected to it as one of the requirements for the main course. Almost never do students take labs or recitations as classes by themselves.

By revealing that the Delaware Study counts recitations and labs as individual courses, Dr. Fernandes corroborated a major point of my study: that the method the UNC system uses to calculate the average number of courses per semester taught by professors grossly overstates their teaching loads. It is true that the North Carolina General Assembly has mandated that the UNC system use the Delaware study’s method, which is an improvement over the previous method created by the UNC system itself. That doesn’t mean that the Delaware method is perfect, however; it just means the UNC system has convinced the legislators to mandate it. Since Delaware’s inclusion of labs and recitations as courses exaggerates the teaching load picture rather than making it clear, the legislature should drop it.

All in all, I am heartened to see that UNC-Asheville’s teaching loads are higher, since I favor Asheville as a model for other schools in the UNC system for that very reason. Too many of the other UNC schools are trying to become just like Chapel Hill or NC State, chasing after research activity and losing their emphasis on teaching. Asheville focuses entirely on teaching, and it is therefore a more efficient model for educating undergraduate students.