Faculty Buyout System

Our faculty course buyout system is under some pressure from the University Administration, which believes that too many courses are taught by Adjunct Faculty and Lecturers, and not enough by Senate Faculty.  Part of our response to the EVC memo will have to address this issue.

In the past the School of Public Health has stressed that because our Adjunct- and Lecturer-taught courses are paid for by funds from Senate faculty buyouts, we should not be encouraged to reduce them.  These efforts have been only somewhat persuasive. This blog post unpacks this issue, and explains the reasons for concern about the system and suggests what we must do to keep it viable.

The system of buyouts looks really good at the margin.  One course bought out by a Senate faculty member generates far more revenue than needed to pay for that same course to be taught by a non-Senate faculty member.  While this marginalist view looks good, it is incomplete.  The system as a whole only about breaks even, and this year the system is running a substantial deficit, although I believe it will be for one year only.

There are three points to consider:

  1. Many more courses are taught by non-Senate faculty than are bought out by Senate faculty.  The whole buyout system enables the Department to offer 10-15 more courses per year than it would be able to afford without the buyout system;
  2. Senate faculty have de facto used the buyout pool to buy out of significant administrative responsibilities.  The buyout pool has to cover a substantial workload of advising, program management, curriculum monitoring, practicum placement, community outreach, marketing, and so on.  Note that the University provides no funds for these essential functions, but has given us a lower course load because of them.  Were it not for official recognition of the importance of these service roles to our professional programs, our teaching load would probably be 4 courses per year, as it is in most other Schools. In this sense, these administrative functions are ultimately the responsibility of Senate faculty, although have been covered almost entirely by Adjunct Faculty.
  3. Several courses taught by Adjuncts, particularly those from the Cancer Center, are taught at no cost to the Department.  The provision of free teaching represents a substantial subsidy to the Buyout System.

The graph below makes some of these points visually.

As is clear, the buyout system benefits the whole Department in a variety of ways, and the Department has a compelling interest in keeping it viable.  However, in a budget crisis, the University administration could well look at our current buyout-program, with its current deficit and average zero-balance, and conclude that it is too costly or not worth it.

To keep the program viable, I suggest that we consider as a faculty ways to keep the revenue of the buyout program strong, while keeping the costs under control.  Doing so will involve:

  • asking faculty to do their best to buy out of any courses less than their full teaching load;
  • limiting the number of courses we teach to those that are high demand and essential to our educational mission;
  • continuing to monitor the buyout balance so that we can make a strong case to the University administration for keeping this program.

2 Responses to “Faculty Buyout System”

  1. 1 Jack Needleman December 4, 2009 at 6:34 am

    The analysis here is incomplete in three important ways:
    First, 3 of the departments 5 degree programs (PhD, DrPH and MSHS) are directed by ladder faculty, both of whom I believe are buying out of teaching. Standing committees are similarly led by ladder faculty, a number of whom are also buying out of courses. There is a need for more evidence/discussion of whether ladder faculty who are buying out of courses are not meeting their other responsibilities for department administration and student advising.

    Second, the department has required that those obtaining a joint appointment or adjunct appointment provide teaching or other service to the department. I believe that other adjunct faculty beyond those in the Cancer Center are teaching at no cost to the department. I’d like to see a breakdown of the number of courses taught by paid vs. unpaid adjuncts.

    Third, like many other schools of public health, we rely heavily on adjuncts to teach management courses. We have appointed adjuncts to direct the two MPH programs. We use adjuncts to teach management oriented courses like strategy. There are historic reasons for this, here and elsewhere involved in the historic difficulties core management faculty have had in generating research funding and thus being successfully promoted at a research-intensive university.

    Thinking through the use of adjuncts to teach management will require clear understanding of the students we want to graduate, the career paths we are preparing them for, the skills and competencies the coursework and non-course experiences we provide them are intended to develop, and whether there is a match between what we want to teach and what the Senate faculty are capable and prepared to teach.

  2. 2 Fred Zimmerman December 5, 2009 at 5:27 am

    Jack, here are some responses.

    First, I didn’t mean to imply that faculty who are buying out are not meeting their responsibilities for service, only that if there were no Adjuncts here, there would be not only more teaching for Senate faculty, but also more service to do.

    Second, the number of free courses we get varies from year to year and depends on what you define as a free course, but generally speaking we have some 4-5 courses a year taught for free by Adjuncts. In addition, we benefit from several more taught by jointly appointed faculty, though these are paid for indirectly by the University through FTE’s in other Departments. We also offer a few courses that are subsidized in some way by training grants.

    Your third point captures a part of what I meant by “the buyout system benefits the whole Department in a variety of ways.”

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