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She teaches only one course a semester at the University of Florida.

In the sort of dinky program that assures small classes.

And she’s complaining.

Because her university wants her to teach two.

UF’s authority to change the agreement under which faculty are hired without their consent was questioned Thursday in a six–hour arbitration hearing.

UF and the faculty member in question each presented evidence concerning the university’s right to adjust her course load without her permission.

When Florence Babb, an endowed professor and graduate coordinator of UF’s Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, received her agreement letter in March 2004 outlining the terms of her hire, it determined she would teach one course per semester and promised her a research assistant.

Endowed faculty are expected to increase the university’s prestige with their contributions and research, and thus they often have lighter teaching loads.

Last March, Babb was informed via a letter from then–interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Joe Glover, that her teaching load would be increased from one course per semester to two courses per semester “because of the state’s fiscal difficulties and the severe budget cuts applied to UF.” Babb said to her knowledge she was the only endowed professor to receive such a letter at that time. She was also relieved of her research assistant. Babb said the lower course load allowed time to conduct research.

She filed a grievance in April 2008 and said that UF violated an agreement it has with the United Faculty of Florida, or UFF, the faculty union…

Icing on the cake: Her grievance will cost the university a lot of money.

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33 Responses to “The Sort of Thing that Gives Professors a Bad Name.”

  1. VJESCI Says:

    The Sort of Thing that Gives Professors a Bad Name…an erring parent.

  2. Shannon Chamberlain Says:

    Eww. So this is why everyone thinks I’ll have la dolce vita if I get a faculty appointment someday.

    And you just *know* this research is about how nobody was a modern feminist before the modern era.

  3. tzvee Says:

    this is the kind of thing that makes it so hard for all of us in women’s studies and gender research to get any respect

  4. The_Myth Says:

    But, despite it all, she has a point.

    How many of you have had your contracts re-arranged after you’ve been given the job? Ignore for a moment the actual terms in question and instead consider who’s exercising the power here.

    I’d complain too…if I ever actually got a TT job (they’re so rare nowadays).

    I think a more important questions asks: Why are so many TT jobs for teaching a 2/2 load of small classes?

    Perhaps because, in more economically robust times, the administration could hire throngs of adjuncts at a discount to teach in place of tenure-stream faculty?

    I agree she should just buck up and craft another syllabus, but still…

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I take your point, Myth. In principle, mucking with contracts is a very bad thing. But the important context is a general economic meltdown in this country, and it’s a tiny thing for this woman to add a course and lose a research assistant. Lots of people are making much bigger sacrifices. Lots of people don’t have jobs and can’t afford college for their kids. Her attitude is disgusting.

  6. RJO Says:

    I support an idea that I’ve seen floated in a number of places, usually under the heading "decouple tenure and compensation." The contract should spell out the duties (how much teaching, how much research, etc.), but it should say that the salary may be reduced if necessary (and no individuals should be singled out in this respect; it should generally be across the board). So if everybody needs to be cut 20% in salary in order to maintain overall services and the agreed-upon teaching and research duties, so be it. If particular individuals don’t like it or think they’re too important to have to sacrifice like everyone else, they’re welcome to look elsewhere.

  7. Total Says:

    And if your dean sent you a letter telling you that your sabbatical was being cut short and that you would have to come back to campus to teach?

  8. RKO Says:

    "Lots of people are making much bigger sacrifices. Lots of people don’t have jobs and can’t afford college for their kids."

    That’s a tough position. You could’ve said the same thing two years ago. It’s always tough for someone somewhere. I’m not sure why this reasoning is more applicable now than then. In addition, the blame is misplaced. UF cut a bad deal. It should be criticized for offering such favorable terms in the first place.

  9. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Total: I would certainly come back and teach. I think many professors would.

    It’s not quite the same thing, but on more than one occasion, when a colleague was suddenly not able to teach a course, I’ve taken over chunks of the course. I haven’t had to take over a course in its entirety under these circumstances, because other people in my department also have been willing to step in. We’ve divided up the responsibility in these cases, and we’ve had plenty of volunteers to help out.

    We didn’t go into conniptions because some contract said our course load was blah blah blah, and certainly no one I know of asked for extra compensation.

    RKO: Things weren’t at all as bad two years ago. The country’s in dire economic shape right now, and things are getting worse. Thousands of people are losing their jobs every day.

    I agree that UF cut a stupid deal from the beginning, but the professor in question is taking advantage of the fact that she got an unconscionable deal to act unconscionably.

  10. Total Says:

    "I would certainly come back and teach."

    If the Dean ordered you to (rather than, say, requested)? No complaints at all?

