For over 100 years, the common unit of teaching and learning in a university has been the course. The 3-credit course is common, often lasting about 15 weeks. Universities typically require a certain number of credits/courses for a diploma in a program. Thus, it is a basic metric that garners the attention of students.

In parallel, the course is often the basic counting unit for the faculty workload. Faculty across universities ask each other what their teaching load is at their university. They’ll answer, “I’m on a 2-2;” “I’m on a 2-1.” This means “I teach two courses each semester;” “I teach two courses one semester and one the other semester.”

I can imagine there was a time in some universities that this metric was a useful description of the work of different faculty. Of course, it omits any commentary on the amount of faculty time on committee work for their units, on professional service to their professional organizations; on research; on mentoring and tutoring undergraduate students; on graduate student interaction; and on service on university committees.

Further, the course-based metric fails to recognize the large variation in amount of time spent teaching different courses (e.g., a class of four students versus a similar class of 40 students). It ignores the fact that teaching a course for the third time requires less effort than the first time. It ignores the fact that classes with teaching assistants have different time requirements than courses without teaching assistants.

It also is out of alignment with the merit review systems in place in most units, which evaluate faculty on teaching, research, and service.

It’s interesting to me to note that some Georgetown departments and schools have recognized the inadequacy of workloads defined only on a course basis. Some have invented counting rules reflecting that the variable amount of faculty time required of different courses. Others formally try to value the time spent in oversight of graduate students or project-based work of undergraduates. Such innovation, however, is not uniform across the Main Campus of Georgetown. Hence, the meaning of “I’m on a 2-2,” for example, is quite diverse among and within departments and units.

Finally, as we look toward the future, more and more faculty are interested in new course arrangements, ones that adjust the amount and character of “class” time to the nature of the material being presented (e.g., intensive two-week courses; year-long, project-based learning). For example, many of the faculty working on the Designing the Future(s) initiative are creating learning experiences that are far different from the traditional 15-week, 3-credit course.

For all the reasons above, it seems to be a good time to think carefully about whether Georgetown could create ways of measuring faculty workloads that more equitably and fully reflect the range of activities that faculty pursue in support of the mission of the university. Since the most precious commodity of faculty is their time, new counting rules based on their time allocation might be a starting point.

Over the coming days, I’d be interested in thoughts of faculty on these matters.

This piece first appeared on the Provost’s blog.

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