Teachers dumb down courses to attract students
Dr. Ofer Kasif, a lecturer in political science, was to have taught four courses at the Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel this year: government and big business, religion and democracy, the idea of the social contract, and fascism. However, when the school year opened, he found himself with only the course on fascism. Minimal enrollment was not attained for the other courses. As an adjunct instructor, Kasif is paid by the hour, which meant a loss of nearly half his projected income. "Together with my course at Sapir College I only have two courses this semester, netting me about NIS 3,000 a month," Kasif says.
"An adjunct will do anything to increase student numbers. Students are usually looking for easy courses, with little required reading and the potential for an 'easy A,'" Kasif says. "If [teachers] want to earn a living they must bring down the academic level of their courses, but if they don't want to compromise they jeopardize their livelihood." Thus, Kasif says, the "ratings culture" is causing a rapid deterioration in the level of college teaching.
The problems faced by adjunct instructors is to be addressed today by the Knesset Education Committee.
"I'm thinking of becoming a bartender," says Kasif. "I have to make a living," Kasif adds.
"I worked as a taxi driver for a while, and as a tour guide. I have no problem with it, but that's not why I did my Ph.D., Dr. Amir Bar-Or, an adjunct instructor at several institutions, says. "I was to have taught a year-long course at Emek Yezreel College on the development of security thinking in Israel. A week before classes started I was told that no one had signed up."
"Some colleges do not strictly maintain a[n academic] level that does not fall below a certain minimum," says Prof. Itzhak Galnoor of the Van Leer Institute, a former deputy chairman of the Council for Higher Education. "An adjunct instructor, who doesn't have tenure, will worry about requiring his students to read material in English because if he gives many failing grades he could be fired."
Prof. Zeev Tzahor, the President of Sapir College and a member of the Council of College Presidents, agrees that there is a problem with the way adjunct instructors are employed. "Here at Sapir College the minimum number of students for a course is 20. Under present budgetary conditions it can't be done any other way."
He insists, however, that this system does not bring down the academic level. He says students cannot be bought by the fact that a course is easy. The Council of College Presidents said in a response that matters of employment are not in its purview.
Emek Yezreel College issued the following statement in response: "When there are not enough students registered for a course, the course will not be held. In this context it is important to note that if a course is canceled for academic reasons or because of insufficient enrollment the college gives the teaching associate one month's salary (in lieu of advance notice). We must stress that the claim that instructors reduce course requirements in order to encourage registration is baseless."