The numbers, at first glance, are remarkable.
Faculty at University of Wisconsin-Madison taught in the classroom an average of 5.9 hours a week in fall 2015, according to data collected by the UW System.
Meanwhile, academic instructional staff at UW Colleges spent an average of 28.2 hours a week in the classroom that semester, teaching the students who attend those 13 two-year campuses.
The difference is one reason that Republican lawmakers target the UW System, especially flagship campus UW-Madison, when looking for budgets to cut. Lawmakers in the past few years have pointed out classes and research topics as politically correct and irrelevant, and Gov. Scott Walker is demanding to know what faculty are doing.
Two years ago, Walker suggested faculty teach more to offset funding cuts in his 2015-2017 budget. In his current 2017-2019 budget proposal, Walker recommends that the UW System Board of Regents be required to set up a system to monitor faculty and staff teaching workloads, publicly report the aggregate data, and reward faculty and staff who teach “more than a standard academic load.”
Nicholas Hillman, an associate professor of education at UW-Madison, says the data on classroom hours, already duly posted by the UW System on its Accountability Dashboard, don’t tell the whole story.
As Hillman tweeted soon after Walker released his proposed budget earlier this month:
“‘The Packers don't just work 3 hours on Sundays.’ I've found this a helpful frame for discussing what faculty do in & outside the classroom.”
The analogy resonates not only with students in his classes about the politics and financing of higher education, Hillman told the Cap Times.
“Even folks who are unfamiliar with higher education — neighbors or family — respond pretty positively to that,” Hillman said.
He’s had casual conversations about his job that touch on the number of classes he teaches — maybe one course for graduate students one semester and two courses the next — that elicit an arch “Oh, that’s all?”
“That might imply only six hours’ time teaching a week,” Hillman said. “But I spend more time than that grading papers, giving thorough feedback and meeting with students. Then you’ve got time spent advising students, responding to email questions and preparing notes for the week."
“I’m worried that the public has a misunderstanding about what a faculty member does,” Hillman said.
As UW officials are quick to point out, faculty members not only teach, but also conduct research and are responsible for reaching out to the state’s citizens to share their knowledge.
The announcement last fall that UW-Madison, with just under $1.1 billion in research expenditures in 2015, had fallen from the top five research universities nationally for the first time in four decades was met with deep apprehension on campus and calls for renewed investment in the institution.
Hillman, whose research focuses on how policy affects educational access and success, said that research is by no means distinct from what happens in the classroom.
“It fuels my teaching,” Hillman said. Not only his own work, but other research of higher education too. “I bring it into the classroom and process it with students to make sense of the world.”
And then there is the role of outreach, he noted. “Think about someone in horticulture who works with farmers around the state.”
Many faculty members also are active on social media, Hillman said, in an emerging venue for staying current on research and connecting with the public.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, in a blog post Feb. 22 about Walker’s budget, emphasized the three prongs of her campus’ mission: teaching, research and outreach.
“Each of these services is important so any method of tracking faculty workload, as proposed in the budget, should include all three areas, not merely time spent in the classroom,” Blank said.
“We are an educational institution and teaching students will always be a priority. However, we are also a research institution and our efforts at innovation help fuel outreach to Wisconsin businesses and communities, provide important benefits and economic returns to the state, jobs for Wisconsin residents and job training for our students,” she said.
UW System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said officials there are looking at Walker’s proposal. Faculty and staff teaching workload already is tracked through the Accountability Dashboard that in 2015 published data that had been collected since the mid-1990s.
A faculty workload policy, as requested by Walker, would be developed in consultation and collaboration with our institutions and staff, Marquis said. “We appreciate the governor’s recognition that this is a role for the Board of Regents."
The range of institutional missions within the system could make that a challenge, she said. “UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison are both research colleges, while UW Colleges offer associate degrees and many students take classes at a local college campus as a springboard to a four-year campus.
The various missions “all would need to be taken into consideration for a system wide policy,” she said.
Hillman said the best way to inform policy-makers about what faculty members do is talk with them about it. And show them.
He was part of a group from UW-Madison that met with a legislator last week; other legislators are scheduled to visit his classroom soon, Hillman said.
Faculty fear politicians, just like politicians fear faculty, he said.
“Once you make a connection, a softening occurs," he said. "I hope we can have a productive conversation on what we do. Faculty welcome that.”
Until then, Hillman said, he uses the football analogy.
“You see videos of Aaron Rodgers visiting hospitals, working out, practicing. I want to be seen like Aaron Rodgers.”