As someone who teaches more than 160 students each semester, I understand the desire to hire more full-time faculty to reduce class size. Unfortunately, this is not the trend, at least not at state-funded universities. Today I came across this story about how Bowling Green State University plans on cutting their faculty by 10-11% this year. The Provost there claims that these reductions will not affect the quality of education at the university. This kind of thinking is either delusional or deceitful.
I, like the BGSU faculty union president, find the Provost difficult to believe. Student-to-teacher ratios will likely increase, which means that the lucky faculty who keep their jobs will be forced to revise their curriculum to accommodate larger classes. I have no problem teaching philosophy to larger classes, and I actually like the idea that my teaching is able to reach hundreds of students each year. But the truth is that larger class sizes force me to make decisions about how I deliver and evaluate content, some of which I lament. For example, I give exams in some places where I would assign writing. Exams, from what I can tell, are not the best way to evaluate students of philosophy. The decision to give exams is an economic one for me. It’s a matter of making grading more manageable.
Grading is one of the worst parts of teaching. Not only is it often tedious, but it takes up time that could be better spent preparing classes, researching, writing, or just reading. During the semester I find that I have little time to read for anything other than my current research or teaching, which means that I have little time to devote to expanding the scope of my knowledge or my mastery of a subject. Of course, I get reading done. But there are moments when I intensely feel that class size is directly impacting my ability to become a better teacher, because evaluation tasks consume the time that I would spend on that betterment.
Not to mention that in larger classes it takes time to get to know the names of each student and get one-on-one time with them, which for me is one of the keys to a student-centered education. Someone will say that there are “creative ways” to overcome larger classes, but surely creativity can only make large classes “manageable.” I have no interest in managing my classes or my students’ education. I want to work directly with students, assign precisely the assignments that are most beneficial to them, and have the time to become the teacher they deserve. When universities cut faculty and ask the extant faculty to take on more students, this will always have an impact on the quality of education. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.