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Reducing course loads for more one-on-one instruction university-wide

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Making the case to the city

Many PSC members who could not attend the hearing in person submitted written testimony about the workload plan to the City Council.
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More than two dozen PSC members and CUNY students packed a City Council hearing room on March 3, to testify about the importance of restructuring the faculty workload so that instructors can have more one-on-one time with students. Many other members who could not physically be present at the hearing submitted testimony to the council for the official record.

This campaign comes as the union is also fighting for higher pay for adjuncts and more funding for CUNY from Albany.

In remarks to the council’s higher education committee, union members and students addressed the CUNY Board of Trustee’s budget request that the city include a $35 million increase to CUNY to bring the full-time faculty teaching load in line with that of peer institutions. In a statement, the union explained that “CUNY’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for $35 million the Faculty Partnership for Student Success Initiative...would allow a restructuring of the full-time faculty workload to enable more time with individual students and more time for research, leading to greater student success and a richer educational experience.”

NEW FUNDING

In her testimony to the panel, PSC President Barbara Bowen said, “We’re asking the state to allow our faculty to have the time they need with their students.”

The hearing was a part of the on-going process for the City Council to reach a final city budget this summer. PSC members consistently focused on how the funding should allow instructors to be more fully engaged with their students. In the excerpted testimonies below, CUNY faculty and students spoke vividly about the work they do in and outside of the classroom, and what challenges their students face and overcome every day.

Bowen was quick to point out that this request was not meant to absolve the state of its historic under-funding of CUNY. “The city should not be absorbing the burden of the state,” Bowen said.

Professors as counselors

Written feedback on student essays often is not enough. My students need to meet face-to-face with me to review drafts, clarify ideas and understand what they need to do to improve their writing if they are to successfully complete the course….

Writing is an intensely personal act and students often reveal intimate details of their lives to their writing instructors. It is through student essays that I have learned that one student has relapsed after a 10-year struggle with sobriety and had been kicked out of his home or that another student is experiencing paralyzing anxiety over her parents’ undocumented immigration status. These are the needs that must be attended to swiftly, thoughtfully and individually. Investigating appropriate campus-based referrals and following up to make sure students have access to the help they need is a time-consuming task, but one that faculty must take on if we want our students to succeed, both personally and academically.

Emily Schnee,
Associate Professor of English
Kingsborough Community College

Students are scholars

Sigmund Shen spoke about how students’ learning would be enhanced with more individual attention if faculty workload was reduced.
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With 90 students, I’d have to give primarily written feedback, hand scrawled in a rush on their paper and handed back to them at the end of class. With 60 students, I’d be able to give them substantial verbal feedback, in actual one-to-one, give-and-take conversations. Instead of waiting days or even a week to get answers to their questions, they’d be able to hear answers within seconds. And of course, that individualized conversation leads them to deeper questions. That individual attention also makes me better able to cajole students who need counseling into walking to the counseling center, or better able to intervene on the behalf of students who are having trouble navigating the bureaucracy.
I try to do this with my students, but often don’t have time to know them well enough to identify such problems until it’s too late.
A three-hour reduction would also enable me to spend more time and more consistent, sustained, consecutive hours on scholarship. I’d be more excited about my field and more up-to-date, and better able to articulate that excitement to my students, treating them as potential scholars themselves rather than simply as customers.

Sigmund Shen,
PSC Chapter Chair
LaGuardia Community College

Teachers fight austerity

Numerous research studies prove that faculty with active research agendas are the best teachers. Individual professors’ passion for inquiry rubs off on students by serving as a model of lifelong learning, embodying the imperatives of curiosity as a force of motivation and the joys of daring to think for oneself.
As a result, CUNY’s current workload is not only unjust when put in relation to other institutions – Rutgers, SUNY – against which we measure ourselves; it’s also an immensely short-sighted and inefficient business model. My college has become a revolving door for faculty who try to leave before their pre-tenure course releases run out. Already overextended faculty acknowledge that there will never be another chance for a reduced workload, and given the withdrawal of public funding for research, they go elsewhere.

‘INVISIBLE WORKLOAD’

I also want to draw attention to the invisible workload for faculty that affects student learning in ways we often do not consider. With so many students each semester, we live with their often unimaginable problems because our eviscerated welfare state, loss of a sense of common good and shift of social policies from funding schools to punitive mechanisms like prisons. Consequently, our students have been raised on Reagan/Thatcher’s free market outsourcing of public responsibility, and internalized the mandate of personal responsibility with all the sense of inadequacy and self-hatred that it fosters…. They often have no one to talk to about their difficulties but faculty.

For example, in the last four months, I have had one student explain to me that she’s been missing class because she is homeless, another woman confided that she struggles to study because of domestic violence problems in her household, still another student was existentially terrorized because of his immigration status in light of the intensified war on immigrants since Trump took office. An honors student who is confronting debilitating depression came to me to discuss quitting school. Faculty are really the face of the college for students and our work goes well beyond the teaching and learning in the classrooms.

Paul Narkunas,
Associate Professor of English
John Jay College

Moving to senior campuses

I regularly teach honors courses at LaGuardia and each year I have a handful of students with whom I meet to talk about transfers, discuss their [senior college] choices and work through their statements of purpose. I also write letters of recommendation for those students and am absolutely thrilled when they get into the schools of their choice. This work is rewarding, but it is time consuming, and it’s something that a lighter load would allow me to do without cutting into my other commitments.
Karen Miller, Professor of History
LaGuardia Community College

Helping students achieve

One of my students was an underpaid, exploited musician who left the industry for college simply to get away from unpaid work. CUNY gave him an education that enriched his intellectual life and put him on a path to professional self-expression and development. I mentored him closely to develop his aptitude in film studies.
Our students simply don’t know how good they are until faculty members tell them. He is now pursuing a PhD at NYU because of the time and attention I could give him…. If working-class colleges have become vastly larger engines of social mobility, it is because of the sacrifices CUNY faculty like myself make, as we commit to doing so much with so little. Funding for higher education has plummeted, and this needs to change.

