By David D. Newsom. David D. Newsom, former Us undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs .
The Christian Science Monitor
A SERIES last month in Virginia newspapers was sharply critical of that state's leading universities, and especially of the University of Virginia, where I now teach. The criticism, widely echoed nationally, centers in part on the teaching load of professors. As one who has come late to an academic career, I feel that the attacks and the faculty responses fail to give the whole picture. The issue centers around the number of hours professors spend in the classroom. To the outsider the average load of two courses, five to six hours a week, seems very light. The response from academicians has been to emphasize the importance of time spent on research.
Certainly the arguments are valid that research can contribute to teaching, that writing is important for professional advancement, and that eminent scholars who are deprived of that opportunity will move to other institutions. What surprises me is that more emphasis is not placed on good teaching.
At the University of Virginia I spend five hours weekly in the classroom. But the remaining hours of what would be considered a normal work week outside academia are more than occupied with essential duties directly related to my responsibilities as a teacher and a member of a faculty. These duties include counseling individual students, writing letters of recommendation, advising graduate students on their theses and dissertations, grading papers, guiding students through independent study programs, preparing for classes, and serving on faculty committees.
At least some of those who believe university faculty are overpaid and under-worked base their criticism on the picture of a professor lecturing from a well-used set of notes to a large group of students and aided by teaching assistants who conduct discussion sessions and grade papers. …