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08/17/2020

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Joshua Mugg

I have taught a 4-4(ish) load for the last 5 years, and have always taken on at least 2 courses each summer, and sometimes additional courses throughout the year (e.g. a winter term class). My reasons were entirely financial. I'll comment on Marcus's three points:

1. Depriving you of time to work on other things (such as research) that are advantageous in tenure and/or promotion.

This is somewhat true, but you can still make time for research in the summer. I generally teach either a short-course in the summer (e.g. a condensed 4-6 week course) or an online course and limit my teaching time. I teach summer courses I have taught before. This has always allowed me time to travel for conferences each summer. However, I didn't get to work on my book this summer because I was teaching/doing extra prep b/c of COVID, and last summer I produced less research than I could have if I was not teaching.


2. Potentially depriving you of substantially greater long-term earnings (from merit raises, tenure, promotion, etc.).

This really depends on your institution. My current school got rid of merit raises, and my previous one would have rewarded cool pedagogy and service (of the right sort) more than publishing in the top 20 philosophy journals. If you are at a school with a 4-4, I suspect you may be in a similar boat.

3. Burnout

This is a real issue. However, until last year I was a single-income provider for a family of 4. So short of leaving the profession or getting a different side-job, I'm not sure what I could have done differently (or do differently). If you figure it out, let me know.

12 per year, minimum

At my 4/4 institution, the research requirement for tenure is minimal. If it's possible to clear the bar for tenure and make extra money, I'd take it.

To Marcus's point about merit increases: at my institution, these are negligible (because a percentage of a small number is a small number), and easily overwhelmed by the thousands of extra dollars paid for teaching additional courses. Burnout is a real cost, though.

Michel

Just chiming in on the burnout. In 2019-20, I taught 12 courses. My longest break during that year was a little over two weeks at the end of December/beginning of January--until COVID put everything online, that is. I'm now (since July) enjoying my first proper break since April 2019, and it's glorious (although it's also clear I've forgotten how to take a break).

Anyway, the point I was chiming in to make is that by March 2020, I was really tired. I published a lot in that time--lots of old, revised papers, a couple new ones, and I wrote a few fresh ones--but that wasn't really what was getting to me. I was chipping away at those every day on my commute and during empty office hours. Nor was it the service work, although it tends to bunch up around the same time and makes for a rough few weeks all at once. Rather, it was all the teaching and new prep. It's easier when it's just one or two at a time (like in the summer), but the grind of going in all day every day is exhausting after a while.

Not being able to leave the house for a few months made a world of difference, because it meant I didn't have to get up early and get home late every day. It gave me a bit of a breather, and let me re-energize for the summer semester (I coordinated with a colleague so we'd each get a full two months off).

I feel good now, and ready to tackle a fresh 4-4ish load, with some publishing and service on the side. But I'll tell you what: I don't want to go without a real break again.

Sam Duncan

This is a question that is really hard to answer in the abstract. Different colleges and universities have different expectations about this. At most community colleges there's an expectation that faculty will take at least some summer courses and also overloads if need be. Neither is required at my CC but I can definitely see it being held against someone if they absolutely refused to do either. And on the other side of the coin taking summer classes and overloads definitely buys one some good will with the higher ups here and I think at most community colleges. For community college faculty, who have no research expectations for the most part, there's no harm to our career for taking extra classes and some possible help. I'm wondering if things might not be similar at some teaching focused 4 years?
My main hesitation with taking extra classes, especially overloads, is a moral one. Faculty at my college get first choice so with summer classes I worry that by taking a summer class I might be taking it away from an adjunct who needs the money more than I do. The same consideration goes for overloads, and since we get paid adjunct rates for overloads it's easier to resist temptation. I also worry with overloads that by plugging holes in schedule problems we enable bad behavior in that we make it easier to get away with not hiring needed permanent faculty. On the other hand, if necessary classes don't make because there's no one to teach them-- we have a hard time finding philosophy adjuncts-- then that hurts students who need the class to get their degrees. So it's a hard decision to make. If asked, I'll often do overloads and I usually take some summer classes, especially if they're online, but I do have some qualms about both.

never again

I've been in that situation: 4/4, bad pay, other people to support, various sundry debt bills from college and grad school. Here's what happened.

1. Finances: I got to keep the lights on, we got to eat, and I didn't have to put the student loans (back) in forbearance.

2. Peer Pressure: Colleagues wanted students to have XYZ courses but didn't want to teach summer/overload, so as a junior person, I did.

3. Research: I continued to do research. My institutions didn't care about research, but it was my main shot at another job that would actually pay the bills. Merit pay/raises = LOL

4. Burnout: No big deal when I was young, fresh, and used to working two jobs, though it quickly got worse. Actually, I started to hate teaching and had to drag myself into a classroom. Doing research on top of constant teaching felt like doing two jobs, since teaching took up a lot of time and research didn't count for much of anything. This meant that I had to quit doing other things that contribute to physical and mental health, like exercise and creative endeavors. I became a sad skinny robot.

5. Conclusions: Never again, if I can avoid it! I got a better job (thanks, research), the pay is still not great (thanks, jerks) but the bills get paid as long as we don't try to be posh. At this point, if my household gets low on money, I will seriously go do a temp job instead of summer teaching. Mopping floors or stocking shelves seems relaxing.

Peter Furlong

My load is a little higher than that of the speaker in the original question. At first I rejected the opportunity to teach overloads out of hand, but now I regularly teach them. For me, one big factor involves (a) whether it is a new prep and (b) whether it radically changes my schedule. If I can teach an extra course immediately before or after another course I already teach, it won't change my schedule that much, but if it is stuck in the middle of an otherwise open period, it can really reduce my ability to get research done.

Burnout is a big issue, and not something to take lightly. On the other hand, I know philosophers who are starting to hate their jobs because of financial problems. Here we should not minimize the importance a small change in income can make. Dickens has one of his characters famously say "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." Of course, increasing income rather than lowering expenses can do the same thing. The change from misery to happiness can sometimes come from the small amount an overload course can provide. In such cases, the joy of philosophy can be safeguarded by picking up extra courses.

Several comments have already mentioned that many places with a 4/4 load don't put much emphasis on research, and so the (important) point Marcus makes about long term earning might not apply (unless the person is looking to switch jobs). I think there is an additional consideration for people in such institutions. Although there are downsides to working somewhere without support or pressure to write, one upside for me is that it makes my research feel more like play than work. I think this keeps me from burning out, even during periods where I am spending quite a lot of time with both research and teaching.

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