I am delighted with the responses to the Ethicist posts—both on the site and to me personally. Thanks for your energy and insights.
An Academy member sent me a very interesting scenario he has been facing that should resonate with many, not only in our field but with those following trends in academe as a whole. I have experienced a version of it myself just this semester. Consider this:
For the past 10 years, you’ve taught a required course you like. You’re effective at teaching this course, too: in the first several years, your course evaluations were very high and other student feedback indicated that they loved your course. However, although you manage the course in essentially the same way as you have since the beginning, and your teaching style has not changed dramatically for the worse, your course evaluations have become not so great. The reason behind this is that your students now evaluate your course’s workload as much too heavy, especially in relation to others who teach the course. When you first were teaching the course and got great evaluations, over 90% of students evaluated your course’s workload as “appropriate.” Over time, you now earn that evaluation metric from only 20% of students.
For students considering taking your course, the word on the street is that you are a very difficult instructor and your course carries an inappropriately rough workload. So, along with decreasing student evaluation numbers, you’re also facing fewer students in your section and resentful colleagues, all in the context of a dramatically increased institutional focus on student retention. You consider your assignment load completely appropriate for the course material.
As you puzzled over your change in evaluation fortunes, you reviewed syllabi from colleagues who also teach this course and found out that, based on similar student feedback, they had been gradually decreasing the workload in their courses. It appears that other sections of this course now require only a group presentation (without a corresponding written assignment) and one multiple choice exam at the end of the course. Indeed, you do have the heaviest workload now out of anyone teaching that course, although there is nothing out of the ordinary in your assignment mix: multiple writing assignments, group written project, and two essay/short answer exams.
What do you do?