by Charles Schwartz, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
firstname.lastname@example.org April 27, 2000
Part 1 of this new series, which has the title, "A Critique of UC's Planning for Tidal Wave II -- The Question of Cost," (dated March 2, 2000) is available on the Internet at http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz
In Part 1 it was estimated that the University's current plans for Tidal Wave II - accommodating the expected 43% increase in undergraduate enrollments over the period 1998 to 2010 - will cost around $10 Billion. Based upon an informed study of relevant data provided by the University, it was suggested that several $ Billions of this public money could be saved, without harming the core of academic quality, by modest re-adjustments in the present overall balance between research and teaching in the University's utilization of the faculty. This is a heretical idea and I expected that UC's leaders would not receive it kindly.
At the Regents' meeting on March 16, this subject was raised by Michelle Pannor, the student member of the Board, and she was answered by C. Judson King, UC's Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs:
Pannor: "[I]t has been observed that the faculty teaching loads
are actually... rather low in comparison with our ... comparison universities.
So I was wondering if you could address that.... if you could relate to
us any discussions that have been going on about increasing course offerings
and if there has been any discussion about faculty teaching loads and staff
King: "Sure. Let me start by saying that it is not true that our teaching load is low in comparison with our comparison eight or other comparable group of universities." [He then went on to talk about plans for summer session.]
It is surprising to see such a flat-out denial by Provost King, since the data which I cited in Part 1 - showing that faculty teaching loads at UC are low in comparison to our peer institutions - come from an official report to the state legislature which was produced last year by King's own office. A second response to Regent Pannor was given by Professor Lawrence Coleman, the faculty representative at the Board of Regents:
Regent Sayles: "Professor Coleman, would you comment on the faculty
Coleman: "Certainly. The faculty teaching loads are essentially at the national norms... The teaching load of a professor of physics at Davis, the teaching load of a professor of physics at Harvard or Michigan or Minnesota are essentially the same. And that's true by discipline. Bigger differences are by discipline. But all of those teaching loads are essentially at the national market."
Now it happens that Professor Coleman is a physicist, like myself, and
so I can interpret the word "essentially", which he used three times in
this reply. When we say that one thing is "essentially the same" as another
thing, we mean that the two things are not identical but the difference
between them is insignificant. In Part 1, after looking at the University's
official data on faculty teaching loads, I concluded with the estimate
that "UC faculty courseloads are, on the average, around 20% lower than
those at our comparison universities." That 20% difference may appear to
some people as too small to be of any significance. But that is not so,
as I shall now explain.
The Concept of Leverage
When we look at the division of faculty teaching duties between undergraduate courses and graduate courses we find that it is just about 50-50. One older source of data on this question was cited in Part 1 (after my Table 5); and a recent source of data is the same UCOP document referred to above, "Undergraduate Instruction and Faculty Teaching Activities...", dated 3/99. Tables 2 and 3 of that document present the latest tally of Primary Classes (lecture and seminar courses) taught throughout the University by Regular-Rank Faculty (appointments in professorial titles, excluding health sciences and visiting titles and those on sabbatical leave). For the academic year 1997-98, the average number of Primary Classes per FTE was 5.0 quarter courses when all levels of instruction, undergraduate and graduate, were counted (Table 2); when they counted only undergraduate instruction (Table 3) the number was 2.6 quarter courses per FTE, just about one-half of the total.
This implies that we have a leverage factor of 2 in seeking to increase faculty productivity in undergraduate teaching. By this statement I mean the following: If we increase overall faculty teaching loads by X percent and direct all of this increased effort to undergraduate courses, then we have increased the faculty's undergraduate teaching by 2X percent.
Thus, taking the numbers given above: a 20% increase in the average UC faculty teaching load could provide a 40% increase in undergraduate course offerings without adding any new faculty members. That pretty much solves the challenge of Tidal Wave II, at a tremendous saving in cost, without significantly compromising the quality of UC as a premier research university!
Is this a fantasy? No. Is this an oversimplification? Yes.
What about the plans for an increased number of graduate students at UC? See the discussion in Part 1, which explains the desirability of large student-faculty ratios in the PhD programs, where most of the graduate students are.
Won't we need more Teaching Assistants to serve the increased number of undergraduate students? Yes, that is correct, but they are much much cheaper than regular rank faculty members.
Looking again at the same UC report cited above, we find another striking pair of numbers. Table 1 gives the total count of all Primary Classes taught at UC in 1997-98 as 46,085, while Table 2 gives the same number as 25,218 when they count only courses taught by Regular-Rank Faculty. This means that nearly half (45%) of all Primary courses are taught not by the Regular-Rank Faculty but by temporary faculty on the staff at UC. [Note. These numbers do not count the many discussion sections and laboratory sections of lecture courses, which are taught by graduate student teaching assistants.] Who are these other teachers? They are mostly Lecturers, plus a small number of Visiting Professors and other titles, who are hired on a per-course basis to teach (mostly) undergraduate courses throughout the University. These temporary faculty are, I am sure, fully qualified to teach the courses for which they are hired; and they cost the University a great deal less money.
Does this new data on temporary faculty imply an additional leverage
factor in looking at Tidal Wave II? The answer to this question is not
clear to me. But what is clear from all this discussion is the need for
UC officials to undertake a thorough, detailed, quantitative study of a
variety of new options in planning the future staffing and financing of
the University. This advice enlarges my recommendation to the Regents stated
at the end of Part 1.
The Value of Research
The proposals put forward in Part 1 and further discussed above do involve a shift - albeit a small one - away from research and toward teaching in the overall balance of faculty work within the university. Such a reduction in research time implies a potential cost (to society) which should not be neglected, but it also should not be overblown.
When I mention the idea of some increase in teaching loads to one old friend and colleague, he responds, "Well, if you want to reduce the university to the level of a state teachers' college, ..."; and I cite this to indicate the extreme level of sensitivity among faculty to this subject.
University research is awfully important; and it is awfully difficult
to measure its value quantitatively. What is the right balance between
research and teaching? What is the proper teaching load for faculty at
a research university? Let me start with some historical perspective.
Not long ago, chatting with a high level university administrator, I commented that over the years faculty teaching loads had always gone down; but maybe soon they would need to go up. The response was, "I just hope it doesn't happen on my watch." I cite this to indicate how loathe our academic leaders are to thinking outside of the box.
Tidal Wave II represents a new market force; and there are other phenomena on the horizon which deserve the attention of UC's planners. (See Part 3).
Another way to approach the issue of re-balancing research vs. teaching
within the university is to ask the question, Is all research equally important?,
the answer to which is self-evident. Here are some others' observations.
The best policing of research quality is that done by the faculty members
themselves; what the university should do is move away from the "one size
fits all" (i.e., research first) habit of the past, giving more respect
and reward to faculty members who take above-average interest in undergraduate
In these first two papers, I have shown that it is (intellectually)
feasible to chart a very different course in the University's planning
for Tidal Wave II; and the proposals I have outlined have the virtue of
saving several $ Billions of public money, while preserving UC's essential
academic quality. However, it is unlikely that such reasons, by themselves,
are enough to persuade this large institution to change its plans; much
inertia sits on the present course. In the subsequent paper (Part 3 of
this series) I plan to address some further practical motivations that
the faculty and administration ought to consider.