Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, introduced a bill Thursday that would require all professors in the UNC system, regardless of research obligations, to teach at least eight courses per academic year to receive their full salary.
The bill would likely hit hardest at the public research universities in the state, such as UNC and N.C. State University, compared to the more teaching-based universities, such as UNC-Pembroke. A 2014 report found that UNC-system faculty teach an average of 3.7 courses per semester.
State law currently requires professors at research universities to teach at least two classes per semester. UNC-CH professors, including tenured, fixed-term and adjunct faculty, averaged 2.8 courses for fall 2013, while N.C. State professors averaged three courses.
McInnis contends that professors’ primary role is course instruction, saying in a statement that university students should actually be taught by professors, not student teaching assistants. The bill would not affect the course loads of graduate students teaching lab courses or recitation sections.
“There is no substitute for a professor in the classroom to bring out the best in our students,” McInnis said. “I look forward to the debate that will be generated by this important legislation.”
But W. Fitzhugh Brundage, UNC’s history department chair, doesn’t agree.
“How exactly is a grad student supposed to learn how to teach if he/she is never given the opportunity to teach before being hired for their first job?” he said.
As for the history department, Brundage said the overwhelming majority of classes are taught by faculty.
“There is no major research university in the U.S. that has a four-four teaching load,” Brundage said. “I think faculty would leave. They would look for jobs elsewhere and UNC and N.C. State would have a very hard time.”
Professors at research universities currently spend much of their time doing just that — researching. Requiring them to teach four classes a semester could lessen their time for research and development, Brundage said.
Under the proposal, universities could supplement faculty salaries with private funds if the professor taught less than eight courses a year for research reasons.
Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis at the conservative Pope Center on Higher Education Policy, said he thinks the bill will bring an increased focus on undergraduate education while reducing salary costs for the UNC system.
“Obviously, if teachers are more productive, the schools will need fewer teachers to teach the same number of students,” said Schalin in an email.
“But that should not even enter into the picture — the university system is not a jobs program for academics, and whether a bill reduces or increases the number of jobs is irrelevant,” he said. “The goal is to provide a quality education as efficiently as possible, using the appropriate number of professors.”
McInnis, a freshman senator, introduced two additional education-related bills last week. One proposal would launch a pilot program for a teaching scholarship designed to encourage teachers to work in rural, under-performing schools. The other bill would affect the state’s K-12 schools — delaying tougher standards for a school performance grading scale.
Brundage said he doesn’t understand the motivation behind trying to increase faculty teaching loads.
“I can’t see how a university is supposed to remain a viable research institution if this bill were to pass.”