  11. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Das Dean would not order me, Total. The dean would ask.

  12. Total Says:

    "Das Dean would not order me, Total. The dean would ask."

    That’s kind of the point, Margaret. The Dean at Florida doesn’t seemed to have asked Babb so much as ordered.

    So I’ll ask you the question again: if the Dean *ordered* you to cut your sabbatical short and come back and teach, how would you feel about it?

  13. RKO Says:

    I understand the sentiment, but the basis for your position is difficult to reconcile. It’s okay for someone to enjoy a good deal when times are tough for some people, but it’s wrong to enjoy a good deal when times are tough for some greater number of people? First, where’s the line? And second, if this is the case, why bother agreeing to terms at all?

    Plus, there’s also the etiquette issue that you’re discussing with Total. According to the article, Professor Babb wasn’t politely asked to teach more. She was instructed, by letter, to teach more, notwithstanding her existing agreement.

  14. Jonathan Says:

    She has a distinguished professorship. I’m assuming she was offered those particular conditions to come to Florida from her previous job, at the University of Iowa. A lot of universities have positions like that, at a status even higher than the normal full professor rank. You get those, usually, by out-publishing everyone else. I think anyone else in that position, who had their position down-graded by some acting dean, would exercise their legal right to go to arbitration through the union, if they are fortunate to have that protection. The administration can use the justification that times are hard, but then when times are not hard anymore how do we know the university would restore the conditions of her original contract?

    Very few people are distinguished professors. Those that are are hardly in a position to give all the rest of us a bad name. In fact, they are usually the best, the most distinguished of us. Even if this particular person is a prima donna (which I don’t know), I think she’s in the right here. Maybe the dean just fired off a letter that effectively demoted her, rather than giving a polite request to temporarily teach another class?

    You could argue that universities shouldn’t have distinguished professorships at all, but usually universities like the option of offering extra perquisites to attract academic stars.

  15. Margaret Soltan Says:

    RKO, Total: I appreciate your comments, which are helping me think with greater depth about this.

    In response to both of you, I’d say this — at least about the story at hand.

    We simply don’t know enough. We only have a brief newspaper article. Note, for instance, the comment of the former head of Babb’s program about the conditions of Babb’s hire:

    “It was an offer that would always be contingent on circumstances that might change,” Kwolek–Folland said.

    Is she right? Certainly I find it odd that any contract for anyone would have ironclad language about important features of the job that cannot ever change under any conceivable conditions. Really, how could this be?

    And in the case of professors in particular, most of whom, for very good reasons, are subject to things like post-tenure review, it seems bizarre to me that this university would have offered a contract of this sort.

    Again, though, my position is that even if this professor can show that this was what the contract said, she is being selfish, and giving professors a bad name, by refusing a reasonable request, under very serious budgetary constraints, to help out.

    Was it a request or an order? Did she wake up one morning to a letter, “informing her,” as the article states, that she will now teach another course?

    If so, the administration handled the thing idiotically (I suppose if it gave her the dumb contract in the first place, it might be capable of this insulting approach as well), and should be criticized for that. But it doesn’t change the fact that the decent thing to do — especially given that this woman’s one class a semester is sometimes a very specialized graduate seminar that meets once a week


    — in difficult times is to take your share of the load.

  16. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Also, I’ve been looking around for any explicit public documentation of university course load policies, and I’ve found one document, from Miami University of Ohio, which seems to me well worth reading. I’d note in particular this statement:

    “No faculty should teach less than three regular credit hour courses per year without explicit conversation and permission of the divisional dean and provost.”


    I’d say this is pretty standard — after all, the reason UD got going on the UF story was her astonishment at the professor’s 1/1 course load — and I’m sure, Jonathan, Univ. Miami/Ohio has distinguished professors.

  17. Total Says:

    We simply don’t know enough

    Agreed, and I’d suggest not jumping to conclusions. Having said that, the lead sentence of the article "without their consent" suggests very strongly that this wasn’t a request.

    Again, though, my position is that even if this professor can show that this was what the contract said, she is being selfish, and giving professors a bad name, by refusing a reasonable request, under very serious budgetary constraints, to help out.

    "Reasonable request" is jumping to a conclusion.

    And actually reading the article is quite informative. For example, she originally filed the grievance back in April 2008, so your argument that this happened at a time of *particular* economic catastrophe does not seem to be correct.

    Further, UF has already been forced to give her her graduate assistant back during the arbitration process.

    And you haven’t answered my question about being ordered back from your sabbatical.

  18. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Even if I were ordered, if I were clear to me that there were good reasons to come back, I wouldn’t hesitate.

