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Pacific Faculty Face Yet Another Change in Workload Policy: An Inside Look

Mar 23, 2021
Sign at Pacific saying University of the Pacific

By: Malavika Raj, Liliana Lopez 

 

On April 20th, 2020, former interim provost Michael Hunter Schwartz announced that a new teaching workload policy would be implemented for faculty across the Stockton campus. The policy looked to change the teaching structure of the undergraduate faculty from five courses a year to six courses. After facing backlash from faculty members, the policy was reversed and replaced with the point system to determine the number of classes professors teach. 

The five course teaching structure initially had faculty members teaching 3 courses for one semester and 2 courses for the other in one academic year. This was in addition to advising, committee work, and independent study tasks that faculty have on a day to day basis. Though conversations about increasing the course load per faculty member had been circulating prior to the pandemic, faculty members had not expected it to happen so soon, especially during such a time of stress. 

“The 3/3 policy was announced on April 20th of last year, so right at the heart of COVID, at a time of particular stress on the institution and concerns about finances and enrollment in the fall. It was a hunkering down of our institutional resources,” said Dr. Jeff Shafer, professor of engineering and chair of Academic Council.   

The new policy was not well received by faculty members. For years, there had been several town hall  and committee meetings involving faculty and administration which revolved around Pacific’s teacher-scholar model. The teacher-scholar model is the philosophy or idea that university professors should be productive scholars (publishing in their fields), in addition to being teachers. However, teaching takes precedence over research and publication. The pushback was centered around the idea that an increased teaching load would compromise professors’ research. 

The arguments against this shift were consistent: an increased (uncompensated) teaching load would threaten the ‘teacher-scholar’ model, undermining faculty’s ability to do research AND it would diminish the quality of teaching and advising,” said Dr. Cynthia Dobbs, department of English.  

Dobbs also mentioned that the committee also looked into decreasing the unit load for 4-unit classes into three units which would accompany the course increase. But when the policy went into effect, there was no decrease in unit load. 

The result of the new 3/3 work policy was exacerbated by the pandemic for faculty, who already felt overwhelmed by the new responsibilities placed on their laps. Retirement benefits for faculty and staff were also cut for one year, due to financial pressure from the pandemic. 

“This sudden change resulted in an indisputable increase in faculty workload without compensation -- and at the very worst time imaginable. Because of the pandemic, faculty scrambled to move all their courses online, ramp up their attention to students going through crises, contribute to recruiting and retention efforts, and plan for the possibility of teaching in ‘two modalities’ in the fall. And we essentially took a significant pay cut with the elimination of the match in retirement benefits,” said Dobbs. 

In a memo to faculty, the administration defended the new system by comparing the coursework to that of similar private institutions in California and across the nation, such as Saint-Mary’s, Santa Clara University, and Seattle University. For example, Santa Clara University has a 4/3 system (units per class are unclear), and University of San Francisco has a 3/3-4/3 system. 

After facing backlash from faculty, (many of whom, according to Dr. Dobbs, found it “unfair and [that it] undermines the quality of education at Pacific”) the university decided to rescind the policy and leave it up to the dean of each school to develop a new workload policy, a point based system, within their own individual academic units. Essentially, the dean of every college was responsible for determining the workload for every staff member. 

 Dr. Shafer explained how the new point system would differ across various schools on campus, citing “the way that the conservatory comes up with these points is going to be different from the school of engineering or the school of business.”

 The point system is used to both define and quantify the various types of work done by faculty members over the course of the academic year. “I think it shows what your dean values or wants you to be doing and not doing,” says Dr. Susan Giraldez, professor of Spanish language and literature. If a dean wants research to be worth more than committee work, then the points will be scaled accordingly. The devaluation of something such as committee work, however, is especially hard on faculty members from small departments. Because smaller departments only have a few faculty members, those members have to be spread thin in order to be active and have representation in the university, more so than their counterparts in larger departments. 

In spite of this, some professors also see how the new system may have some benefits for university faculty. 

Dr. Giraldez, for instance, believes that the new system attempts at equity. She sees how the point system is trying to even out the workload for faculty across various departments. By having professors track their work through a point system (and by having everyone reach the same minimum amount of points as a rule), the expectation is that the workload will be more similar across the board. However, she also argues that there are many aspects of the job that just can’t be quantified. 

I think deans are maybe trying to come up with a system that will be fair. But I think a lot of what faculty do isn’t quantifiable. Some work is invisible (such as preparing for a course, grading, designing a course). And some faculty put more work into that and some put less,” added Giraldez.

Dr. Anthony Dutoi, professor of chemistry, says that the administration took advantage of the pandemic to justify this change. 

“In the middle of a pandemic, when morale was already low, workloads were already high, and the faculty were presumably distracted and more likely to accept draconian pronouncements, the administration used a temporary situation to justify a permanent change. The justifications for the change were shaky, both in terms of the dollar amounts cited and the selective comparisons made,” Dutoi says. 

Although it can be argued that the new system does not affect students at Pacific extensively, Professor Dutoi thinks otherwise. He mentioned that at a school like Pacific, students value hands-on learning, which they are able to do with research opportunities. 

Less research means fewer active projects, and this means less opportunities for the hands-on guided learning that should be so prized at a place like [Pacific],” said Dutoi.  

Dutoi also mentions that this new structure will affect the types of professors the school attracts.  He says that the most engaged professors are the ones who are driven by enthusiasm to explore new territories in their respective fields through research. This, in turn, affects students’ enthusiasm and drive to also succeed in the classroom. 

Perhaps the question behind the ethics of this policy is a larger one: what should be at the forefront of education? What aspects of a university and its members are the most valuable? 

The answer may lie in Professor Dutoi’s summative comments. “Universities are humanity’s collective storehouses for our accumulated collective knowledge: we collect it, curate it, create it, and disseminate it.  The last of these (the teaching) is not possible without the first two, and the first two go stale without the third.”