By: Catherine Collins
Hood’s course release policy, which allows professors a decreased courseload when holding a leadership position, is currently under revision by Dr. Katherine Conway-Turner, provost and vice-president of academic affairs.
Release time refers to the time created by reducing the number of classes a professor is teaching each year so that the professor can hold a position such as chair of a department or director of a graduate program.
Currently, each department chair receives two course releases each year in order to perform the duties required of that position.
Under the draft that Conway-Turner is working on, department chairs would receive one course release per year, and positions that require one course release would have that release eliminated.
The final decision on the drafted revision will be made during the next month, according to Conway-Turner. A faculty vote is not required to approve the proposal, but professors are being consulted by the provost on the suggested changes.
One of the problems with the current system is the equal allotment of release time given to departments of different sizes and complexity and to positions of varying demand; another is the high dependency it creates on part-time professors.
“We are trying to find a more fair and equitable way to compensate certain roles,” Conway-Turner said, explaining that it’s not logical or fair for less demanding positions in smaller departments to be given the same time allowance as more challenging ones in larger departments.
“We’re going to move to a system where there is either release time or a stipend,” Conway-Turner said.
For example, the drafted policy includes the removal of the communication arts course release. Currently, the English department receives three course releases a year – two for Dr. Mark Sandona to serve as department chair and one for Dr. Aldan Weinberg to direct the communication arts department. If the proposed policy is passed by the administration, Weinberg will receive a stipend of an unknown amount instead of release time.
The drafted policy includes the elimination of releases to smaller departments instead of the addition of releases to larger departments, which would have been a different way to address the problem of disproportionate time distribution.
“That there will be reductions is pretty clear,” Sandona said.
While the provost said that reducing course releases would benefit students by putting more full-time faculty members back into the classroom, some professors are concerned about how their one-on-one mentoring time would be affected.
Dr. Scott Pincikowski, professor of German and current chair of the department of foreign languages and literatures, said that he would be apprehensive about his ability to mentor individual students if he loses a course release.
“I am concerned that my effectiveness as a teacher will be impacted by this decision,” he said. “I will have less time to devote to students who come for extra help, and I will have less time to devote to my course preparation.”
“I was disappointed and a little surprised that this plan would be considered, because our primary concern is to have as much time as possible for our students,” Pincikowski continued. “If I have one fewer course release, I’ll have less time for the students. And that is the greatest thing at stake here. As chair, I am to be available to not only my students but the hundreds of students in enrolled in the foreign language program at Hood. I would hate to see that availability decrease.”
For Dr. Roser Caminals-Heath, professor of Spanish, losing a course release would mean compromising the ability of professors to uphold the academic standard they currently sustain.
“Advising, independent studies, directing honors papers and graduate theses, etc., would be affected,” she said. “It would also affect our scholarly activity.”
Caminals-Heath added that it would be especially difficult for her, since she is expected to publish novels with certain regularity.
“Personally, the impact on my work is troubling,” she said. “As a novelist, my publishers expect me to produce at a regular pace so that my name won’t fall off the public radar completely. A sabbatical every seven years isn’t enough to keep up with my writing.”
The Removal of Hodson Fellowships
At the beginning of this semester, the administration eliminated the Hodson Fellowship opportunities for Hood faculty. This fellowship, which is very competitive and prestigious, had allowed professors to apply for a paid semester off to research and write books, and is now being replaced by faculty-student collaborative research.
“Eliminating these opportunities sends a discouraging message and doesn’t improve the image and status of the college,” Caminals-Heath said, adding that the fellowships did not cost the college very much money.
Caminals-Heath said that having time to research and write on one’s own enhances the quality of the teaching that professors can offer.
“After a period of research and writing, we come back invigorated and pour much of our newly-acquired knowledge into our classes,” she said.
Pincikowski also said that the research that professors do outside of the classroom significantly contributes to the quality of teaching they can offer.
“To remove something like the Hodson Fellowships sends a message about how scholarship and the faculty are valued at Hood – or not, as the case may be,” he said.
