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Annoying paperwork

The department is currently in the process of applying for a new tenure-track position. That position will help us accommodate our large number of majors and the increased demand for courses in our introductory sequence. At some schools, the proposal would go to the Dean. Because Grinnell embraces faculty governance, decisions about new tenure-track positions are made by Executive Council [1,2]. A few years ago [3], Council moved to a common form for applying for tenure-track positions. That’s probably a good idea; when I was on Council, there was a wide range of quality and approaches to the proposals. Standardization can help. Of course, each year’s new Council seems to want to change the form.

I see that this year’s form now asks us to specify the normal teaching schedule of each faculty member at the individual course level. Not Sam usually teaches two introductory courses, two upper-level required courses, and one elective each year but rather something like Anth 104C [3,4]; Anth 104C; ANT 292C; Anth 210E; Mat 115S [5].

That question makes no sense to me. There is no normal; what I teach varies from year to year. Consider next spring, which our chair is in the midst of planning. Over the past few weeks, I think we’ve considered the following possibilities for my spring (a three-course-equivalent teaching semester).

  • Two sections of CSC 324 (lab classes, credited at 1.5 each) and two sections of CSC 326 (small add-on classes, credited at 0 each).
  • One section of CSC 151, one section of CSC 281 (a one-day-per-week class, credited at 0.25), one section of CSC 282 (another one-day-per-week class, also credited at 0.25), one section of CSC 324, and one section of CSC 326.
  • Two sections of CSC 151 and one section of CSC 207.
  • Two sections of CSC 151 and one section of CSC 301.
  • One section of CSC 151, one section of CSC 207, and one section of CSC 301.
  • One section of CSC 151 and two sections of CSC 301.

Why so many possibilities? Because when we put together a schedule, we need to pay attention to faculty interests, teaching ability, and loads. As new faculty members join the department, or go on leave, or both, we need to shuffle. Hence, in CS, we expect to be able to (and to have to) teach broadly. If I count correctly, I taught nine different courses in the previous three-year period (CSC 151, CSC 195, CSC 207, CSC 281, CSC 282, CSC 301, CSC 321, CSC 322, and GLC 195). Five of those were courses I had not taught in my prior seventeen years at the College, including three core courses (CSC 301, CSC 321, and CSC 322) and two one-off electives (CSC 195 and GLC 195). As I look back on my history of teaching, the primary pattern I see is Sam taught a lot of CSC 152 in his first decade at Grinnell and a lot of CSC 151 in his second decade; the other courses tend to switch every year or two. I’ve taught CSC321 and CSC 322 every semester for the past three years, but (a) those courses are going away and (b) I’m rotating off of software design [8]. Claiming anything is normal for me would be a lie.

Even faculty members like CC, whose regular load of systems courses counts for at least three of the five teaching credits each year, has rotated through networks, CSC 151, Tutorial, and data visualization in this first three years. And I don’t even want to think about how much variation there has been in out type theorist’s schedule.

I admit that CS may be a particularly special case. But I have to expect that faculty members in most departments also do some shuffling. In some years, they teach more seminars; in others, they teach more introductory courses. Tutorial has to fit in there somewhere [9]. I keep hearing about exciting special topics courses; those have to take the place of something else. And don’t we have a reasonable number of every-other-year courses?

My chair asked whether we could just list the courses the department expects to offer each year and not assign them to individual faculty members. After all, given how much things vary, it doesn’t seem accurate to list the particular courses. What as he told (or what does it seem that he was told, since I wasn’t there)? Most faculty members teach similar schedules from year to year; CS, Math/Stats, and perhaps Physics are the only exceptions. Adapt to the form as best you can and give something close tonormal" for each faculty member."

Hmmm … if most faculty members teach similar schedules from year to year, why are the CS [10] faculty taking on the extra burden of teaching a wider variety of courses, particularly given that we are also on the high end of student contact hours per faculty member? I’m not sure. But it appears that this stupid form [11] has just managed to snuff out a bit more of my good will.

And I’m still left wondering. Is it really the case that most faculty members have a normal teaching schedule? If so, what is that like? Is it comforting? Boring? Convenient?

Postscript: Did I mention how glad I am that I’m no longer chair and don’t have to deal directly with this kind of paperwork any more?

[1] Admittedly, broader decisions about the total number of tenure-line faculty are made by the President and the Board of Trustees.

[2] Since the President and Dean sit on Council, they can also have an effect on discussions of allocations.

[3] I’m not sure why the example uses Anth rather than ANT.

[4] The C means Core. There’s also E for Elective and S for Service.

[5] I thought that we no longer listed intro stats in the Mathematics department. I think its number is now SCI/SST 115 [6].

[6] Nope; it’s still MAT/SST 115 this year. I wonder if the change happens next year.

[7] Well, after I left Council. At this point, I guess that could be more than a few years ago.

[8] It’s clearly time for me to rotate off. I hope to provide some guidance to my successors.

[9] I’d love to see Tutorial fit in there somewhere in my teaching schedule. As far as I can tell, my next opportunity to teach Tutorial won’t be for four or five years.

[10] and Math/Stats and Physics and …?

[11] Or, more precisely, the expectation of regular responsibilities embedded in the stupid form and the response.

Version 1.0 of 2018-03-22