Course Load Testimonials

The following testimonial about the need for course-load equity at City Tech was presented by Professor Carole K. Harris at the Labor/Management Meeting on May 30, 2012. Carole was joined at the meeting by 16 members of the faculty—members of the chapter executive board and others representing the following departments: Math, English, Social Sciences, Human Services, Library, Biology, Advertising Design and Graphic Arts, Nursing, Radiology Technology, Physics, and Humanities. PSC President Barbara Bowen and PSC First Vice President Steve London were also present.

President Russell Hotzler and Provost Bonne August received the petition at the meeting and heard the testimony. Other members of the administration present were Miguel Cairol, Michelle Harris and Marcela Armosa.

The Negative Impact of City Tech’s Teaching Load on Scholarship and Teaching

Carole K. Harris, Assistant Professor
Labor/Management Meeting, May 30, 2012
President’s Conference Room

I. Opening Statement

I’d like to first thank President Hotzler and Provost August, as well as the Chair and search committee of my own department, for hiring me back in 2006. I feel grateful that President Hotzler offered me, and many others like me, an academic home. It is out of this feeling of gratitude that I speak today.

Our goal today is to have a respectful, collaborative conversation about an issue that affects students and faculty members at City Tech–course load equity. Our campus is the only senior college within CUNY that has a 24-hour work load. As long as this inequity persists, we have one foot in the present and one foot in the past.

Since the start of the semester we have reached out in face-to-face conversations with full-time faculty members on the issue of course load equity. The petition campaign has always been as much about building relationships among faculty members as it has been about gaining individual signatures. Our 325 plus signatures (and just as many conversations) in support of course load equity signals that this issue is a top priority for faculty members and should thus also be a top priority for you and your administration.

We appeal to your leadership to make this change. We are here to help you in any way we can. We believe this petition provides you with the muscle you need, the voice of the entire faculty, to make your request.

II. Testimonial

The first bullet point from the petition reads: “Since taking office at City Tech, President Hotzler made it his mission to raise the academic level of the college. He has done so by hiring a new cohort of professors dedicated to scholarship. Faculty members at City Tech are expected to perform at the same level as other senior colleges. An essential element of faculty success is to have time to do teaching and scholarship. With a higher teaching load, City Tech faculty members are at a disadvantage when compared to other senior colleges. City Tech must be brought in line with CUNY senior college norms in order to attract and retain faculty of a caliber necessary to advance the college’s mission.”

Our experience makes clear that the reputation of our college within CUNY and beyond suffers when we are not given adequate time to do research. Our capacity to remain competitive with other CUNY campuses is in constant jeopardy.

Several full-time faculty members, some on hiring committees, have reported to me that candidates with multiple job offers feel reluctant to say “yes” to City Tech. Why? The teaching load.

In one case, a graduate student who has interviewed at two CUNY campuses–both City Tech and Queensborough Community College–finds better working conditions at the other CUNY campus. Why? The teaching load at City Tech. (Courses in the English Department at Queensborough count for four hours.)

In another case, a dept. chair at City Tech is waiting on tenterhooks to hear from an excellent candidate, a real catch–the department wants her and President Hotzler, who is also enthusiastic about this candidate, has approved her. That candidate has major reservations in accepting the offer. She’s stalling. Why? The teaching load at City Tech.

As full-time faculty members at City Tech we feel sharply the different load we carry in trying to juggle teaching and scholarship compared to the faculty members at other CUNY campuses. One full-time faculty member at City Tech reported to me that when he published a book with a colleague from Brooklyn College, he was made painfully aware that his colleague “has a smaller teaching load and is treated like a researcher, given research money, and engaged like a scholar, which is often not the feeling at Tech.”

In my own experience I participated in my second year in the Faculty Fellowship Publication Program (FFPP), a competitive CUNY-wide program that brings high honor for our college. (Others from my department–Johannah Rodgers, Jody Rosen, Camille Goodison have participated.) I joined a writing group comprised of eight junior faculty members from a variety of CUNY campuses (York College, John Jay, Hunter, City College): We all received one course release for our participation, but the overall load of my teaching that semester differed noticeably from the others in the group. One of the members–now at John Jay–once sat at my desk in Namm 503–she was in the English department here; I literally took her place. In conversation with her I now know I was hired in 2006 to replace her.

She fled our school. Why? The teaching load.
By now she has published a book by Oxford University Press and countless articles. Which institution–John Jay or City Tech–do you think she thanks in her acknowledgments?

