Campus News

Should Professors Serve a Five-Course Meal?

Story posted November 19, 1999

Students at this week’s Common Hour were treated to a taste of administrative banter they are not typically privy to: Craig McEwen, dean for academic affairs, and Kent Chabotar, treasurer and vice president for finance and administration, debated the merits and pitfalls of increasing faculty workload from four to five course a year.

Chabotar touted the merits; McEwen warned of pitfalls.

Chabotar’s point was that the College needs to work more efficiently in every way, including the assignment of work to faculty.

"I love teaching so much, I want my colleagues to teach more," he said.

He said professors teach five or six courses a year at "sweatshops" like Bates, Colby, Swathmore, Smith and Vassar. And those schools take heavily from their healthy endowments to subsidize their budgets: $20,000 per student at Swathmore, $18,000 per student at Wellesley. Bowdoin, on the other hand, spends only $7,000 per student from its more modest $400 million endowment.

"Bowdoin’s motto is: ‘Where there’s a will, we want to be in it,’" he said.

The College has had six consecutive balanced budgets with barely any surplus and a debt load that has quadrupled in size, and everyone’s workload has increased. Except the faculty’s.

Chabotar also argued that it’s a myth that the four-course load compensates faculty for the number of independent study and honors projects they oversee. He said there is no reliable data to support that, a fact he learned from Institutional Research, which, he was delighted to add, reports to McEwen.

McEwen agreed that Chabotar should have the opportunity to teach five courses each a semester, but that others should not have to. Imposing that change would hurt the faculty, the College and the students.

First, it would make Bowdoin less attractive to prospective faculty, meaning Bowdoin would no longer be able to attract the high caliber of faculty it currently draws.

"We advertise (the teaching load) heavily," he said. "It assures faculty that they can be both serious teachers and active scholars and artists."

Second, the College should be concerned more with the quality of the teaching at Bowdoin than the quantity.

"Many faculty already work 60 hours per week," he said. Language professors already teach five classes. "An additional class would not mean just another three hours’ work. What would go? Some of the 500 independent study projects, help sessions, the ability to keep up with their own disciplines."

Denis Corish, professor of philosophy, said an increase in students would affect his teaching style.

"I am teaching two courses, and I have 80 students," he said. "Because of the labor-intensive method with which I grade papers, I’m in the midst of 40 hours of grading. If I were teaching three courses, I might well have 100 students, and I simply could not grade the way I do, which might make my students happy. I might have to go to a mid-term and a final. I hope I wouldn’t have to go to true/false."

And third, class size would decrease, but so would choices for students, who would be more likely to be shut out of the classes they want.

One student said he was accepted at some of the colleges that Chabotar mentioned. But he chose Bowdoin because "there’s a distinct dynamic between students and faculty, because Prof. Corich brings students into his office and reads their papers.

"Bowdoin has a market niche," he said, "and there will always be people willing to pay for it."

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