To: Academic Deans
From: Thomas H. Jackson
Vice President and Provost
Don E. Detmer
Vice President and Provost for Health Sciences
Re: Process to Evaluate All University Operations:
The Teaching Mission of Departments and Schools at the University of Virginia
I. At the start of a period during which the University will undertake a broad examination of its operations, it is appropriate to ask the faculty to undertake intensive discussion of its full academic mission.
The first issue we would ask you to discuss with your departments and schools commencing this fall concerns the strengths and weaknesses of the current academic culture at the University and the role of the teaching mission within it. An explosion of information and new technologies in recent decades have put faculty members under an increasing strain in their efforts to provide the most up-to-date and comprehensive knowledge available to students in classrooms, studios, and laboratories. The expanded informational frontier increases the demand for highly-specialized research in many areas, while it concomitantly had led to an increasing array of curricular offerings. The existence of specialized courses, impressive in their range and depth, also has strained the delivery of "basic" courses that comprise a smaller and smaller share of the overall set of curricular offerings, especially in some disciplines.
These factors, combined with others, have led to a set of repeated criticisms of this and other institutions of higher learning--there is too much emphasis on research; there is too little focus by the senior faculty on "basic" courses or offerings in the first and second year of the undergraduate experience; the "basic" courses are too large; the faculty have "abandoned" teaching to graduate instructors and teaching assistants. As participants in the educational process, you are fully aware of the substantial extent of exaggeration, ignorance, and often mean-spiritedness reflected in such criticisms. Yet it is also the case that the criticisms are not entirely groundless. They have, moreover, a particular claim to legitimacy when they confront an educational enterprise without a comprehensive, cohesive, and articulated set of operational premises regarding who teaches what, where, and when. In some ways, our educational totality may appear to many to be the sum of hundreds, indeed thousands, of individual decisions--and the sum of discrete decisions is not itself reflective of a cohesive collective policy.
As a community of learners, we must strive to provide a positive environment within which both teaching and research/creative endeavor will flourish, and we must ensure that we locate the ideal of a broad, humane education of students at the center of our shared educational enterprise. This requires developed norms of faculty responsibilities as well as rights. And these norms must come from the faculty, acting collectively and deliberately. Among the University's greatest strengths is its tradition of excellence in undergraduate education, coupled with its strong national ranking for research. To preserve and enhance this double strength within the context of a constrained budget must be a principal goal of all discussions.
II. In order to set some parameters for discussions within schools and departments, we want to lay out a few principles and guidelines, specifically in relation to our delivery of teaching at every level.
From discipline to discipline, the kinds of scholarship required as well as the kinds of teaching differ widely. Both scholarly and pedagogical achievements in different disciplines are measured in significantly different ways. As a result, each department and each school must be clear about its own standards for assessing excellence in teaching as well as research/creative endeavor and service. These standards must be communally developed in relation to competitive national norms and upheld by rigorous methods of evaluation that play a role in the setting of individual faculty rewards and responsibilities.
Since, for most faculty members, the enterprise of teaching and that of research/creative endeavor are not easily separable, quantitative assessments of productivity (e.g., how many hours are spent in the classroom, how many hours on class preparation, how many hours on research) are necessary but not sufficient. To pick one salient example, keeping up with one's field applies equally to teaching and to research, and should not be counted on one side or another of a hypothetical teaching/research line. While scholarly achievement can be judged fairly easily in terms of the reputation gained from books, articles, art works, inventions, and the like, it is considerably more difficult to measure excellence in teaching. Yet it will be important to develop both incentives for teaching excellence and means to assure its centrality in defining the mission of all departments and schools.
Average teaching loads will differ from department to department and school to school, and they may also differ within departments and schools. National norms in each discipline, the relative importance of graduate education in various departments, with its individualized focus, and the individual faculty member's scholarly productivity--to pick three relevant factors--will affect the number of courses per semester taught by each person in a given unit. For example, the Art Department has recently decided to ask its tenured faculty to teach one extra course per year in the faculty's members's area of interest. In its case, the department is confident that this decision does not interfere with its ability to recruit excellent faculty. On the other hand, Economics, where the average teaching load is already higher than the loads at virtually all of the top 40 economics departments in the country, cannot make a similar across-the-board move without significant competitive consequences.
However teaching loads are set, tenure-track faculty must be protected. They must have flexibility in their assignments sufficient to allow their professional development in all three areas judged at tenure time: teaching, research/creative endeavor, and service.
The curriculum of individual departments and schools must serve the entire community of learners. It should reflect the University's commitment both to high-quality scholarship and to a richly informed and broadly based education. In those departments and schools that have educational responsibilities for both undergraduate and graduate students, it is also incumbent on them to ensure that the interests of both groups are effectively served.
A. The number and effectiveness of large lecture vs. small lecture courses and seminars within fields, departments and schools.
Some decisions to offer several small, labor-intensive courses on specialized subjects with enrollments of fifteen or twenty students, together with one large basic course with an enrollment in the hundreds, may be pedagogically and collectively sound. In other cases, however, the students may be better served if several smaller sections of the basic course are offered at the expense of one or more of the highly-specialized classes. The range of courses in this respect should be the result of collective field or department judgement, not just an aggregation of individual teaching decisions. While this issue is largely specific to a few disciplines with introductory "service" courses and to a few schools with relatively poor student-faculty ratios, the general point that there is a curricular whole that should be owned by the faculty collectively applies to all departments and schools.
