Amount of hours professors spend teaching questioned
Schaefer said he wants to see faculty workload considered as a factor to determine if MU is improving its AAU ranking.
Dec. 09, 2015
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, is no stranger to MU. After vocalizing his objection toward a research study looking into the state-mandated 72-hour waiting period for abortions and heading the Sanctity of Life Committee that investigated MU’s involvement with Planned Parenthood, he now wants to know how much professors are working.
Recently, Schaefer inquired into the number of waivers faculty members at MU receive for their workload.
“Universities have to look internally and see what they are doing and what they are delivering,” Schaefer said in a Nov. 29 Columbia Tribune article. “There are truths at the university that must be addressed, and this productivity issue is a big part of it.”
According to the UM System’s Regular Faculty Workload Policy, each department must develop a workload for its faculty that balances teaching, research, service and administration. Faculty members must teach at least 12 section credits or 180 student credit hours per academic year and can only teach less with an approved instructional waiver.
Ben Trachtenberg, associate professor of law and Faculty Council chairman, currently has a waiver for his teaching to compensate for his position on Faculty Council. In addition to his position on Faculty Council, Trachtenberg also meets the minimum faculty workload by teaching the three-credit class Criminal Procedure with 60 students.
Trachtenberg said the waiver system is essential for some professors, and that the majority of professors receive waivers because they hold administrative positions like the one he does, are carrying out research or may be tenure-track professors who are new to MU.
In the 2013-14 academic year, 439 of 1,142 tenured or tenure-track faculty received waivers, 38 percent of the total and 50 percent of waiver-eligible faculty, according to a Columbia Daily Tribune article. In the 2014-15 academic year, 446 faculty members received waivers, 37 percent of the total and 51 percent of waiver-eligible faculty.
Although professors may be using the waivers that are available, Trachtenberg said that this doesn’t mean that professors aren’t making significant contributions to MU. Trachtenberg said that if a professor were to receive a grant to conduct research, approving a waiver for the professor to carry out the research would lead to benefits for the university.
“That’s more money for Mizzou, more research that’s going to help the United States, Missouri and the world, more prestige for MU, more cool stuff that this professor is learning that when she does teach she can share with her students, more opportunities for our graduate students to work on cutting-edge stuff,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s like a win, win, win, win, win. But if all you’re focused on is how many waivers are being granted, all of a sudden it looks like a lose. Well that’s crazy.”
Trachtenberg said other benefits of workload waivers include the fact that for professors receiving waivers due to administrative duties, MU saves money by not hiring additional staff to carry out these administrative positions.
Trachtenberg’s $114, 484 salary is split between the School of Law and Faculty Council. The School of Law covers 60 percent of Trachtenberg’s salary, and the other 40 percent comes out of the Faculty Council’s budget to compensate Trachtenberg for his time.
With the money the School of Law saves from not having to pay Trachtenberg the full amount, it can use the extra funds to hire a visitor or adjunct if need be, Trachtenberg said.
But Schaefer is questioning the benefits of such waivers and said he would like to see faculty workload considered as a factor in determining whether MU is accomplishing its goal of rising in Association of American Universities rankings. MU’s Strategic Plan states that by 2020, MU will “enhance its academic stature as measured by publicly available metrics,” including those of the AAU.
AAU rankings are determined by eight indicators and do not include faculty workload.
The AAU is a collection of “62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada,” according to its website. MU is one of 34 public universities included as members and first joined in 1908.
AAU ratings are not made available to the public. But in April, Michael O’Brien, College of Arts and Science dean, said MU was at “the bottom of the barrel,” according to previous Maneater reporting.
While MU attempts to improve its AAU status, Trachtenberg said he feels that improving the quality of research, specifically medical research that AAU recognizes, will help improve MU’s ranking, rather than considering faculty workload.
“I think if we get surgery, radiology and medicine with big, research-focused chairs, who also, of course, care about the education of medical students and the treatment of patients, that’s a step in the right direction, or three steps in the right direction,” Trachtenberg said.
Trachtenberg said not only is it difficult to compare faculty workloads nationwide, or even statewide, because of the individualistic nature by which workloads are determined by various schools, but when looking at the AAU schools MU hopes to compete with, MU is already more research-focused.
“We have very limited ability to change the AAU selection factors, but, frankly, if anything, the AAU schools with whom we hope to compete, likely have lower workloads for teaching than we do,” Trachtenberg said. “I think it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to convince the AAU that they should give more credit in their metrics to schools that have people teaching more. The AAU’s in favor of good teaching, but they’re not in favor of saying, ‘You should teach more and do less research.’”
There is nothing wrong with taxpayers or their elected representatives wanting to know more about what MU does, Trachtenberg said. Rather than looking at the total number of waivers being approved however, Trachtenberg suggested that it may be more helpful to focus more on who gets approved waivers and for what reasons.
“I’m not going to blame Sen. Schaefer for not knowing all the details of what’s going on in the departments,” Trachtenberg said. “I just think we need to sit down and talk to each other. If folks in Jefferson City want to know more about what we do, the university should be happy to talk to them.”