The Moon Room

A Community Forum on Guilford College Faculty Life

Challenges with staffing courses under a 12-3 model

February 3rd, 2018

Here’s another logistical issue we’ll need to deal with if we move forward with the 12-3 schedule. It’s a different kind of challenge to staff a three-week course than it is a 15-week course, and with the current low number (at least in recent history) of tenured and tenure-track faculty, it’s likely we’ll need to lean hard on temporary faculty to make a three-week term work. The graph below was part of an analysis I sent to the senior team back in November. I never received a response to that message, although I’ve talked with Frank about parts of it since.

The blue line is just math, 1500 students spread across a variable number of courses. At the right side of the chart, it approaches one class with 1500 students. At the left side, it approaches 1500 classes with one student each. In the area shown, we’re between 150 classes with 10 students each and 37.5 classes with 40 students each. Everywhere on the line, courses times students multiplies out to 1500 total students.

For an intensive semester to work, we are mathematically obligated to be somewhere on the curved blue line, or students won’t be able to graduate in four years/eight semesters (i.e. without summer school or a fifth year). If we find internships or non-Guilford study away opportunities in the 3-week term for 10% of our students (setting aside the cost of administering internships and the potential lost tuition revenue if students took non-Guilford off-campus courses), we might be able to swing the dotted orange line, but that doesn’t change the math much.

The yellow horizontal line reflects the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty we have now, which is around 80. However, in any given year, some of those are on study leave, some are leading study abroad, some are taking family or medical leave, and some have course releases for other work. Also, with our 3-3 teaching load, in a four-course 12/3 setup, we can only count on 75% of faculty to be teaching during the 3-week term, because some faculty will do their three course load as three 12-week courses.

So, we have, at best, tenured and tenure-track faculty able to teach somewhere near the horizontal green line. Everything above the green line will have to be taught through faculty with temporary appointments or with overloads. We may not even have tenured and tenure-track faculty to match the green line, because some faculty meet their load with a combination of lecture and lab courses and won’t have space in their schedule to do a 3-week intensive class, and it’s possible that more tenured and tenure-track faculty may get caught up teaching a full load in the 12-week section to meet departmental or general education needs rather than doing 3-week courses.

The green line crosses the blue line at about an average class size of 28. Most faculty, when they talk about a potential 3-week intensive class, talk about project-based courses, travel courses, special topics, or research opportunities that might engage 5-15 students, like what we saw in January Term, which is shown with the light blue dot. That kind of class is the size that we keep hearing anecdotes about, from Hiram, from Culver-Stockton, and from others who wax poetic about the opportunities of a three-week term. Nobody is talking about the joys and radical benefits of managing a 40-student on-campus intensive course, but for every 10-person class we offer, we’ll have to hire somebody to teach the other 18 students, or add them to another class. The 3-week term just can’t resemble Jan Term. The classes will have to be significantly larger.

So, we either need to have 3-week classes that average 28 students, or we need to add a lot of temporary faculty to the mix. If we go the latter route, I can see a few options to address this math problem, none of which look great. If we want to support a significant number of 3-week courses with 10-15 students, we could:

  1. Have tenured and tenure-track faculty stretch to cover more of these classes after teaching a full semester load during the 12-week, compensated by Guilford’s modest overload pay.
  2. Hire 50-100 full-time adjuncts for a 3-week term to meet student needs. We have about 50 FTE of non-tenure-track faculty now, but more than half of those (and thus well more than half of the people involved) are part time. The 3-week term is supposed to be full-time work.
  3. Change our teaching load to 4-4, mandating the 3-week term for nearly everyone
  4. Create huge (70-120 student) megacourses or other experiences to balance out the small ones.
  5. Hire more tenured and tenure-track faculty

Option 1 is a lot of work. Remember that the 12-week courses, if we do them in a principled and accreditable way, have just as much student contact, just as much graded work, just as much student interaction as a 15-week course. They’re meeting more often per week, for longer classes, with more frequent or longer assignments. That leaves less faculty time for grading, for planning, for preparation, for meeting community partners, and for rounding up resources, and also for service work, research, or professional development and growth. Somebody doing a 3-course load in 12 weeks ought to be way more frantic and burnt out than during a 15-week semester. If three courses over 15 weeks is a 40-hour-per-week job, then doing the same in 12 weeks is 50 hours a week. We’d then be asking faculty to take on an additional full-time 3-week experience after twelve consecutive weeks of overtime.

Options 1 and 2 are expensive. If we pay $4000 per class, either to adjunct faculty or as overload pay for tenured and tenure-track faculty, and we need 50-100 extra classes, then we are spending $200,000-$400,000 for every intensive semester. Some of that we already spend, because we already have temporary faculty and overloads, but given the numbers of courses required, a good chunk of that is new money that we’ll have to find somewhere.

Option 2 also presumes we can find 50-100 qualified instructors in the local job market who are willing or able to take on 3-week full-time jobs which overlap a regular semester period. Some of those folks would presumably be with us for the 12-week and extend to the 3-week, but not all of them would, and even then, there aren’t enough. Frank assures me this kind of recruiting is possible. Even granting that, many of those instructors would not have the benefit of the faculty development work in collaborative learning that we’ll undertake along with this initiative, and those who show up just for a three-week term will likely not have a long-term engagement with our institution and with our majors and programs. Also, if we do this, we would be moving towards, or past, 50% of these showcase courses taught by temporary faculty, which is a far higher percentage than during the regular term and which has associated management, recruiting, and oversight challenges. It also extends Guilford’s reliance on the more exploitative and poorly compensated adjunct faculty market, which I think is a bad thing.

Option 3 is awful, and radically redefines the nature of faculty work at Guilford. If that’s on the table, we should have just done it under the old model and reaped the savings there. It would be better to take on that challenge under a regular model that we know rather than adding that additional burden to a massively disruptive new semester structure, new curriculum, and new pedagogical focus.

Option 4 is a real challenge. It’s hard to imagine what huge courses look like, or how they’d be administered or taught, or how the teachers would be compensated, or how students in such a large course would get the one-on-one contact and guidance we say is our strength and our goal for this program.

Option 5 is the most principled way to do this, with the best likely outcomes, but given that this all is happening in the midst of a budget deficit, I think there’s zero chance it will happen until and unless (and most likely after) the promised enrollment boom occurs.

There may be other options here that I haven’t thought of. I would imagine that each comes with its own challenges. We could also combine these or other approaches. But the fundamental problem here is a mathematical one, and I don’t know the solution.


Here’s an updated version of the graph that fixes the class sizes and numbers for January term, adds earlier January terms, and explicitly includes current numbers of full-time non-tenure-track faculty, assuming that all would teach a three-course load in a 12/3 semester. This is in response to Rob Whitnell’s comment below. Click to make it bigger.







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The Moon Room

A Community Forum on Guilford College Faculty Life