Workload has picked up, faculty at UNLV say

Under the strain of budget cuts, the faculty at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas are working harder than they were two years ago, statistics from the university and the state’s higher education system show. But whether it’s a tiny bit harder or a lot harder is unclear.

Measuring faculty workload is a difficult thing to do. Faculty teach classes, counsel students, conduct research, and serve on committees. They don’t punch a time clock.

The state’s higher education system puts out a faculty workload report every two years. The latest measures workload in the fall semester 2010 compared to the fall semester 2008.

The report shows a slight increase in the workload of the university’s regular faculty, in terms of the number of students taught, largely because class sizes increased and the number of faculty shrank because of budget cuts.

But the average number of classes taught by each faculty member remained flat at an even three for the semester. The system’s policy dictates that most faculty members teach three courses per semester unless they get a waiver. This follows national guidelines endorsed by the American Association of University Professors.

UNLV’s numbers are a little different.

University officials say faculty members averaged teaching 3.8 classes last fall, up from 3.6 in fall 2008 and 3.3 in fall 2006. That’s a 15 percent increase since 2006, before budget cuts began.

Why the difference? Because the higher education system and the university define what a class is differently.

Higher education system officials this year revamped the way they calculate what a class is. They consider a "class" only those situations including a faculty member, a classroom and students.

But university officials count things such as internship supervision a class.

Michael Bowers, UNLV’s provost and chief academic officer, said there is more to a faculty member’s work than simply teaching in a formal classroom. Counseling a doctoral student, for example. Reading a dissertation, making edits on it, helping the student revise it. That all counts as work.

So does research, which keeps faculty members up to date in their fields and can bring grant money to the university.

Same with serving as a department chairman or an associate dean. Those jobs bring administrative responsibilities in addition to the teaching workload, Bowers said. But the associate deans and department chairs are still counted as faculty members in the calculations.

"None of that is quantifiable in the sense that we write it down on a piece of paper and say, ‘This is how many hours I did this or that last week,’ " Bowers said.

He said people often get too hung up on classroom time as the only important thing a professor does. Three classes a semester means roughly 7½ hours total in the classroom per week. But Bowers said focusing only on that would be like focusing only on the time a football player is on the field or that a writer is actually typing. There is much more work involved, he said.

$50 MILLION CUT IN THREE YEARS

Greg Brown, a history professor and president of UNLV’s chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, said faculty are working harder. Because of budget cuts, the university has 10 percent fewer full-time faculty than it did in 2006 and virtually the same number of students.

"The workload has increased substantially," Brown said.

State funding at UNLV has been cut by almost $50 million in three years. More cuts are expected this year.

Most university employees also were forced to take unpaid furloughs, as all state employees were. But tenured faculty members could not be forced to take less pay because they are under contract. The university instead required the equivalent amount of "extra" work last year. Typically that meant teaching an extra class.

That will change this year. If the Legislature requires state workers to take a pay cut, the higher education system’s Board of Regents gave itself the power to pass it along to all system employees.

Nationally, faculty at research universities put in less classroom time on average than the average faculty member at UNLV. The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics shows that two-thirds of the nation’s faculty members teach fewer than three classes a semester.

At UNLV, about one-third of the faculty members taught fewer than three classes last semester .

Of 712 full-time professors, 255 got what are called reassignments, or permission to teach fewer than three classes. Reasons can range from having to serve as a department chairman to, in one case, losing an election.

Dina Titus, for example, is a UNLV political science professor. She took a leave of absence in 2008 to run for Congress. She won but then lost that seat last year.

Titus returned to the university this semester, at an annual salary of $107,855, and is teaching only one class, Women in Politics. University officials said Titus got a waiver because she needs to "restart her research agenda and to write articles, books, and conference papers for further dissemination."

She is also working with the university’s literary Black Mountain Institute coordinating their research fellows, expanding the institute’s research forums and working with the university’s KUNV-TV to develop regular programming focused in BMI.

PICKING UP SLACK

With professors such as Titus and department chairmen teaching only one or two classes, others are picking up the slack to get the average up to three per semester.

Pushkin Kachroo taught four classes last semester. A professor in the electrical and computer engineering department, he also supervises graduate student research and is director of the university’s Transportation Research Center.

Kachroo said he doesn’t have time to think about the workload of other professors, about whether it’s fair. "The transportation center is like a full-time job," said Kachroo, who spent 13 years at Virginia Tech before joining UNLV 3½ years ago. "But I’m doing it on the side."

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

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