A June report presented to a UNC Board of Governors committee found the average professor taught 3.7 courses per semester in 2013, a jump from 3.37 in 2011.
The data comes from the National Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity, a University of Delaware program that estimates various measures of school productivity, including faculty workload. The UNC system has participated in it for a decade.
Jay Schalin, a researcher at the Pope Center, said he was not convinced by the numbers.
“That seemed excessively high,” Schalin said.
By using data from registrar websites and calling campus departments, Schalin and a team of Pope Center interns published their own results.
They found that system faculty taught an average of 2.4 courses per semester in 2011. The report concluded there has been no distinct change in average faculty workload following several years of state budget cuts, which have totaled nearly $500 million from 2011 to 2013.
According to the report, the lack of change suggests a cushion of nonessential spending at system schools.
Bruce Cairns, UNC-Chapel Hill’s faculty chairman, said the Pope Center’s report ignored important facts.
He said faculty workloads remained unchanged because the reductions following budget cuts were made primarily to staff at support levels, ensuring that the quality of a University education would not decline.
Cairns said budget cuts have made UNC-CH’s work environment less supportive, causing losses of faculty. From 2012 to 2013, only one-third of faculty who received outside job offers remained at UNC, down from a 69 percent retention rate the year before.
“The faculty do more with less, and they become more subjected to being lost,” he said.
Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system , said the Pope Center’s sample size was much smaller and pointed out Schalin and his team used unofficial information pulled from registrar websites.
“Making direct comparisons between the two data sets is inappropriate and misleading,” Worthington said in an email.
Still, Schalin said he was confident in his results, and he added that he attempted to duplicate the Delaware study’s surveying methodology.
“The results so consistently support my hypothesis that I am extremely sure that they are accurate,” he said.
Schalin said while he does not claim that the system is inflating faculty workloads to secure more state funding, there is an incentive for the system to convince the legislature that professors work more than they do.
The report ignores the contributions faculty make outside the classroom, Cairns said.
"(Students come) to Carolina to get the kind of experiences and exposures that they can’t get elsewhere,” Cairns said. “That isn’t measured by one individual in front of a classroom, and a number of individuals in the class.”