Doubling teaching loads a bad idea

TheStar.com – opinion/letters – Re: Make university profs teach more, says author, Feb. 8
Published On Sat Feb 11 2012.

Ian Clark, former head of the Council of Ontario Universities, and professor David Trick propose doubling university teaching loads. Don Drummond has hinted at something similar. Let me explain why this is a bad idea. Let’s forget the outcry from affected university professors (just whining) and concentrate on what really matters: labour markets, product and money.

Universities exist in a global labour market, competing for the best scientists, medical researchers, mathematicians, engineers, economists, IT experts, psychologists or urban planners their budgets can afford. The standard teaching load in many Canadian and nearly all American research universities is two courses per semester. No decent academic, never mind a high-flyer, will take a job here to see his teaching load doubled and research time reduced to 10 per cent. Similarly, marketable faculty now teaching here will exit the province faster than a captain can desert a listing ship.

Second, the larger Ontario universities are putting more of their resources into producing PhD’s (product). This is a factor of the free market economy, reflecting demand by businesses, government and academe. The PhD is the ticket to these jobs. The training of doctoral students is a highly labour-intensive activity, already poorly remunerated in many universities. Doubling the teaching load will make doctoral training impossible.

Finally, research brings in huge sums from public and private sources. Much of it is used to support the development of future PhD’s; some goes to infrastructure such as lab equipment. Professors with good research track records and time to write grant applications bring this money in. If it is used for medical or technical research, it helps to create good jobs in Ontario.

Universities are highly complex organizations that conduct most of the research done in Canada and are responsible for the training of professionals in every field, including medicine. One expects such basics to be understood by policy advisers.

Michael Herren, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, York University, Toronto

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