Whether it’s the administration pushing you to be a “team player” and teach additional courses, or your supervisor doubling up your duties because a colleague left, if you allow new tasks to be assigned to you without asking for anything to be taken off your plate, you may end up exploited and burned out or worse, risk your good health and family life.
Well to be fair, people in other professions, such as law and medicine, put in 70-hour weeks all the time. So do university administrators. If some faculty members can handle that kind of workload, why would we tell them they can’t? I have a good friend, at another institution, who routinely teaches six or seven courses each semester, serves on numerous important committees, and is active in his discipline. In my opinion, it would be silly for administrators to tell him he has to stop when he’s shown that he can handle it just fine and, especially, with an extra pay to it.
However, there are limits. At some point, a particular faculty member may be teaching so many classes that the sheer amount of work does begin to affect his or her teaching and other duties. Teaching more than the normal load, I contend, is never an ideal situation. If there is a sufficient amount of additional teaching and there is continued demand, it is not feasible to have a patchwork system with faculty covering an extra course here and another extra course there; you risk weakening the entire educational framework.
At best, it might be a temporary way to keep costs down, but if you have a situation where there is a fairly heavy teaching load, something is bound to be neglected. Overload, analysed critically, could be more harmful to students than beneficial to a university, because the quality of instruction might suffer as faculty members are teaching more courses than an institution considers optimal. A better analysis of staffing needs, with the primary motivator being the best interests of students, perhaps, might shade some light on the implication of overloads.
The fact, however, is that with overloads - voluntarily or otherwise - we run the risk of stress and burnout. It will suffice to mention that continual stress from such ultimately affects in three dimensions: the first dimension is emotional exhaustion, where the individual is in a state of depletion of emotional resources and feels worn out. The second is depersonalisation which is a negative, cynical attitude towards one’s work or the recipients of one’s care (e.g. students in the case of teachers’ burnout). The third, is the decreased personal accomplishment, marked by a sense of inefficacy, negative self evaluation and inadequacy with reference to job performance.
Clearly, having an extra class on top of the normal teaching load is cost effective to an institution and may also benefit a faculty member if there is an extra pay to it. However, both the student and the teacher stand to lose in the long run. For this reason, administrators should apportion reasonable workloads to the faculty in order to maintain quality in institutions of higher learning.
The writer is a Language Consultant