Anupama Kapse,
Associate Professor of Media Studies
Queens College

The Numbers don’t add up

A recent survey by the American Association of Colleges and Universities of 433 chief academic officers showed that a large majority of institutions have a common set of intended learning outcomes: in writing, critical thinking, qualitative reasoning and oral communication. Because many of our students have significant problems in these areas, they need individual attention and extensive feedback. It is humanly impossible to provide this attention and feedback during a semester with four classes of 25 or more students each. Teaching four classes doesn’t allow for adequate instruction. Teaching three classes may barely do so, at a high cost to the faculty’s family and social life, but, and this is crucial, it doesn’t leave time for research.

Elisabeth Gareis,
Professor of Communication Studies
Baruch College

Balancing act

When I teach English 101, for instance, I require my students to meet with me individually for 20 minutes three times each semester to discuss their writing and assess their progress in the course. That often adds up to 90 additional hours of instruction per semester. I do this because I know it works and because I know from experience that this kind of individual attention, especially in gateway courses like English 101, increases not only the quality of the work my students produce, but their overall engagement with the course and consequently dramatically increases the number of students who pass my classes.

Unfortunately, this additional work has made it incredibly difficult for me to pursue the scholarship and the committee work necessary for my tenure, and thus, as my tenure review approaches, it is unlikely that I will be able to continue to offer these conferences to all of my students without some kind of reduction in the number of courses I teach each semester. A three-credit course load reduction would guarantee that I would be able to continue these conferences to my students and still be able to pursue the other requirements for tenure.

James Hoff,
Assistant Professor of English
Borough of Manhattan Community College

Students need attention

[M]y courses routinely fill to 40 students each, which is as much as most Baruch classrooms will hold. Since we have no teaching assistants at Baruch, I do all my own grading. This grading isn’t easy. I don’t believe in using multiple choice exams, which only teach students to memorize and regurgitate answers without context or argument. My bluebook exams and papers require students to make clear arguments, show change over time, marshal evidence to back up their points, and demonstrate a deep knowledge of a particular period. They also require students to learn to read critically and write well.

These are skills our students desperately need to develop both for their careers and to be good citizens. Most do not have the chance to develop these skills in their high schools, which are often overcrowded and underfunded. Furthermore, English is frequently not our students’ first language. That means our students require intensive investments of time from professors to help them build the skills I’ve described. And they deserve that investment of time. They deserve a real, thorough and competitive college education.

Charlotte Brooks,
Professor of History
Baruch College

More time needed

For several semesters I have had the intention to develop a new course on Latin American visual studies. It would be so rewarding being able to develop and teach a course focused on my area of expertise, especially now that we have a major. Unfortunately, I have not been able to do so, because developing a new course requires extra time. Having more time would also allow me to apply for collaborative research grants to work more closely with students during the summer – at present, I devote most of the summer to working on my own research. A restructured workload committed to teaching, service and research would certainly be beneficial in this regard.

Ángeles Donoso Macaya,
Associate Professor of Modern Languages
Borough of Manhattan Community College

Expectations and demands

Joyce Moorman talked about the growing demands community college faculty face, with expectations of more research and productivity.
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Community college presidents are insisting on more scholarly activity and productivity today than ever before. On October 15, 2016, I was commissioned to write two art songs for Dr. Louise Toppin, chair of the music department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The song was to be performed February 9, 2017, at a music conference at the University of California at Irvine. When I accepted the challenge of the commission, Dr. Toppin asked me how many classes I teach a semester. When I told her five, she was shocked. At the University of North Carolina, the course load is only two. CUNY community college professors are now being required to produce scholarship equivalent to that of senior college professors. Across CUNY we need a course load reduction to meet increased research departments and to spend more time with our students.

Joyce Solomon Moorman,
Associate Professor of Music and Art
Borough of Manhattan Community College

Potential is wasted

The faculty [members] at CUNY have an enormous potential. A lot of this potential is wasted, especially for the faculty at community colleges, where the teaching load is at least three more hours (and actually six more hours in most cases) than four-year colleges. CUNY has the luxury of boasting that most of the faculty at its community colleges have a PhD. This is unheard of for most community colleges in the country.

These professors can write grant proposals for research in education or in their particular field. However, after the first few years, the overwhelming teaching load takes a toll and the research activity gets diminished. And without research activity there cannot be grant proposals. This is a great loss for CUNY both academically and economically; it is important to note that a good part of the revenue of research universities comes from grants. CUNY could do much better in this aspect if professors, especially at our community colleges, had more time for their students and especially their research.

Luis Fernandez,
Professor of Mathematics
Bronx Community College

A student’s view

I began college in the fall of 2016. I was scared because English is not my native language, and also because my high school did not prepare me well enough for college. Either way, going to college was something I needed to ensure a better future for my mother and me.

I chose this college because of its diverse student body; people from all over the world start here and go anywhere, as the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s motto states. During the five semesters I have been studying at this institution I have had the best teachers I could have imagined. I always felt nervous and anxious whenever I had to do public speeches, until I met my Speech 102 professor Lee Ritchey. This was truly a blessing in my life. Every afternoon he’d stay with me after class practicing every speech I had to do in his class. I went to every office hour he had, he never complained about me asking for too much help. Not once did he complain about being tired, although it was obvious he was. He was always there for me as a caring professor. He is one of the reasons I am standing here and giving this speech in front of so many people and feeling confident.

Carla Rivadeneira,
student majoring in Modern Languages
Borough of Manhattan Community College