Senator Tom McInnis (R-Richmond) filed a bill last week that would require all UNC professors to teach no fewer than four courses a semester. It’s a move that, McInnis says, is an effort to make sure classes are not taught primarily by student assistants — but some are concerned it could hamper research and development at the state’s prestigious institutions of higher education.
“There is no substitute for a professor in the classroom to bring out the best in our students,” McInnis said in a statement, according to the Richmond County Daily Journal. “I look forward to the debate that will be generated by this important legislation.”
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Professor Stephen Leonard, who teaches political science and is chair of the UNC system-wide Faculty Assembly, said the legislation is nothing more than an attempt to kill public higher education in North Carolina.
“I think it’s pretty simple,” said Leonard. “Talented faculty would start looking for work out of state, it would be hard to attract junior faculty coming out of graduate school, and it would be impossible to attract senior faculty who bring a lot of resources to our institutions.”
Leonard says the most problematic consequence of the proposed law would be that the discovery and production of knowledge would grind to a halt.
“Which I suppose is okay if you don’t want to cure cancer, fix infrastructure or make new discoveries about manufacturing processes,” said Leonard.
SB 593 would tie professors’ salaries to their course loads—those teaching fewer than four courses each semester would earn less than their full salaries, determined on a pro-rata basis.
The legislation also allows for the salary difference to be made up by an individual campus’ endowment, should they determine a professor should take on a lighter course load in order to conduct research – but Leonard says that’s an untenable scenario for most campuses.
“Good luck with that,” said Leonard. “Almost all of the campuses that are not Research 1 institutions would have a hard time coming up with the funds to do that.”
According to the Richmond County Daily Journal, the bill would result in professors at big research universities like UNC – Chapel Hill finding their course loads nearly double.
The bill comes at a time when the state’s university system is undergoing considerable turmoil thanks to recent controversial decisions to raise tuition, close three academic centers and fire UNC’s widely-praised president, Tom Ross. The system has also been handed substantial budget cuts over the past five years by the state legislature, including a $400 million cut in 2011.
Sen. McInnis did not respond to requests for comment. Read the bill in its entirety below.