    We’ll just have to disagree, Total, on whether financial considerations are now, or were a few months ago, dire enough to tell/ask a professor to teach another course. But the degree of financial or other institutional crisis isn’t really germane to my point.

    It is obvious to me on the face of it – both ethically and administratively – that agreeing to teach one more course when you’ve only got a 1/1 load is appropriate. Again, put aside if you want financial considerations. Unless the faculty member is running a large operation – a department, a division – 1/1 is, in my opinion, too low a load. Maybe if those courses are enormous lecture classes, and maybe if you have many independent studies going at the same time, etc., etc.

    … You see, I’m trying to figure out ways in which to justify, in and of itself, this course load. For a full-time faculty member, I really can’t.

  19. Jonathan Says:

    A 1/1 load is not all that uncommon. (Whether it’s the right thing is another question.) Whether because someone has administrative duties and gets a course reduction, or brings in their own money through research grants, or has an endowed chair–there are multiple reasons. (I’ve heard the graduate director getting a course reduction, in some places.) MIami of Ohio, though public, is basically a liberal arts college with an emphasis on teaching.

  20. Ellie Says:

    There seem to be two different questions here, about the justice of the original contract and about the employer’s power to change the terms unilaterally. Sure, this is a sweet deal, but UF made it and signed the papers to seal it. So, while it would certainly be *nice* for Babb to add two more courses per year without complaint, it seems to me that she was under no legal obligation to do so. Unless the contract had a "hard times" clause that negated the original contract in case of financial difficulties. I agree with Total here. Regardless of what you think of Babb’s deal, if you accept that the administration can simply change the contract without renegotiating it with the faculty member, then that means it’s OK to disregard all faculty contracts.

    There’s a further set of questions here, too, about how the outrage being generated here relates to the relative value assigned to faculty research on the basis of gender and discipline. First, the women in the academy are expected to "volunteer," "pitch in," or "help out" without complaint, and are criticized as selfish and unreasonable when they don’t. Second, note that Babb is in an interdisciplinary program in Women’s and Gender Studies, which takes her to the bottom of all the gendered prestige hierarchies (reflected in the fact that she is the lowest paid endowed professor in her college). This kind of thinking seems to be reflected in your use of the phrase "dinky program" to describe a unit with eight core faculty and well over fifty affiliated faculty members, almost all women, almost all in the humanities or soft social sciences. One has to wonder whether UF made similar demands of the male faculty in "masculine" disciplines (natural sciences, hard social sciences), and what happened when/if those men protested.

    I agree that 1/1 is awfully low, but if circumstances necessitate renegotiating the original arrangement, then it gets renegotiated (or taken to arbitration), not arbitrarily changed. And if it’s going to be changed arbitrarily, then it needs to be changed for all endowed faculty, not just the woman in Women’s Studies.

  21. Total Says:

    were a few months ago, dire enough to tell/ask a professor to teach another course. But the degree of financial or other institutional crisis isn’t really germane to my point.

    Then you shouldn’t invoke the "general economic meltdown" as you did, above. There was no "general economic meltdown" in March 2008.

    Even if I were ordered, if I were clear to me that there were good reasons to come back, I wouldn’t hesitate.

    Would it have been clear to you back in March 2008? How about if your dean ordered you to teach five classes? Or six?

    My sense is that your outrage over discovering someone has a 1/1 course load is essentially outweighing any of the other factors in the case.

    As others have pointed out, 1/1’s are not uncommon for endowed professors. They are expected to compensate for that in research/grant/scholarship or whatever.

    As others have noted, no one forced UF to accept this contract in the first place. If Babb refused the order, could UF revoke her tenure and fire her?

  22. Ellie Says:

    A case in point to follow up on #21.


    (Sorry, don’t know how to link directly.)

  23. Shannon Chamberlain Says:

    This is an interesting discussion, but I’d maintain that it just looks bad–really bad–to teach a single course and refuse to add two more in a time when budget cuts are routing more and more faculty labor into adjunctery and sundry other nasty and brutish paths. Refusing to teach three courses per semester is just the sort of thing that makes people wonder, "Do we really need tenure? It just protects jerks who want to work two hours a week and then fly to Tahiti." And some of you might argue that it’s precisely this sort of contract erosion that leads to the 10/10 adjunct position. You may have a point. But I’d say the danger of an anti-intellectual state legislature like Florida’s deciding, (on the basis of Babb) to eliminate tenure at public universities altogether, seems far more dangerous than whatever you’d lose by stretching a contract. Frankly, this whole situation reinforces the stereotype that university professors don’t like to teach and don’t feel any regard or obligation for their students, which is untrue but pervasive.

