Course Load Contraction Continues

Starting next fall, Swarthmore College will begin a seven- to ten-year process to transition all faculty to teaching four classes per year. While for the past approximately 30 years Swarthmore professors have usually taught five classes per year (three one semester and two the other), this transition, part of the Strategic Planning process, will cause the faculty to cut back to a 2-2 course load. The Strategic Planning process is an extensive plan for the direction of the college in the near and distant future.

“Over time, we’ve seen a lot of changes in expectations that students have and how the faculty has evolved,” Provost Thomas Stephenson said. “Today, we have a lot of interdisciplinary teaching, community-based teaching, and faculty supervising theses. The way we’ve tended to handle these over time, as they’ve evolved, […] is that they’ve largely come out of the spare time of faculty when in fact they don’t have any spare time.”

Stephenson explained that these developments, which he called “high-impact experiences,” require significant time and energy out of the faculty. He hopes that this change will provide the faculty with the ability to devote more time to the students and their evolving interests.

“When we started the Strategic Planning process in 2009-2010, we thought about re-calibrating the faculty load, which means making sure we secure the time of these high-impact experiences,” he said.

Despite the fact that every faculty member will teach one fewer class each year, there will not be a reduction in the teaching load, as professors will spend just as much time interacting with students and enhancing their academics. Swarthmore also plans to hire more faculty, particularly people who can teach the interdisciplinary courses that are increasingly common. The school is still figuring out the financial logistics.

Next year around 25 percent of the faculty will teach four courses, and if conditions are favorable, 50 percent of the faculty will teach four classes in the following years. What professors will be the first to teach only four classes will be left up to each individual department.

“All of us will benefit from the transition to the 2-2 course load,” Michael Brown, chair of the physics department, said. “In our department, most of the decision for 2013-14 was based on leave schedules, other administrative duties, and course commitments.”

Stephenson said the general reaction of the faculty has been positive so far.

“Swarthmore faculty is unique,” he said. “I imagine that most faculty, if you gave them an opportunity to decrease the course load, [would say] ‘yes please.’ Swarthmore faculty, by and large, have been very receptive to the idea […] and the reduction in the teaching load will provide them with some breathing space for high-impact experiences, which have been among the most rewarding experiences.”

He also mentioned that the faculty recognizes that they have to ensure that this change does not reduce students’ academic experiences.

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