Plans for workload reallocation move ahead at meeting

Tom Kohut, Dean of the Faculty, addressed the issue of workload reallocation at the year’s first faculty meeting last Wednesday, introducing plans to reduce the full-time teaching load to four semester-long courses per year, possibly as soon as next fall. According to Kohut, departments and programs are currently investigating the feasibility of the reallocations, and department chairs will discuss the possibilities of implementation at their meeting on Nov. 8.

Under the existing system, professors teach three courses every fourth semester. The current plan would allow departments to eliminate the three-course semester, while still requiring one winter study class to be taught every other year.

“We’ve been talking about workload reduction or reallocation since the days of the [former president of the College Carl] Vogt administration,” Kohut said at Wednesday’s meeting. “When President [of the College Morton] Schapiro took office, reduction/reallocation was coupled with curricular innovation.”

Vogt ’58 was interim president of the College during the 1999-2000 school year.

The current plan was informed by a study performed by the faculty Steering Committee (SC) that Kohut said made a “compelling case” for workload reallocation.

“The issue has been studied and discussed for quite a while at all levels of the institution,” said Craig Wilder, professor of history and chair of the SC. “Last year’s SC did a thorough re-evaluation of the question and decided that it was in our institutional and professional interests to go forward with the reallocation as soon as possible.”

According to Kohut, Williams’ teaching load is currently higher than that of most of its peer institutions. The reallocation, expected to be a reduction, is hoped to help attract new faculty members in what Wilder described as an “increasingly competitive market.”

At their November meeting, chairs will present recommendations about how and when departments and programs could perform reallocation. It is likely that some departments will support a reduction, but others with different needs might call for different means of implementation.

“Many of us have a differently structured teaching load,” Kohut said. “Thus for some departments, reallocation might take the form not of a courseload reduction but of increased technical or other teaching support or of a teaching load that is adjusted in other ways.”

Kohut said that while it is certainly possible that the College could implement SC’s proposal as early as next fall, this is not a definite outcome.

“We are holding off for now on the SC’s recommendation that we do a phased reallocation, beginning first with untenured faculty, until we have decided whether we are in a position in fact to implement reallocation for the whole faculty beginning next year,” Kohut said.

Wilder believes that departmental autonomy in determining the course of local reallocation is critical to the process’ success.

“The agreement insures that we will continue to prioritize the curriculum by allowing departments and programs, in consultation with elected faculty committees, to determine how to best achieve a workload reallocation,” Wilder said.

With curricular innovations developed through the strategic planning process last year, many in the faculty and administration saw a need for courseload reallocation to facilitate more time-intensive course offerings, such as tutorials, interdisciplinary and team-taught courses and writing-intensive classes.

Kohut noted this close relationship between the two. “Indeed, there was good academic reason to link the two, for almost all of the curricular innovations we passed require us to work more closely and intensively with our students, and we will need more time to be able to do that,” he said. “So in the long run reduction/reallocation and the curricular innovations are mutually dependent and reinforcing.”

Andrea Danyluk, professor of computer science and chair of the Committee on Educational Policy, emphasized the importance of giving professors time to design and teach new courses that follow from curricular innovations.

“The idea of courseload reduction/workload reallocation, of course, is not to give faculty time off, but instead to give faculty time to do new and more interesting things,” Danyluk said. “This meshes very nicely, then, with curricular innovation.”

One complication of implementation next fall would be a decrease in courses offered, as plans to hire more faculty members in the near future will not yet be completed. Kohut projected a 10 percent decrease in overall course offerings next fall, which could increase the size of some classes.

“In the short term, before we are able to increase the size of the faculty further, there is potential tension between the curricular innovations and workload reallocation,” Kohut said. “Since for a great many of us reallocation will take the form of a course-load reduction, we will experience a not insignificant (at least short-term) reduction in our course offerings.”

However, Kohut added, recent efforts to hire more professors and a proposed decrease in the size of next year’s entering first-year class could mitigate these effects.

Schapiro noted that courseload reduction will only take place if it does not affect class sizes too much.

“We have been hiring faculty so that average class size continues its recent downward trend, and courseload reduction will only be put into place when we are convinced that students will not suffer in terms of larger classes,” Schapiro said. “Our motivation is to enhance the quality of the classroom experience and that is exactly what we will do.”