As we at City Tech go out into the world of CUNY and beyond and do our thing (present at conferences, give book readings, do research), we naturally have conversations with faculty members at other senior colleges. In my experience it is in these conversations that we feel our sharpest pangs. If we are to keep up on the front lines of our professional fields and thrive, we need the same base of support as our peers. If we are to remain as productive as our peers at other senior campuses, we need equity in teaching load.

The third bullet point from the petition reads: “The students at City Tech must receive the same opportunity for a quality education as students at other senior colleges within CUNY. City Tech students are put at a disadvantage when their professors carry a heavier teaching load than the faculty at other senior colleges. Professors who teach an excessive load have less time to devote to individual students, teaching and scholarship.”

For two years I was on the Retention Committee, a college-wide committee set up by Dean Brown, and we constantly asked ourselves: What are the conditions that make student progress and retention possible?

To answer that question I turn to students in their own words. Routinely at the end of the semester I ask students to write me an informal letter evaluating the course. A recurring theme they emphasize is the importance of teacher presence inside and outside the classroom.

Recently I ran into a former student from several years ago who reminded me how much I had “tortured” him in ENG 1101: “All that time you worked with me in office hours!” He revised an essay countless times for submission to City Tech Writer, and it was published the following year. I don’t think you can underestimate what it means for a student to have a publication at that stage in his college life. I attended the Pinning Ceremony in the Nursing Department last night to celebrate his achievements; he played a big part in the program. I like to think I had a hand in helping him make his way.

Another student had me as a professor for two consecutive semesters: last fall 2011 (when I was teaching two courses) and this past spring 2012 (when I was teaching four courses). In her letter evaluating this past semester she writes: “I enjoyed taking your class for two semesters. I will say the remedial class was better than 1101. The work you gave us in 090 was much better than the work this semester. You didn’t explain the work this semester as deeply as you were doing in the remedial class. I had so many difficulties this semester.”

Course load inequity directly impacts students, and they know it: more time with students, more accomplishments; less time, student confusion. “I had so many difficulties this semester,” my student writes. We ask you, President Hotzler, to invest in students as well as faculty: “Professors who teach an excessive load have less time to devote to individual students, teaching and scholarship.”

A top student this past spring, ready to transfer at the end of the semester to a prestigious pharmacy school, writes about the importance of teacher feedback on rough drafts. On the other end of the spectrum, a student on academic probation, in danger of being kicked out of school, writes about the importance of teacher availability in office hours: “Visits to your office at first were not so much appealing but after I started to open up and talk, the visits helped a lot. I would advise you to get the students to all come once at least because some of them are shy or do not really open up so much, but I think a couple a visits would do the work. My visits were very productive. I just wished you had more time with the visits.”

Remember that ENG 1101, the one course required of all City Tech students, is a writing-intensive course: five essays, four pages each, 105 students. Five essays, four pages each, 105 students. You do the math. I repeat: “I just wished you had more time with the visits.”

As you can see from what these students say, course load equity is not simply a “management” issue (Labor/Management or time management): it cuts to the heart of what we do as professors. We want to do right by our students and we know what it takes to perform well in the classroom; we want to excel in our scholarship or artistic production–and we are required to do so, and we know what it takes to remain active in our fields. With our present course load, however, we can never keep up productively with both. We are put in a classic double bind, our health suffers; this juggling act–holding down not one but two full-time jobs, is unsustainable.

And it’s unnecessary. We appeal to your leadership to initiate change. We will back you in any way we can.

To close, I’d like to pick up on my student who says over the course of the semester she learned to “think outside the box.” I’d like to pick up on that phrase, and apply it to our present situation. On the City Tech website one can read the following inspirational “Message from the President”:

“And just as was true on the chilly morning in February of 1947 when the college first opened its doors, we have one foot in the present and one foot in the future, keeping our programs aligned with the high-tech workforce needs of tomorrow.”

What we need from you today, President Hotzler, our request, is to make real your commitment to us, the members of your faculty, for we are that future. You can’t do it without us. We celebrate and share your vision, which you so faithfully began to realize by hiring those 200 plus of us since your arrival to City Tech in 2004.

You hired us; now we ask that you invest in us. We request that you write an item in the City Tech budget for the next fiscal year in support of a 21-hour course load and that you actively advocate on our behalf for reform in negotiations with 80th Street.