A Possible Decrease in Reliance on Adjuncts
Whether the drafted revision to the release time policy could generate money by reducing Hood’s dependence on part-time faculty is currently debatable, but the provost called that consideration “a very small component” of the decision.
During the 2010 – 2011 school year, 72 course releases were provided to a faculty base of 83 full-time members.
Hood’s dependence on adjunct faculty members is high compared to its competing institutions. In 2011, part-time members constituted 68 percent of the faculty.
A collaborative report on faculty salaries published in May placed considerable importance on eliminating the institution’s relatively high reliance on part-time professors and suggested that doing so would save the college money.
It is stated in the report that “one source of funding for faculty salary increases [is] to reduce the College’s reliance on adjuncts at the undergraduate level.”
The report then cites “developing and implementing an equitable and appropriate use of release time” as a way to “make progress on faculty salaries.”
The report, which was intended to address the historically low state of Hood’s faculty salaries, which are currently in the bottom 20th percentile for all IIA institutions, was done by four faculty members and was co-chaired by Conway-Turner and Charles Mann, vice-president for finance and treasurer.
Conway-Turner and Mann said in an interview on Sept. 27, however, that freeing up money is not the primary goal of changing the release time system.
“There might be a little bit of money [generated], but we won’t know until it’s implemented,” she said.
“It is purely a fairness issue and an equality issue,” Mann said.
Caminals-Heath said, however, that any amount, no matter how small, should be used for the purpose originally designated.
“The administration stated that these savings would be used to raise faculty salaries,” Caminals-Heath said. “Even though I understand that the savings won’t be significant, I believe that they should be added to savings coming from other areas to improve faculty compensation, as initially agreed.”
Changing Teaching Load
The main way that the administration has sought to eliminate the high demand for part-time faculty is by trying to increase faculty courseloads. Hood professors teach 18 credits each year, while most of its competitive institutions require its professors to teach 21 or 24 credits each year.
The report done by the task force, however, states there is “empirical evidence that the full-time faculty at the College shares a greater burden of advising and mentoring students than their counterparts at the peer institutions.”
According to Mann, though, Hood professors do not do any more work than faculty members at similar institutions.
“Mentoring and service can’t be quantified,” he said. “Faculty would like to see those other things [quantified], but they can’t be.”
“The focus has to be on increasing teaching load,” Mann continued. “It’s the only way to generate revenue. Research and service don’t bring in money.”
Last spring, the faculty was given a proposal by the administration to increase their teaching load from 18 credits each year to 21 credits each year in exchange for an unspecified increase in salary. This proposal was rejected by the faculty in a 71 to 6 vote in the negative.
“We recognized that there would be significant savings from reducing adjunct faculty members,” Mann said of the proposal.
“The only answer was to increase teaching loads,” he said. “The faculty chose not to do that.”
Many professors felt that taking on more credits each year would drastically diminish their ability to mentor individual students.
Pincikoski, who voted in the negative, said that he was “strongly opposed” to moving to a 21-credit teaching load.
“Creating academic rigor in the classroom takes a lot of preparation outside of the classroom,” he said. “If I’m doing four different [preparations] in any given semester, this will negatively impact the quality of my courses.”
In an email sent out to faculty members on May 11, President Ronald Volpe called the 18-credit teaching load “an unsustainable model” for Hood, citing the Office of Institutional Advancement’s finding that the average teaching load during the previous year was 14.4 credits per faculty member.
“I will not mandate an increase in the contract teaching load at this time,” Volpe said. “Still, I must express concern about what I believe is the somewhat unfair and unsustainable situation caused by many current practices . . . I must reserve the option of changing my position on teaching loads should it become necessary in the future.”
For Sandona, considering a move upward of the 18-credit model would be symbolic of the college’s image and priorities.
“Faculty teach better when they have fewer courses to teach,” he said. He citedGettysburgCollege’s recent move from an 18-credit teaching load down to a 15-credit teaching load.
“We have to ask – what direction are we going in?” Sandona said. “Are we going in the direction ofGettysburgCollege, or are we going in the direction ofFrederickCommunity College? Let’s be honest with ourselves.”
Lindsay Cogdill contributed reporting.