Changes to postsecondary education over the last few years, particularly larger class sizes, have increased demands, professors say. In a controversial report on faculty workloads issued last spring by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the group suggested that universities hire more faculty who would be primarily devoted to teaching, possibly leading to smaller classes. Such positions are increasingly common across Canada.Student credit hours per faculty member is a crappy performance metric. So is salary per student credit hour, the metric that has led to universities relying more heavily on cheap and contingent labor. On the other hand, the Northwestern model that hires lecturers on a long-term basis, and treats them as professionals, including limiting the Distressed Material masquerading as students, might have some effectiveness.
In Canada, as is true everywhere else, the crappy performance metric leads, inevitably, to crappy performance.
In the meantime, many professors have made changes to the structure of courses to decrease assignments that require extensive written feedback.That has long been a tradeoff. It might have been a tolerable economy in first- and second-year courses that served as weeders, but eliminating writing assignments from upper division courses in the name of student credit hours per credit hour makes for a lousy education at Dalhousie. And publish-or-perish is now get-funded-and-publish-or-perish.
“As an English prof, my pedagogical values tell me that if students are going to be learning they have to be writing, and they have to be writing a lot, and they need to get feedback on that writing,” said Kathleen Cawsey, an associate professor at Dalhousie University who recently received tenure.
Prof. Cawsey is spending part of the winter break deciding whether or not to include a final essay in one of the courses she is teaching next term. At the beginning of her career, she asked students to write multiple drafts of a paper and provided feedback on each one. With larger class sizes – one of her winter courses will have 90 – that has become impossible.
Research funds are also difficult to access. New funding rules that emphasize commercial potential, particularly in the sciences, mean that professors have to deal with the prospect of their careers being cut short if they don’t win grants to run a lab.That's Canada. I don't know if the funding expectations have become as nasty as they are in Britain. There's always the possibility of becoming a free agent: if you're spending all your time preparing proposals and budgets, think in terms of business plans and loan applications. Then there's no upper bound on how much income you produce.
“My younger colleagues are having to survive in stressful situations that I never had to survive,” said Larry Moran, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto. “Government policies have redirected research funds so that it’s hit and miss if you get grants. ... When you fail at this job, there aren’t a lot of other places to go,” he said.
As a result of these multiple sources of pressure, some graduate students are cautious about entering academia. Christin Moeller, who is studying toward a PhD in applied social psychology at the University of Windsor, is taking a program that gives her the option to work in industry or government. She was all too familiar with the lives of academics from researching faculty mental health and stress as part of her graduate work.Yes, if the pipeline of aspiring professors dries up, the universities will have to treat their faculty better. But the professoring gig is one in which people are willing to knock themselves out, if in pursuit of the right goals.
“What makes academia unique is that everything is important and that faculty need to be excellent at everything,” Ms. Moeller said. “We feel really passionate about our work … but personally, I am not sure that those types of demands until I retire are what I’m looking for.”No, everything is not important. Working with motivated students: important. Giving a lot of consideration to special pleadings from weak students: not important. Getting the words right in a research report: important. Getting the words right on a committee report: not important.
There's some perspective from the Superman-comics-inspired-named Xykademiqz that will reward careful study. A sampling.
Everyone in the academic enterprise is smart, and most people are smart enough to be successful. There is a great degree of luck in success, but personality also plays a role in how things turn out. There are a few aspects of my personality that I think have been useful for me to have. I am not saying they are necessary or even anywhere near ideal in general, but I think they are strongly correlated with my professional and personal standing (I am happy with both) in the overall mishmash that is my personality.Go and read the rest.