Liberal Arts College faculty faces changes in course loads

Griffin Sendek | Features Editor


Kailey Love | Editor-in-chief

Discontent amongst McAnulty College faculty is escalating following a decision to increase class loads. This decision comes following years of enrollment decline and budget cuts for the college.

According to sources with knowledge of the pending changes who wish to remain unnamed, all tenure-track Liberal Arts faculty will be moving to a mandatory six classes per year schedule. This means that research active faculty in PhD granting departments will move from a “manageable” courseload of two fall classes and three spring classes to a course schedule of three classes per semester.

While sources in Ph.D. granting departments claim that a 2-3 schedule has been the “standard load” for baseline teaching schedules, university officials maintain that this is not a change at all. Rather, “the long-standing expectation for all tenure-track faculty across the college is to teach a 3-3 load,” according to Gabe Welsch, vice president for marketing and communications.

“There are no changes. That said, each year deans and department heads are asked to review requests for course releases for research, to do administrative work, or to otherwise help,” Welsch said. “Because of that process, some faculty members may for a time teach a course load different from 3-3. However, the standard and long-standing expectation is that all faculty in the College teach a 3-3.”

One McAnulty college professor alleged that the 2-3 schedule was being “framed” as a one-course release, when an existing 3-3 schedule was never what described to them as “standard” upon their hiring.

Sources say that this decision was made by Provost David Dausey and communicated to liberal Arts department chairs over spring break.

According to the 2017 iteration of the Duquesne Faculty Handbook, a faculty workload committee is in place to fulfill three primary functions: reviewing workload proposals from each college and making recommendations to the Provost, recommending Univeristy-wide principles to the Provost regarding faculty’s allocated service efforts, and resolving workload policy disagreements.

While some sources maintain that this decision was made “unilaterally” by the provost without regard to these procedures, others said that they were not.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average breakdown for research active faculty at private universities is 43.1% teaching, 34% research and scholarship and 22.8% outside activity.

The Duquesne Faculty Handbook is less clear – it outlines 30 to 60% time spent teaching, 0 to 40% for clinical activity, and 25 to 60% for scholarship for all tenure and tenure-track faculty. The only differing time requirement is that tenure-track faculty must allocate 5 to 15% of time to service, while tenured faculty must devote 10 to 20%.

According to faculty that would be impacted by a 3-3 schedule, it would significantly hinder their ability to mentor Ph.D. students, let alone conduct and pursue their own research.

An email obtained by The Duke from outgoing Liberal Arts Dean James Swindal to the department chairs confirms the impact that such workload increases would have in PhD-granting departments.

“No releases for work with doctoral students will be approved. During AY [Academic Year] 2020 work will be done on determining what these could be for AY 2021 and beyond. No scholarly releases are planned to be approved for spring 2020. But it would be allowable to make requests if appropriate,” Swindal said in the email. “I am working with the provost on the possibility of approvals from the hire requests I have received from you for AY 2020…Given our low fall enrollment numbers at this point, though, very few hires are likely to be approved.”

In a comment to The Duke, Swindal said “We have been in conversation with the faculty in the college as we have considered our collective choices and practices. Our responsibility to one another is to engage in good faith for what is best for Duquesne and its students. We appreciate their input and their opinions, knowing our differences more often than not lead to useful discussion on how best to achieve our collective goals.”

McAnulty sources said that falling liberal arts enrollment was cited by the administration as a reason for the increasing demands on liberal arts faculty. According to the University Enrollment Overview, Liberal Arts enrollment has been on the decline for several years – the earliest available data in the overview lists the grand total of liberal arts students in the Fall 2014 semester as 2,290 (comprised of both undergraduate and graduate, part and full-time students). The current spring 2019 enrollment numbers sit at 1,725, dropping about 100 students per semester between 2014 and 2019.

“It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – they [the administration] complain about the lack of enrollment, and then they slash our budgets, complain about the lack of enrollment, slash our budget,” one liberal arts professor said.

The other reasons cited by the administration, according to some sources in the liberal arts department, were that the university was “in some financial trouble” and wanted to “slash the budget for adjunct professors and use tenured faculty to take on the excess class load.”

This follows the ongoing battle between the university and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding adjunct’s ability to unionize. After six years of refusing to recognize a union of liberal arts adjunct faculty, the NLRB ruled against Duquesne and dictated to negotiate with the group in 2018.

While Duquesne has consistently asserted that it should be exempt due to being a religious institution, the NLRB has continually disagreed. In 2018, President Gormley notified the Duquesne community via email that the university would file a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. as a challenge to the NLRB ruling.

“Things have been markedly worse since 2016 when the new president [Gormley] came in,” one professor said. “He wants us to become a technical college with some Liberal Arts, and does not envision PhD granting programs as part of Duquesne Liberal Arts.”

Another source with knowledge of the decision, however, said that the liberal arts college is only the first that will experience these changes, as the other schools will eventually follow.

A meeting of liberal arts department employees is planned for April 29, according to a memo obtained by The Duke, which was organized and will be led by McAnulty faculty. They plan to discuss budget cuts and the increase in course load, as well as “faculty lines eliminated, unfilled and displaced; changing support for faculty research; changes in graduate tuition credits/undergraduate and graduate financial aid; changes in policies; elimination of programs and/or departments” and several other topics.

They also will consider putting together a department wide faculty response regarding the changes.