Op-eds, Opinions

Locke P’18: Expanding time for faculty excellence, engagement

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Brown’s faculty are central to the University’s mission to address some of society’s most pressing challenges through our distinctive, collaborative approach to teaching and research. They are also essential to the University’s commitment to cultivate an inclusive community that benefits fully from a wide array of individuals with diverse experiences, ideas and perspectives. Yet, the many competing responsibilities that faculty balance can impede their capacity to excel as scholar-educators and engage fully in the Brown community.

To respond to faculty needs while upholding our commitment to personalized, high quality instruction, we have been looking for opportunities to provide faculty with more time. Our goal is to create the conditions for our faculty to engage more fruitfully with their scholarship, their students and with the overall mission and goals of the University.

Brown places very high demands on its faculty: They teach, advise, conduct research, mentor students at all levels and are deeply engaged in our system of shared governance. There is tremendous value in this. The integration of advanced scholarship, teaching and advising is key to Brown’s characteristic approach to education and is a point of pride. Yet, it is not without costs. Faculty report that they need more time to advance their research, more time to invest in and continually renew their courses, more time to mentor and advise students, more time to collaborate with colleagues both within and outside of Brown and more time to participate in faculty committee service.

We’re taking steps to address these concerns. For example, the teaching assignments for tenure-track faculty vary by discipline. In the sciences, professors are expected to teach two courses per academic year in addition to their research and service. In some of the social sciences it is three courses, and in the arts and humanities it is four courses, generally split evenly over the two semesters. We are working to make teaching assignments more equitable across the disciplines and academic departments, thus offering opportunities for all faculty to engage in cutting-edge research, meaningful student advising and mentorship and participation in faculty governance.

Our analysis of course offerings shows that we can selectively reduce teaching loads while upholding our commitment to personalized, high quality instruction. Two years ago, I asked the dean of the faculty to work with the Faculty Executive Committee to create an Ad Hoc Committee on Enhancing Faculty Research. This committee considered options to provide more time for faculty to engage in research, advising and other activities critical to their work and our community. As a result, we launched several new initiatives:

First, we permitted faculty in the sciences who were involved in major research projects to occasionally cluster courses, teaching two courses in one semester while being exempt from teaching the next. This provided these faculty members with the time and flexibility to advance their research while also meeting their teaching obligations. We also launched a small pilot project for faculty with four-course teaching loads. We invited their department chairs to nominate individual faculty for a one course reduction so that they could undertake or complete a major research project.

This pilot program and associated data-gathering has provided important information on which we can now act by reducing course assignments without substantially affecting course offerings or class sizes. Informed by these insights, we have decided to move forward with a plan to reduce the formal teaching requirements of tenure-track and tenured faculty from four to three courses for those in four-course load departments. In the coming months, we will collaborate with the relevant academic departments to ensure a smooth transition to this new model. This may require carefully reducing the frequency of some of the very small courses offered, perhaps to every other year rather than every year. In some departments, we may need to add to the teaching staff in strategic ways to ensure that students’ access to courses is unaffected. One point is clear, however: a proliferation of adjunct faculty is not part of the solution.

Moving forward, the dean of the faculty will work with academic department chairs to develop three-year course and staffing plans to meet curricular obligations and the needs of undergraduate and graduate students. This will give faculty the time necessary to advance their scholarship, innovate their teaching, enhance their advising and mentoring of students and engage in essential activities related to their professional development and university governance. This is essential to our commitment to enhance academic excellence by cultivating a thriving and cohesive community. Simultaneously, the Faculty Executive Committee is leading a review of faculty participation on University committees to identify opportunities to reduce the faculty’s time commitment while maintaining their strong role in faculty governance.

As we implement the course reduction initiative, we will remain guided by fundamental principles: providing an exceptional educational experience to Brown’s undergraduate and graduate students and ensuring Brown faculty have the benefit of time to excel in all aspects of their work.

 

Provost Richard Locke P’18 can be reached richard_locke@brown.edu. Please send responses to this op-ed to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.