May 13, 2013

On Staffing

Filed under: writing — jrice @ 12:38 pm

My wife, the composition director, and I were talking sections this morning. Much of this has to do with staffing in the composition program, staffing that includes 150 sections of courses: three levels of composition and business writing. With the business writing courses, they are running 25 sections of 25 students. A part time instructor (reduced to 3/3 without health benefits, based on the university’s response to Obamacare) means four PTIs could handle it mostly (we still have one leftover section). If funding for those PTIs is yanked, which seems to be the case, what do you do? I look back on my first WPA job and the advice of the former chair of the department: “Don’t fill the sections. Fuck ‘em.” He also had been fired, so I didn’t follow his advice.

How do you restructure, if at all? We discussed one large course – 100 students, with one breakout section staffed by one TA. Professor (or whoever) lectures two days a week and does not grade. TA handles all 100 students for grading.

In a 2/2 situation with sections capped at 27, the TA would grade and teach 54 students a semester. In this situation, the TA does not teach (much or at all) but grades 100 students.

With business writing, we have 625 students. We need six TAs (with leftover of 25 students) who will now handle about double the number of students than if they were teaching. We need six 100 student sections. We need three faculty, each teaching two sections (faculty are on a 2/2 load). I can’t imagine any faculty member wanting his/her teaching each semester to be two 100 student business writing courses. So, we need six faculty? That’s a lot. That pulls from  other important teaching the faculty member might do in the curriculum. And with only  nine tenure line faculty (five non-tenure line), it makes the program a business writing program. We are not a business writing program, even if we wanted to be one.

What if, then, we had one 625 student MOOC or course of some sort. And six TAs to grade? Those six TAs would normally teach 324 students. The difference is 301 students, who would, in a teaching situation,  be taught by another five to six TAs. We saved the cost of five to six TAs.

What does a TA cost? I think $12,000 without health benefits (I don’t know the cost of their health benefits to the university). But with a new model that counts tuition wavers as real money, the cost would be even higher. A PTI, I believe, makes about $2,800 or $3,200 a course without health benefits (I don’t remember the number I was told recently). Swap TA for PTI (thinking that a PTI would want this work which is only grading), and the cost is $16,800 for six PTIs ($2,800) or  $19,200 ($3,200) for one MOOC -like course. Pretty cheap. It’s a little bit more than what one PTI on a 4/4 load makes in a semester. For the price of one PTI teaching four courses (108 students), you get six PITs grading 625 students.

Now, my math skills are based on using Google calculator. If I’m wrong, so be it. No surprise. I have balanced budgets in my WPA past, but often not on the first try.

And I’m not advocating this scenario. I’m not advocating any option. I’m an outsider/bystander not privy to the delicate conversations going on behind closed doors. I’m merely thinking about the problem since I am not participating in its solution. There are, no doubt, other options available. One option, in all sincerity, is fuck it. Don’t fill the sections. If the sections make money – which they have to since a PTI’s salary is covered by four students in a 27 student capped course – then who would want the sections unfilled? 23 students at $900 each is $20,700 for one course; $20,700 x 25 is $517,500 (which might pay off a good chunk of the tenure line faculty salaries). If you don’t cover the sections, you lose substantial money. But the cost to staff seems so low to begin with. The MOOC like course, as we see, greatly reduces expense. What are the hidden costs to jamming 625 students in one course? We’d find out in time, I’m sure.

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