Decreasing Teaching (Course) Load at Swarthmore College

Note: This makes for an interesting pairing with the previous post. It does not take too flexible a mind to think of expanding admin ranks as effectively reducing the work load in those precincts.  General pattern is clear: when duties expand, in some areas workforce expands, in others workload.

Several years ago faculty and administrators at Swarthmore College started talking about reducing faculty teaching load from 5 to 4 courses per year. The college is presently in the midst of a multi-year transition to a 4 course load. Some initial discussions are captured in their 2009 Middle States Reaccreditation Self-Study (which also mentions a “Teaching Load and Faculty Development at Peer Institutions” document) and in their 2011 Strategic Plan.

A 2012 article from Swarthmore student newspaper contains an excellent summary of the motivations behind as well as analysis of the implications such a switch. Among the phrases that might grab your attention:
“One of the consistent things we heard [in Strategic Planning sessions] was that people felt a need for time in order to do what they considered to be the professional minimum… Not only are people doing more work in order to deliver excellent instruction, but some of them are plausibly close to the line where they can’t do that. If we’re so close to the edge, then that’s something to take seriously.” 
​”most of us are scrambling” ​“running on fumes​” “long-term sustainability of the teacher-scholar​” “creep of time commitments” ​“acceleration of change and an expansion of how we learn​”“subtle, fundamental, and inevitable shift in professors’ job descriptions” “intensification of professor responsibilities”

    Students also penned articles suggesting the plan was not in their interest
    The plan was, apparently, eventually put into place, though not with immediate effect.  Here’s a summary from another student newspaper:

    Continue Reading at The Phoenix

    Props to Siobhan Reilly for calling this to my attention.

    Author: Dan Ryan

    I've been an Academic Program Director at, a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. My current mission is to figure out how to reorganize higher education and exploit technology so that we can teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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