BARBARA BOWEN

BARBARA BOWEN: Key step toward student success.

The Professional Staff Congress and the City University of New York have agreed to reduce the teaching load for full-time Professors and lecturers to provide more time for them to advise students and conduct research.

Full-time teaching faculty at senior colleges, including Instructors, Associate Professors and Assistant Professors, have been required to teach 21 contract hours, or seven courses. The mandate at community colleges was higher, at 27 hours. But as part of ongoing contract negotiations, the PSC advocated for the workload to be restructured to allow Professors to spend more time counseling students, holding office hours and performing academic research. The union and CUNY agreed to the reduction Dec. 8.

‘Breakthrough for All’

“This is a breakthrough for the university, its faculty—and above all, its students,” PSC President Barbara Bowen said in a statement. “Multiple studies show that the single-most-important academic factor in student success is time spent individually with faculty. The agreement will give us that time.”

Senior college faculty will now be required to teach 18 contract hours in the fall of the next academic year, while staff at community colleges will see their teaching load reduced to 24 hours.

“A lot of faculty have been ground down by the workload structure, especially at the community colleges,” said Geoffrey Kurtz, chair of PSC’s Borough of Manhattan Community College chapter, who led a campaign to reduce the teaching load at his college.

He explained that faculty teaching a class involves a lot of time outside the classroom, including preparing lessons and grading tests. Professors also need time to mentor students, design new courses and work on research projects.

“This has been an increasingly pressing problem, so this is a really exciting step,” Mr. Kurtz said. The Associate Professor of Political Science added that there’s been a “real shift in terms of culture and institutional expectations” for educators.

“The expectation of how much scholarship faculty members do has increased,” he said. “And in recent decades, there’s been more focus on how we teach, so Professors are more aware that teaching load affects student outcomes.”

CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken said that the workload restructuring will encourage prospective Professors to teach at the university system’s 24 colleges and graduate schools. “This important step not only aligns faculty work to achieve CUNY’s ambitious strategic goals, it reflects peer and best-practice nationally and will strengthen the university’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining talented faculty,” he said.

Nivedita Majumdar, an Associate Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and PSC secretary, explained that almost every CUNY campus has “had the experience of both being unable to hire a faculty of their choice because the candidate chooses an institution with lower teaching load, and losing faculty who move on to another position with a lower teaching load.”

Got Positive Results

In 2011, Ms. Majumdar led a successful campaign at John Jay to address the issue by creating a program that offered tenured faculty a reduction in teaching hours. Research productivity grew, including a 35-percent increase in grant money during the 2014-2015 fiscal year compared to the previous year. Although “there were certainly other factors” that contributed to the increase, “we believe that the teaching-load-mitigation program allowing senior faculty more time to devote to their research has contributed to the outcome in the past couple of years,” she said.

Ms. Majumdar added that faculty having more time to advise students is especially important because many of the people CUNY serves are economically disadvantaged and work full-time jobs. “At a time when public services and higher education specifically, is under attack, this was an amazing win,” she said.

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