From the January 5 Chronicle of Higher Education comes this article, “Cashing In on Virtual Courses: At Eastern Michigan U., professors can double their pay by teaching online, but some of their leaders find that unfair.” For the most part, it’s a recap of the problems with the grading stipend loophole for online teaching at EMU that I’ve discussed here in the past and also on EMUtalk.org. But there are a few differences.
First off, this has now become national news, and (I assume, at least) that one of the reasons why this is in the Chronicle at all is because this deal of paying teachers $150 extra per head for classes of more than 25 students is so out of whack with the normal practices at other institutions. I mean, this is a pretty sizable article, and there isn’t one other school mentioned in it. Shouldn’t this give the people in the leadership at EMU pause?
Second, my department and my department head are both specifically mentioned in it. Go figure! Here’s a lengthy quote with a few editorial comments along the way:
Mr. Eiss [note– This is Harry Eiss, the “poster boy” for this practice of enormous overrides and a guy who has an office just down the hall from me] used to teach more courses online, but his department has capped the number a professor may teach online each semester at two courses. [note– This happened a couple years ago, before the rise of online classes, when Eiss was scheduled to teach five or more overload CE classes, some of which appeared to be meeting at the same time.] And it has decided to cancel the online version of his advanced course on critical approaches to children’s literature, which he taught in the fall. [note– This was because Eiss was letting in so many students into his advanced online writing class that the other versions of the class that other faculty were teaching were canceled because they didn’t fill.]
According to Laura J. George, head of the English department, the children’s literature committee decided it was important to have face-to-face interaction in every writing class that is offered, which includes Mr. Eiss’s advanced course. She says the department introduced the cap because it became clear a few years ago that Mr. Eiss was teaching an “exorbitant” number of classes online.
“There were some concerns about quality and service to students,” she says.
[note– Not surprising, all this is more complicated than is suggested here. I think it’s fair to say that the department (and this is a discussion at the department level now, not just at the Children’s Literature committee) is okay with online classes, but it believes that these classes shouldn’t be overloaded.]
Mr. Eiss says his fellow professors are wrong about the quality’s being lower. He thinks they are simply jealous.
According to the grading-stipend policies at Eastern, for every student Mr. Eiss takes over an established limit of 25 he earns $150. So for this winter’s course, in which he may enroll up to 100 students, or more than 70 extra, he could make as much as $10,000. A salary report released recently by the university reported that Mr. Eiss was the second-highest wage earner among the university’s 680 faculty members last year. His nine-month base salary was about $68,000, and he made an extra $95,000 by teaching overload courses.
I wouldn’t want to speak directly about Eiss, but let me just say something in general terms here about the charge of faculty being “jealous,” about the “hard work” of these faculty teaching these huge overloads in online classes. If one decided that they wanted to completely divorce themselves from the workings of the department– that is, hypothetically, if faculty member decided they no longer were going to come to department meetings or volunteer to serve on the various committees that do the work of the department, then one could probably teach extra classes. Also, if one decided and/or convinced themselves that it was okay to lower the standards of what counts as teaching in these overloaded online classes in order to “cash in,” then it seems to me that a faculty member could indeed manage to teach online classes like this.
But for me, this isn’t something to be jealous about. It is a practice of a fellow faculty member that I for one find unethical.
Two more “behind the scenes” aspect of this story I thought I’d mention: first off, this is a “discussion” that is still going on in the department in terms of policies that we will be adopting to govern online teaching. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.
Second, the writing faculty started talking about this a while ago, and I think it’s fair to say that we’re all on the same page when it comes to these class caps. Simply put, online writing classes don’t have any more students than face to face classes. My online version of English 328 has 20 students in it and my online version of English 516 has 15 students in it, the same caps as I would have in a normal classroom.
Besides the obvious pedagogical benefits of these lower numbers, we decided as a committee that we didn’t want to undercut or cannibalize each others’ teaching. I mean, if I let in 80 people into my online section of English 328 just because
I want to make more money oh, excuse me, work harder, then I would end up causing some of my colleagues’ versions of English 328 to not make. Thus the term cannibalize.
And third, this is (as you can imagine) a topic of discussion on EMUtalk.org right here.