Faculty courseload to decrease

Williams professors will teach a lighter courseload beginning in the fall of 2002 due to a workload reallocation plan currently being developed by the department chairs and the dean of the faculty. The plan, which is intended to help Williams compete more effectively in the market for new faculty, is the result of a study performed by the faculty Steering Committee (SC) that suggested that it would be in the College’s best interests to reduce faculty workloads.

The current teaching load follows a 3-0-2/2-1-2 calendar, meaning that each professor teaches two courses each semester with one three-course semester and one Winter Study course in alternating years. The department chairs met on Nov. 8 to discuss ways to reduce faculty workloads, whether by having faculty teach fewer courses or through other adjustments.

Tom Wintner, associate dean of the faculty, said that the majority of the departments will reduce faculty course loads by eliminating the three-course semester. The Winter Study requirement will be maintained by most departments under the new system.

However, some of the departments in Division III are expected to address reallocation in different ways because courses are not counted the same way in all departments. For example, Wintner said, “a three-hour lab does not have an exact course equivalent and is therefore counted somewhat differently.”

“Some [departments] may choose not to carry out a course reduction per se, but rather a workload reallocation achieved through additional staffing in other areas, such as technical or lab support,” Wintner said. “This issue is seen more frequently in Division III than in Division I or II.”

The geosciences department will not eliminate the three-course semester next year. David Dethier, chair of geosciences, indicated that his department will “reallocate our time mainly by teaching fewer Winter Study courses ourselves and finding adjuncts – possibly recent alums – to teach instead.”

“We expect no short-term changes, but believe in the future we may do more splitting of the teaching in some of our courses, allowing us to teach new courses,” Dethier said.

The most significant challenge facing the workload reallocation process is a looming contraction of the total number of courses offered in the 2002-2003 academic year. Although an expansion of the faculty is part of the College’s long-term strategic plan, the workload changes will take effect before the benefits of an enlarged faculty are felt.

“Departments are urged to think creatively about possible solutions, especially for 2002-2003, by which time new tenure-track staffing will not yet be in place,” Wintner said.

Tom Kohut, dean of the faculty, speculated earlier this year that the total number of courses offered by the College may drop by 10 percent in the first year of the reduced faculty workload. More recently, however, Wintner expressed optimism that the actual reduction in course offerings will be smaller.

“Due to the fact that expanded staffing cannot take effect until 2003-2004, it is true that we will be unable to fill the gap with tenure-track faculty immediately,” Wintner said. “However, several mitigating factors will probably keep the actual reduction in course offerings at less than 10 percent in 2002-2003.”

Wintner indicated that not all departments may adopt the changes for next year, and that more visiting professors could be hired “if critical courses are missing in a given area.”

The department of mathematics and statistics is one of the departments planning to implement a course load reduction. According to Tom Garrity, chair of the department, the reduction will be accomplished by consolidating a few sections of 100-level calculus courses and limiting the number of 300-level courses offered.

“We will offer eleven 300-level courses next year,” Garrity said. “We usually offer a few more than eleven. By the way, I can think of no college similar in size to Williams that offers even close to 11 junior level math and statistics courses.”

Garrity also emphasized that the reduction in 100-level course sections will be calibrated to shifts in enrollment trends and therefore will not lead to significantly larger class sizes than Williams students have normally experienced in the last few years.

“While we do not yet know exactly what courses are to be offered next year, there should be enough classes for anyone, both major and non-major, who wants to take a math or stats course,” Garrity said.

The reduction in faculty workloads will present particular challenges to smaller departments, where course offerings are already comparatively spare.

Meredith Hoppin, chair of the Classics department, said that her department’s chief concerns are the frequency with which certain courses will be offered and the potential for coordination problems with other departments that overlap the classics curriculum.

“Other departments offer courses cross-listed with Classics that are important for our majors and for students generally, e.g. courses in ancient art, religion, and philosophy,” Hoppin said. “Will these departments be able to maintain those courses, or at least offer them as often as they do now, which isn’t always all that often even now?”

Another prominent concern, Hoppin said, is the fact that most professors who chair departments or perform administrative duties do not receive any official courseload relief. “The burdens of chairing and other administrative work can therefore bear very heavily on small department chairs and tenured faculty, and the new workload allocation is likely, at least in the short run, only to increase those burdens,” she said.

Hoppin said that the classics department will reduce course loads primarily by restructuring their program of translation courses, in which students read texts translated into English from the original Greek or Latin.

“Years ago Classics started capping courses which drew huge numbers of students, and we also purposely designed a wider array of translation courses, each of which would be likely to attract more modest enrollments but appeal strongly to those who did enroll,” Hoppin explained.

“We are likely to return to earlier practices, teaching slightly fewer translation courses each year but teaching some of them quite large, with the teacher receiving credit for just one course,” she said.

The course load reallocation effort is in large part intended to make Williams more competitive in the market for talented new faculty.

Currently, the course load of a typical Williams professor is heavier than those of professors at many other elite institutions.

Garrity said that while the mathematics and statistics department has been highly successful in attracting top-notch professors in recent years, the five-course load every other year has been harmful to their recruitment.

“We want people who are passionate not only about their teaching but also about their research.” Garrity said. “Williams should be a place from which comes striking new ideas, both from students and from faculty. The students at Williams deserve the best faculty. Keeping the teaching load at five courses a year will prevent this from happening.”

The reallocation effort is also intended to allow professors more time to develop new courses and to teach more writing-intensive classes and tutorials.

In that regard the new system complements the curricular innovations adopted by the College last spring, which include an expansion of the tutorial program and the establishment of a writing requirement.

Many department chairs see the workload reallocation as an opportunity to implement the curricular reforms. Dethier said, “the [reallocation] will permit us to teach more tutorials, a mode that seems particularly well-suited for sophomore-senior students.”

Hoppin said, “Classics is especially excited about some changes we’ll be making as a result of the reallocation, changes we could have made anyway but might not have gotten around to making without this inspiration.”

“For instance, we plan to make some of our Greek and Latin courses writing intensive, which will not only serve more general student needs but also improve, we think, the value of these courses in themselves,” Hoppin continued. “We have also been inspired by this whole process ? I’m including here the curricular reforms passed last spring ? to think about more tutorials in the languages.”