    As for the characterization of this as an issue of women being asked to pitch in before men (raised by Ellie), I’m also wondering if others were asked to up their courseloads and agreed to do so. If they were and some were men, that settles the question. If they were not, the disciplinary issue seems like the better one to pursue. I’m a PhD student in English (and a woman, and a feminist), and even I have a hard time swallowing disgust at the oversimplified tripe coming out of women’s studies departments occasionally. These programs have a sad tendency (altogether unnecessary, as they could potentially answer important questions) to degenerate into rap sessions and grievance airings. If people tend not to take them seriously, perhaps the problem lies not with their critics but with some subset of their members. I’d certainly say that the average hard science class requires more work and preparation than the average women’s studies class. Without knowing anything about the department or the professor, I can’t say whether this particular professor’s time is more, equally, or less valuable than, say, a particle physicist’s who might have been asked to teach a couple extra courses, but I doubt the request had anything to do with the sex of the professor.

    The theme of this comment is: don’t make the people in your profession look bad. To remedy this, I’d like to see some combination of a) professors taking one for the team and b) broader education about exactly what it is that professors do (i.e. teaching three classes does not mean that you work nine hours per week). Gregory Semenza’s book on how to be a grad student in the humanities has some good advice on the latter.

  24. Total Says:

    seems far more dangerous than whatever you’d lose by stretching a contract

    So the choice is between eliminating tenure or making it meaningless?

    Is the reverse situation acceptable: in good times, Babb can write to the Dean saying that she’s decided *not* to teach any classes in the coming semester?

    I’m also wondering if others were asked to up their courseloads and agreed to do so

    Babb claims she was the only full professor to receive such a letter.

    I’m a PhD student in English (and a woman, and a feminist), and even I have a hard time swallowing disgust at the oversimplified tripe coming out of women’s studies departments occasionally.

    I have trouble sometimes with the oversimplified tripe coming out of English Departments myself. Is that really the direction we want the discussion to take? "I don’t take her discipline seriously, so the school can jerk her around as much as it wants?"

    (In any case, she seems to have written at least four books and edited several others, on women in Latin America. If I could suggest being respectful of that work until you’ve read it and have a reasoned evaluation.)

  25. Ellie Says:

    If we want to start weighing the labor that goes into preparing courses, it’s worth pointing out that hard science profs at the R1 level have a stable of graduate students and teaching assistants to handle the labor-intensive parts of science teaching (designing, setting up and running labs; writing and grading exams, etc.). Even the community colleges in my area employ full time lab assistants who are responsible for preparing labs for science courses. So even if one grants that the average hard science class requires more prep work than its equivalent in the humanities (of which I am not at all convinced), the difference is not being made up by professors.

    But this whole discussion raises the higher order question about what universities, especially public universities, are for and what faculty labor consists of. Shannon Chamberlain suggests that ‘Refusing to teach three courses per semester is just the sort of thing that makes people wonder, "Do we really need tenure? It just protects jerks who want to work two hours a week and then fly to Tahiti."’ This argument is premised on the idea that universities are essentially teaching institutions whose purpose is to train up a labor force for the state, that academic labor consists solely of classroom instruction, and that research is not work, except in the scientific or social scientific fields where findings can be "entrepreneurialized" (the new favorite concept of regents in my state). The danger of eliminating tenure in a state like Florida certainly appears greater than the danger posed by changing a single contract, but both steps reflect the same understanding of the university and of the value of research that has no obvious commercial uses.

  26. econprof Says:

    I do not see any problems with Prof. Babb’s actions: First of all, 1-1 loads are not that uncommon (at my home institution, most distinguished professors (even lowly econprof himself)) teach 1-1 loads.
    Secondly, "Pacta sunt servanda": Usually, both parties are bound by a contract – and if one side tries to weasel out of her obligations it is the natural right of the other party to seek relief – by arbitration or by courts. Clearly, if the powers that be ask for a favor (like the chairman of econprof’s department did), one often will consider helping the institution and teach an additional course or a half.
    Thirdly, it would be interesting to know if the dean and the president also helped the university – like giving up some pay.
    And last not least: How would UD react if the tables were turned? Suppose we have good times again, donations come in, and endowments are growing, so the university is doing fine. So a professor with a (say) 2-2 load suddenly announces that – since the university does that well – he only will teach 1-1, and expects to gets his full salary anyway. The university takes him to arbitration or dismisses him. Would UD denounce the actions of the university as something that "gives universities a bad name"?

