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“We teach too much”

Faculty-wide discussion on position Fasos junior staff

Master’s students as tutors in the bachelor programme, a shorter academic year, less intensive courses, more students per PBL group. These are some of the possible solutions for reducing the teaching workload of junior staff (docent 3) at the faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

 

Last Monday evening, the faculty council of Arts and Social Sciences organised a faculty-wide discussion on the position of its lecturers with a 80/20 contract (80 per cent teaching, 20 per cent research), the so-called ‘docent 3’, who usually gets a contract for three years. The reason for the debate was a recent letter by two of them, Mihaela Georgieva and Philipp Dorstewitz. They wrote in March that the teaching load is too heavy and that there is very little time for research. Research output counts heavily to get hired for a tenure track position at Fasos, but also for academic positions outside Maastricht. A 60/40 division would be better, they suggested. The letter was signed by twenty staff members and has been discussed in departments, by the faculty board and the faculty council. “Many of us are reflecting on the situation of our junior colleagues,” said the chairperson of the faculty council, Karin Wenz, at the opening of the debate. That’s why the council has organized the discussion, to develop recommendations for the faculty board on such topics as the ‘docent 3’ situation.

One of the forty staff members present starts the discussion: “We teach a lot, and we teach too much, more than the percentage stated in our contracts. Our academic year is longer than anywhere in the world.” He gets support from the other end of the loft at Grote Gracht 80-82. “You can’t manage the teaching load in 80 per cent of your time; one has to do research in the weekend. We have to search for measures that makes tutors' lives easier.” This could be done by giving tutors better instructions so that they – for example - do not have to read ten articles, but only a summary. To her left and right people are nodding: “When you want to do research, you need long free periods. But with an 80/20 contract, you don’t have any.”

Maybe Fasos could create some space during the eight-week courses; why not introduce a “free reading week” for students. “Or maybe we should make the courses less intensive. Seven weeks instead of eight,” someone else suggests.

And what about more research time for a ‘docent 3’: a 60/40 contract or a 70/30 contract? “If the number of teaching hours stays the same, we will need more ‘lecturer 3’ staff, so more money,” calculates Koen Beumer, member of the faculty council. “Or we have to choose to work with more ‘docent 4’ staff, recently graduated students who don’t have a PhD, as opposed to a ‘lecturer 3’. There are more alternatives, such as more senior staff in education.” Or master’s students as tutors in the bachelor programme. “The evaluation is positive at University College Maastricht,” somebody adds. “I wouldn’t like to have students teaching,” says the programme director of European Studies. “We have good graduates, they do a great job.” Chairperson Karin Wenz, later in the debate: “Our former students often become a ‘lecturer 4’. They know the PBL system, for them it’s a career chance. It's a way to stay part of the network and to apply for a PhD position. The ‘lecturer 3’ is recruited externally. In the first year, they have to find their way in PBL and teaching courses that they are not familiar with. It’s intensive work, no time for research. A position as a ‘lecturer 3’ is not good for your career.” A colleague agrees: “A ‘docent 3’ is good for the faculty, but is it good for the lecturer? Does it help his or her career? In the academic world around us, research is important for an academic career.”

“I am not saying that we have a perfect situation,” dean Rein de Wilde replied. “Not at all. The ‘docent 3’ position is a result of the choices we have made: no students as tutors, groups of 15 students, tutors at master's level must have a PhD position. All these issues should be reconsidered. We have a responsibility towards our younger generation. The least we can do is to give clear expectations, coach people and open the black box of teaching: can we organise our courses in a smarter way? If there are alternatives, I’d be happy to hear them.”

At the end of the debate, the so-called ‘Solver hours’ – a registration system for the teaching hours of each staff member - was on the agenda. A ‘docent 3’ has to do 1,320 teaching hours per year, and Solver is used to sign up for various teaching roles. A lot of staff members complain about the hidden hours that are not visible in Solver. It is the difference between what you actually do and what you can write down: the checking of re-sits, the hours of work invested in students who ultimately don’t complete their assignments, and the extra time you have to invest in a course that you will be giving for the first time. These hours are not covered in the system. No solution was found on Monday. “Please keep thinking about all this and send us your suggestions,” said Wenz and Beumer at the end of the discussion. “We will collect everything and write a report, which we will present to the faculty board.”

 

 

Riki Janssen

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