Under the Dome

Lawmakers back away from increased course loads for UNC professors

A bill that sought to force UNC system professors to teach more courses is dead for this session, but the issue may emerge in a future legislative study.

Senate Bill 593 was heard Tuesday in the Senate Education Committee, where it was pulled by Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman and referred to a legislative study bill. It’s unclear whether the House will go along with such a study.

The bill, which originally mandated that all UNC system professors teach a minimum of eight courses per year, caused heartburn among academics, especially at the state’s two large research campuses — N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill. Professors at those campuses typically teach four courses a year but are expected to publish, conduct research and perform service. Doubling teaching loads, faculty argued, would have been a blow to the university’s research enterprise, which brings in hundreds of millions of dollars annually in research grants.

A committee substitute to the bill changed it substantially by requiring different teaching loads for different campuses, plus different mandates among various fields on a single campus. For example, it would have not raised course loads among science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professors at NCSU and UNC-CH, but would have required five courses a year for faculty in the humanities and social sciences. At East Carolina, N.C. A &T, UNC Charlotte and UNC Greensboro, professors would have had to teach 5.5 courses a year in STEM subjects and six courses annually in the humanities and social sciences. Other campuses would have required either six or eight courses per faculty member.

Sen. David Curtis, a Denver Republican, said the universities could achieve savings or better quality under the proposal. Universities would have an excess of 547 professors if it increased teaching loads, he said, with possible savings of $60 million to $80 million due to faculty downsizing. Or, another 3,000 courses would be taught by professors instead of graduate students, he said, boosting quality.

Sen. Tom McInnis, a Rockingham Republican who sponsored the bill, spoke in favor of it Tuesday. He said students don’t want to assume loans to be taught by graduate student teaching assistants. “While research, of course, is very important,” he said, “the student is the most important customer that we have at UNC in our system.”