  27. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Well, econprof, they might not be uncommon (I suspect, despite what you’ve said, that they are, at least among professors without very significant administrative duties), but I believe that they’re close to impossible to justify, and that they certainly — rightly — look bad to people outside the university looking in.

    2/2 is a research-active load, and not much of a load for many people who have it, especially if they have mainly small graduate seminars for the most part, as Babb seems to have. 1/1, if you ask me, is ridiculous, even for the most productive faculty. Students deserve our best professors, and it’s often the case that precisely the most interesting and dynamic professors are the ones with very reduced loads. Obviously a balance needs to be struck, and universities should certainly be flexible from year to year about these matters. But my bedrock conviction remains that professors should be more available to their university’s students than 1/1 enables them to be.

    As for the challenging scenario you’ve thrown at me, econprof — I don’t quite understand it.

    As I say, I consider 1/1 an unconscionable evasion of basic teaching responsibilities.

    If some asshole on the faculty responds to good financial conditions by suddenly announcing she’s only doing 1/1, the university should fire her.

  28. Total Says:

    But my bedrock conviction remains that professors should be more available to their university’s students than 1/1 enables them to be

    And I would in fact support you in that idea. But the idea that an institution can simply abrogate a contract that it agreed to in the first place, unilateraly and not in a time of "general economic meltdown" strikes me as a really dangerous precedent.

  29. econprof Says:

    Well, UD, it seems that we live in different realities: Even in times like this, 2/1 is (for economics departments) the standard teaching load for institutions with a PhD program. Institutions which mainly concentrate on undergraduate teaching have 2/2. But even in tough times like now, no young PhD of ours would consider anything with a higher teaching load. So 1/1 is not that a stretch for us.
    Moreover, 1/1 does not mean you are not available to students: You help them with dissertations and undergraduate thesis.
    Moreover, I think you miss the point. 1/1 teaching loads and other
    "perks" (I like the idea with the guaranteed graduate assistant: Next time I negotiate a new contract I will bring it up, thanks for the hint..) are not only rewards for the utility the person brings to the university. Like the exorbitant payments and bonuses of CEO’s and executives, these are not measures of productivity, but also incentives for all the junior people: In our case they demonstrate that good behaviour – publishing in good journals, behaving well etc – will be rewarded.

    In any case: I cannot follow your line of arguments. You propose that accepting a very low teaching load is almost immoral. But who forces the universities to offer these kind of light loads? Essentially, these are simple compensations for the low pay in arts and sciences: Seldom a professor makes more than 300,000 (which will seem high to the commentariat here. But many people with a training taking that long as ours – like lawyers and doctors….).

    So it astonishes me that you do not see any problem with my scenario: The university is allowed to unilaterally change the the terms of the contract, whereas this should not be permissible for the other partner. Doesn’t this asymmetry bother you?

  30. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Yes, econoprof, different realities.

  31. theprofessor Says:

    No unilateral contract revisions, period. If UF’s administrators and lawyers were dumb enough not to include a financial exigency clause and/or a performance clause, they ought to be the ones paying up. Contracts and their enforceability are embedded in the foundations of civil society. None of the standard justifications for breaking a contract exist here: e.g., that the agreement was not entered voluntarily, that one side provided false information, or that the paying party is insolvent/bankrupt.

    Ms. Piggie she may be, but it is the administrators who are 100% at fault here if they did not provide for contingencies. If they are embarrassed by an annual 1/1 teaching load (and I agree that they should be, especially for a humanities professor), then they never should have done the deal. Why didn’t the interim dean–and let’s hope, by the way, that "interim" has now become "ex"–simply call her in, point out the fairly obvious, and ask her nicely to pony up another course or two?

  32. The_Myth Says:

    According to this Inside Higher Ed article [http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/02/24/babb], Babb actually is teaching *TWO* course this semester…and is expected to teach 2 in the future. Apparently her job as Graduate Coordinator is the equivalent of a 3rd course. I suspect that is where her issue lies. Three course-equivalent duties PLUS all that research and publication and committee work she [and only she] will be expected to keep doing.

    A good quote from the article:

    "Babb argues, however, that’s she’s been singled out in a way that others have not.

    ‘We’re not aware of faculty who have had an increase of course load for the indefinite time period,’ she said. ‘That’s striking.’”

  33. The_Myth Says:

    Oops…missed this quote:

    "In addition to her teaching, Babb serves as graduate coordinator in the women’s studies center. Given her duties as coordinator, her new teaching load expanded to three courses over spring and fall semesters — as opposed to four classes — because her coordinator responsibility qualifies as a course"

    So, this would mean no compensation for the research work she was recruited to perform…

    Or is she supposed to do that on her own time?

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