BY JEFF BAKER
The word overload can have more than one meaning to higher education faculty. It can mean increasing class size or adding additional course sections to the faculty member’s required minimum teaching load. While many full-time faculty welcome overloads as an opportunity to increase income, they are usually a bad deal.
Adjunct faculty are often frustrated by college and union policies on overloads. At most institutions, full-time faculty have the right to choose additional sections as overloads before adjunct faculty receive assignments. In some schools, full-timers who want to teach overloads can even bump adjuncts who have already been assigned to classes. This limits the teaching opportunities for adjuncts and often results in last minute surprises that include unexpected reductions in what is already a meager income. It also leads to animosity between groups of faculty. But are overloads a good deal for full-timers?
In most schools, teaching classes larger than the usual size limit is voluntary. While sometimes no compensation is offered, the incentive for doing so is often a small pay increment or the allocation of professional development funds. This compensation is often at a disproportionally low fraction of regular pay. In some cases, such as large lectures where TAs are doing much of the grading, it may not matter to the faculty member, but in a small writing intensive class, it may mean much more work for very little reward.
Teaching of additional sections is often paid at the adjunct rate which is typically one half or less of the full-time faculty member’s usual compensation on a per-class basis. Yes, faculty have many other responsibilities and their primary compensation reflects that, but still, this is a lower rate. Faculty unions accept this, even though unions in other fields demand time and half or more for additional effort. For example, nurses working a weekend 12 hour shift at a local hospital are paid for 20 hours.
Beyond compensation, there is another issue that is often overlooked. If the institution’s administration finds that a large number of faculty are teaching overloads, it may decide that the required base teaching load is too low and pressure faculty and their unions into increasing it in return for relatively small increases in pay. At some community colleges, base loads are 12 – 3-credit courses per year. At some for-profit institutions, they are as high as 16 per year along with administrative duties such as adjunct supervision. A look at schedules on the websites of several community colleges shows that some faculty members routinely teach 16 to 18 classes per year. An administrator may think, “If those faculty can do it, why can’t all of them?”
Overloads are part of an unfair system that seeks to exploit both full time and adjunct faculty by staffing classes at lower cost. As part of that system, many adjunct faculty need to make a living by teaching at multiple institutions–-in some cases with equally onerous course loads. At the same time, it puts downward pressure on salaries for full-time faculty who have in some cases reported that when negotiating pay, a low offer was justified by the institution because faculty have the opportunity for extra money for teaching overloads. It is a recipe for faculty burnout and a system that short changes students when overworked faculty are unable to respond to their needs.