My department recently finalized the faculty teaching assignments for the Fall 2019 semester (starts at the end of August 2019). As these assignments were being discussed a few weeks ago, my department chair approached me and asked my "interest" (her word) in teaching an "explorations" (again her word) class that students could take to learn more about our department and our discipline.
She had a pre-written syllabus that she had composed. The proposed work load for the class essentially consisted of having 80% attendance at a weekly 50-minute class period and filling out a course review at the end of the semester (10% of the grade was to come from a nebulous "class participation" score). This class would be worth three (3) credits, which would be the typical credit given for a class that met for three 50-minute periods a week and had several exams, weekly homework, etc. Some examples of classes in my college (STEM) worth 3 credits:
All names and course numbers are effectively fake. These are all real classes at my university, but I have completely made up the numbers to mask the real classes.
- Math 3340 Differential Equations.
- Math 3870 Algebraic Number Theory.
- Phys 2200 Electromagnetism.
- CoSc 3130 Compilers and Interpreters.
- Stat 4650 Bayesian Inference.
- CoSc 3270 Intro to Machine Learning.
- CoSc 4270 Advanced Machine Learning.
- Chem 3510 Organic Chemistry I.
- Chem 3520 Organic Chemistry II.
(CoSc is Computer Science. This is not what my university calls it. I did this literally just so that every class only had a 4 letter abbreviation).
I told the department chair that I was not interested in teaching the class and made the passing observation that it seemed like the class was rather simple for a three credit class. She told me that, yes, it is a rather simple class, but that this was okay, since it was "targeted at the athletes from our university." The class is open to any student at the university, but it requires departmental signature to add the class.
I feel that this may be treading a fine line that borders on academic fraud, such as this scandal at the University of North Carolina. This is exacerbated by the fact that I have now discovered that there is not only one version of this class, but three (XXXX 3910 Explorations I, XXXX 3920 Explorations II, XXXX 3930 Explorations III) versions of the class.
The classes meet concurrently (e.g. Tuesdays at 2 p.m.) in "different" rooms, however it is really just one big room that can be subdivided into three classrooms with accordion curtains. (Each section of the room has a separate door to the hallway and a separate room number). So the "Explorations" classes can effectively be taken all at once by signing up for all three classes and then just sitting in the big room and "participating."
Despite my declining having any interest in teaching one of these classes, I have been named as the instructor of one of the classes. The department chair and a new adjunct hire have been listed as the professors over the other two classes. Students have registered for the class and it looks like out of 21 students on my class list, 19 are student athletes.
I spoke (informally) with our associate dean about this class soon after my department chair first approached me about the class. At that point I had not yet been assigned to teach the class. He informed me that the dean had signed off on these classes in order to "engender interest in the college." Most student athletes at my school do not major in STEM fields.
I'm not sure how high this goes. I do not want to lose my job over being unwilling to get up in front of some student athletes and talk about interesting things in my field. If the class was worth fewer credits, I would feel better about participating. But as it is, I feel uncomfortable being associated with the course. If it were worth fewer credits, I might be more favorable to the thought of teaching the class.
Should I blow the whistle here?
I do not have tenure. I am relatively new to the department. I think this is why the department chair is asking me and an adjunct professor (new hire) to cover these classes.
I mentioned that I had been assigned to teach this class to one of my senior faculty. His assessment was essentially "Oh yeah, sounds fishy. But if [Dept. Chair] got it approved, must be on the up and up, right? Ha ha ha...."
Grade break down for the class is as follows:
- 10% Participation (On an integer scale from 0-10).
- 10% Course Evaluation (Filled out = full marks, not completed = zero).
- 80% Attendance:
- There are 10 total class meetings (we do not meet every week)
- You get 1 point for each class period you attend up to and including your eighth class period attended. (Max score of 8/8).
The class is not pass fail. ABC grades are assigned.
So, if you participated at a level 9 (whatever that will mean), filled out the course evaluation, and attended 5 class periods total, your score would be:
9% + 10% + (5/8)*80% = 69% in the course.
If you participated at a level 3, did not fill out the course evaluation, and attended 7 class periods total, your score would be:
3% + 0% + (7/8)*80% = 73% in the course.