B. The distribution of full-time faculty and graduate instructors or teaching assistants in undergraduate programs.
There is a widespread public perception, which is partly fact and partly fiction, that full-time faculty members--and particularly senior faculty--do most of their teaching in the third- and fourth-year undergraduate program and at the graduate level. In disciplines where this is true, graduate instructors or teaching assistants, then, bear the brunt of first- and (less often) second- year teaching and undergraduates may sometimes encounter full-time faculty in those disciplines only in their second, or in unusual cases, third year. Clearly, the decision to rely heavily on graduate instructors in some basic areas follows from a careful collective assessment of productivity (that is, a substitution of less expensive inputs for more expensive inputs). Where such collective decisions have been made, they need to be well-articulated, such as by a differentiation between "skills" courses, where few gains may be had by placing relatively experienced senior faculty in teaching roles, and courses, even though "introductory," where lively intellectual interchange suggests substantial gains to be had from the presence of senior faculty. Wherever no clear rationale lies behind such a decision, moreover, steps should be taken to replace the graduate instructors with full-time faculty.
Departments and schools involved in the first two years of undergraduate instruction should develop policies and incentives designed to involve more and more senior faculty in teaching courses at the first- and second-year level. Some of this teaching may take place in basic courses, and some of it in seminars of a kind for which the present University Seminars provide one very effective model. (The issues addressed in III (A) need to be reflected here as well.)
By the same token, where it is relevant, departments and schools should ensure that there exists a fair distribution of small versus large and undergraduate versus graduate courses among all members of its full-time faculty actively engaged in research. Without some norms, a danger arises that some members of the faculty will be disproportionately asked to have teaching contact with large numbers of students, while others will teach only small, highly specialized courses. At the same time, in establishing such norms, chairs and deans will also want to use to best advantage the particular talents and abilities of each faculty member. Some faculty members are best suited to the large lecture situation, while others do their best teaching in more intimate settings. While there will be varying solutions, there should be collective norms that can be articulated, implemented, and measured.
As one means of reaffirming the centrality of the teaching mission in the life of full-time faculty, departments and schools should seek ways to encourage excellent teaching from its assistant professors from the very start of their careers. This is already done in most academic units by an assessment of teaching success early in the faculty members's time at the University. In addition, however, departments might, for example, ask assistant professors for a statement concerning their teaching philosophy and a rationale for courses they have chosen to teach as part of the third-year review. They might also consider various senior/junior faculty mentoring programs to involve the faculty at large in the ongoing discussion of its communal teaching activities.
C. The development of logical teaching measures and making more flexible the concept of teaching loads. To accommodate differences among departments and among individuals and to make the most of faculty resources, we should look to a more flexible model for faculty activity. The acceptable mix of teaching, research, and service should be flexible enough to accommodate talents and interests that vary over the course of a career as well as from individual to individual.
In looking at this, we need to start with the development, if possible, of standardized measures of teaching loads that recognize the enormous differences that exist across disciplines and schools. Variables include the average size of classes, methods of grading (faculty who grade their own papers and exams may spend upwards of 200 hours a year doing so), the frequency of independent study/thesis work, and the relative proportions of graduate and undergraduate instruction, are a few of the variables that make dubious comparisons based on time in "lecture" classes alone (and that are the common focus of a two course a semester "load"). We, together with you, can begin work immediately to develop more accurate measures of teaching loads.
In addition, other relevant factors may be more school or department specific, including comparative norms in the discipline and the availability of resources to allow some incremental gains in teaching loads to be accomplished, efficiently, through financial incentives. In all cases, whether, and how, to pay for such incremental advances will be central to discussions about varying teaching loads depending on individual circumstances.
D. Restoration of the traditional work week as the appropriate timeframe for distributing courses in order to reassert the centrality of the academic enterprise in the residential life of students.
Course offerings should be spread reasonably evenly throughout the workweek. Unusual clustering of courses between 9 a.m. and noon, or unusual numbers of courses that avoid Friday (two salient examples) should not exist. Reasons for particular clusterings (e.g., discussion sessions or lab sessions) need to be clearly and persuasively articulated. Even where reasons for such clustering exist, it is a separate matter to suggest they should cluster, for example, on Friday. Two issues are at stake. One is a matter of perception: that full-time faculty are managing the scheduling of courses to suit their own individual preferences, with little regard to the collective norms of the institution. The other is an issue of the student's engagement in the academic life of the institution. It is a rather common faculty concern that students pay more attention to the extracurricular then to the curricular. In part, this may be because the curricular enterprise has turned over to extracurricular activities such a large portion of the week, that the signal we desire to send about the centrality of the academic mission here for students is weakened by our actual practice.
This issue seems to us ripe for concrete action that would allow implementation for the next academic year. We ask departments and schools to develop scheduling norms that are consistent with this principle so that the Registrar can implement them this spring in preparation for organizing the 1994- 95 calendar.
There obviously are--and should be--differences in the applicability of the principles and guidelines we have outlined among disciplines, because of the nature of the work and the types of instruction appropriate for each discipline. We look forward to talking with you if and as questions arise in the course of your discussions. And we trust that the discussions in the individual departments and schools will provide the essential undergirdings of our fill- scale process of evaluation.