Reductions Spark Conversation about Research, Teaching Quality

Several departments in the College of Arts and Letters, including Political Science and Sociology, have decided to offer a 2-1 teaching load to tenured and tenure-track professors. The change is a decrease from the standard 2-2 teaching load that professors in the college have traditionally held.

In an interview with the Rover, Professor Geoffrey Layman, Chairperson of the Department of Political Science, confirmed that his department’s move to a 2-1 load took effect this semester. A 2-1 signifies that a professor teaches 2 courses in the fall semester and 1 course in the spring. When asked how the department proposes to handle the 25% reduction in course offerings at a time when the major is growing without corresponding faculty growth, Professor Layman responded that he believes the Dean of Arts and Letters wants faculty growth and that the Department “must determine what the most important classes are.”

Professor Layman told the Rover that he is confident that if the teaching load reduction does result in fewer classes offered, the burden will be on the professors “to work harder at mentoring [graduate students] to teach and to teach well.” Faculty will not simply be able to “teach what they want to teach.” Thus, the Department of Political Science will continue to improve the quality of its teaching. Professor Layman remarked in conclusion that “some classes will have to be larger, but I think if we do this right, the overall experience for Notre Dame students will be at least as good or better because we’ll recruit better faculty who are better teachers.”

Dr. Mark Roche, I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters from 1997 to 2008 and current Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Professor of German Language and Literature, discussed with the Rover how the College of Arts and Letters, during and after his time as Dean, has been “dramatically increasing” the number of endowed chairs. Roche believes this to be the best strategy of accommodating for reduced teaching loads. He confirmed that reductions have been made on a gradual basis since before 1996, and that the reductions initially were made in “stronger departments.”

During his time as Dean, Roche participated in conversations about reductions in economics and psychology. The reductions are typically offered to faculty with exceptional research output, which Roche views as a positive incentive for both quality research and teaching. The ideal toward which the university strives is an integration of teaching and research, which Roche argues in his book Intellectual Appeal of Catholicism and the Idea of a Catholic University (ND Press, 2003) are “equally valuable and mutually enriching endeavors.”

Dr. Gabrielle Girgis, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, also sees the positive potential of this change, remarking in an email exchange with the Rover that “it provides more teaching opportunities for women scholars who are prioritizing time at home with young children.” This way, offered Girgis, young women will be able to see that motherhood and teaching can be mutually beneficial vocations.

Although reduced teaching loads are intended to give faculty members the time needed to do research and thereby ideally increase the quality of their teaching, they are not preferred by all. As Dean, Roche rarely granted reduced loads, and Professor John McGreevy, who was Dean of the College of Arts and Letters from 2008 to 2018, argued in a 2019 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that “every dropped course, every incentive not to come to campus, erodes the culture upon which good departmental decisions depend.”

In the article, McGreevy argues that in a healthy department, faculty members share conversations about “recent scholarship or discoveries, graduate students’ work, undergraduate theses, [and] department curricula,” which is not facilitated by an environment where the majority of professors’ time is spent doing individual research.

Christian Smith, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame, shares Professor McGreevy’s concern about the effect of teaching load reductions on undergraduate teaching culture. In his book Building Higher Education: Unofficial Reflections from the University of Notre Dame (Wipf and Stock 2014), Smith discusses Notre Dame’s three pillars of undergraduate teaching, research, and Catholic mission, arguing that if one pillar must be sacrificed for the sake of the others, it should be research.

Smith told the Rover that the Department of Sociology has been discussing reductions, which will be managed by the Dean going forward. Smith shared that, at the end of the day, we “mustn’t allow the long-term culture to shift away from undergraduates.” Father Bill Miscamble expressed a similar perspective in a conversation with the Rover: his concern is that “there’s no serious consideration being given to the implications of a move to reduce teaching for its impact on undergraduate education.”

The question for the Notre Dame community, but especially for undergraduate students, going forward, is this: Will Notre Dame be able to sustain its wonderful reputation for undergraduate education while retreating from teaching?

​​Josh Gilchrist is a junior in the Program of Liberal Studies with a supplementary major in theology. When he’s not in the library or the PLS lounge, you can find him running around the lakes, mixing drinks, or enjoying a good conversation over a cigar. You can reach him at

Photo credit: Brendan Loy, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0 License

Note: this article has been updated since it first appeared in print. The first paragraph mistakenly named the Economics department as having switched to a 2-1 teaching load along with Political Science and Sociology. In fact, the Economics department switched to a 2-1 teaching load in the 2009-2010 academic year. The Rover sincerely apologizes for this mistake.