INSIDE Chico State
0 March 29, 2001
Volume 31 Number 13
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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ACADEMIC SENATE

Paul Persons, chair, Academic Senate
Paul Persons, chair, Academic Senate

(Photo by Jeff Teeter)
 

Beyond the Call: Teachers Who Change Lives

Ask the question: "Is there a particular teacher/professor who has made a significant difference in your life?" Lately, I have been asking that question. Most people quickly say something like: "Ms. Berkhard, my third-grade teacher, or Professor Adams," clearly knowing, without pause, the specific teacher who gave them something that went far beyond learning the subject matter or learning assessment outcomes. People know and appreciate the teachers who taught them something significant about themselves and their ability to function as educated members of society.

There are several factors, not the least being time, that can increase the likelihood that a teacher is successful in connecting with students. One key indicator of educational quality and the ability to "reach a learner" is the student-faculty ratio. During the 1980s, the student-faculty ratio in the CSU averaged 18.2, ranging from a low of 18.0 in 1984 - 85 to 18.5 in 1988 - 89. In the 1990s, the student-faculty ratio averaged 19.7. The figures for 1998 - 99 show a rate of 19.3. Reducing the student-faculty ratio would help facilitate greater contact between teachers and learners. This would also require the hiring of additional faculty.

The need to replace those faculty hired in the heydays of the 1960s and 1970s is now upon us. Faculty members are retiring in great numbers. It is estimated that the CSU will need to hire at least 900 new faculty each year. The work involved in searching for and hiring new faculty is well known to anyone involved in the process. With fewer tenured faculty able to do the work, still greater demands will be placed on those who remain, taking away from their time to be with students. In addition, many tenured faculty, now at the "prime" of their academic productivity, must compromise their research agenda if they are to devote the necessary energy to the other demands on their time.

Hiring new faculty is exciting and time-consuming. It is also difficult given

the CSU's heavy workload and lagging salaries. We are currently teaching more students with fewer tenured or tenure-track faculty. In 1999 - 2000, 795 tenured/tenure-track faculty left the CSU, and only 616 were hired during the same time period. The hiring success rate during this same period was 69.3 percent (889 searches with 616 appointments of new tenured/tenure-track faculty). Fortunately, Chico is not one of the campuses in an area where housing costs have skyrocketed. For those campuses that are, it is even harder to hire the best and the brightest.

An additional factor in facilitating faculty-student contact is workload. CSU faculty are generally expected to teach four courses and spend the remaining .2 time performing department responsibilities, including advising, RTP, accountability, and assessment. Faculty are also required to maintain currency in their discipline and are expected to perform significant professional growth and development. Grants are expected, applications for such grants to be completed in one's spare time. It is significant for new hires that the latter activities are not included in the salary formula.

The CSU needs to do much more to encourage and enable faculty to spend more time with students. With Faculty Activity Reports (FARs), Faculty Merit Increases (FMIs), personal data sheets, and all the other reporting obligations now heaped on faculty (plus, in my opinion, the increased popularity of meetings), even grading written exams and terms papers is difficult. Trying to find the time to prepare for class, correct papers, participate in shared governance, and still have a personal life is difficult.

Those professors who keep their office doors open; get to know their students; loan them books; take them to conferences; write the letters of recommendation for graduate programs, jobs, and awards; and serve on graduate committees without extra compensation, in addition to all of the other basic things required of them as teachers, are to be highly commended for their dedication and service. More than the satisfaction of teaching and the reward of sometimes making a difference should be provided to promote greater faculty-student contact.

Higher education provides the opportunity for learners to acquire the skills, advance knowledge, critical reflection, and understanding that are the mark of an educated person. If we want to further the intellectual, personal, and social development of our students, we must begin by providing faculty the resources to do their job well. We must also take the appropriate steps to ensure that we are in a position to compete for the new faculty that will be hired in large numbers in the next few years. The success of higher education in California depends on addressing these issues.

Paul Persons, chair, Academic Senate

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