Under the Dome

Bill aims to increase number of courses faculty teach

The Historic South Building and the Old Well on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus are popular places for students and visitors to meet and take photographs.
The Historic South Building and the Old Well on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus are popular places for students and visitors to meet and take photographs. rwillett@newsobserver.com

A Senate bill would dictate the number of classes UNC faculty teach, forcing the near doubling of course loads for professors at the state’s research campuses – N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Senate Bill 593 has generated a good deal of discussion at the UNC system’s campuses, but the proposal may not have much of a chance of passage. It was sent Monday to the Rules Committee, where many bills go to die.

It would force the UNC Board of Governors to adopt a policy that requires all professors to teach a minimum of eight courses each academic year. Any faculty member who taught fewer classes would have their salary reduced accordingly, though a university’s private endowed funds could be used to fill the gaps.

The bill is called “An act to improve the quality of instruction at the constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina.”

But faculty warn of dire consequences, including a mass exodus of faculty at the research campuses, where courseloads are lighter to accommodate research. A recent economic impact analysis said UNC system research spending generates $1.5 billion in added income and 22,000 jobs for North Carolina. UNC-Chapel Hill alone brought in $800 million in research grants in 2013.

The bill’s sponsor, Tom McInnis, a Rockingham Republican, said the bill would help ensure that students have professors, as opposed to teaching assistants, in their classrooms.

“There is no substitute for a professor in the classroom to bring out the best in our students,” McInnis said in a news release when he filed the bill. “I look forward to the debate that will be generated by this important legislation.”

McInnis included a chart that shows teaching loads per full time equivalent faculty member. Figures vary by campus. In 2013, faculty taught an average of 2.1 sections per semester at NCSU, 2.5 at UNC, and 5.1 at Elizabeth City State. The systemwide average is 3.4 classes per semester. The average courseload has risen since 2008, due to the budget cuts of the recession.

The McInnis proposal has been a target of scorn on the United for UNC Facebook page. The group operates the website to document what it says are political attacks against the UNC system.

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