Despite full-time faculty boycott, directed study enrollment on par with previous years

By Dana Gerber, Deputy News Editor

Enrollment in directed study courses remains steady this semester despite several faculty members’ ongoing boycott of the classes.

There are still 61 undergraduate and six graduate directed study courses being taught this fall, compared to 62 in Fall 2019 and 57 in Fall 2018, according to data from the registrar’s office. 

This comes seven months after the full-time faculty union recommended term faculty—who are non-tenured full-time professors—abstain from teaching directed study after learning they would no longer receive additional compensation for that work. Directed study courses are classes that allow students to work with professors one-on-one to study a topic that isn’t available in traditional course offerings.

Directed studies are a lot of extra work,” Faculty Assembly Chair Heather May, a communications professor, said in a phone interview. “To suddenly find out I’m not being financially reimbursed for that time commitment—I could be spending that time working on my classes or grading papers.”

Term faculty used to receive a $416 stipend for taking on a directed study course, but the college took away that extra pay when term faculty joined the same union as tenure and tenure-track professors in 2017.

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The full-time faculty union contract says tenure and tenure-track faculty are not paid for any credits they take on in addition to their normal workload. Affiliated faculty receive 10 percent of the salary they would make for a normal four-credit class to advise a directed study course. The contract does not explicitly mention term faculty. Union members have previously said that it is up to the college’s discretion whether or not to pay term faculty for doing directed studies.

The college argues that directed study courses are included in the “professional obligations” outlined in the union contract. 

“Teaching directed study, mentoring students, writing recommendations for students, and holding office hours are all considered components of a full-time faculty position,” Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan wrote in an emailed statement. “Full-time faculty are not paid by credit hours taught. The full-time union can raise any issues during contract negotiations.”

Multiple faculty members told The Beacon the consistency in the number of directed study courses being taught this fall could be because those classes are instead being taught by affiliated professors (faculty members that teach at the college part time). This year’s directed study courses could also be led by tenure and tenure-track faculty, who never received payment for directed study courses, or term faculty who chose not to heed the union recommendation.

John Gianvito, a Visual and Media Arts term faculty member, said he hasn’t taught any directed study courses for a few years because of the lack of compensation. But he would consider taking them on again, Gianvito said, due to the circumstances of COVID-19.

“I feel that it’s incumbent upon all of us to embrace the occasion and be willing to do whatever seems reasonable to ensure that Emerson students get the credits they need to get,” he said. “But I don’t feel like that should be mandated.”

Gianvito, who suggested the college should consider retroactively paying faculty for directed study courses taught since 2017, said the courses are often as demanding as any other class.

“They’re rigorous and labor-intensive and deserve remuneration from the institution,” he said. “If the college doesn’t believe that should be recognized as above and beyond what’s expected, I’m not sure—except for the COVID situation now—that we should be doing them.”

Chair of Faculty Assembly Heather May is one of several faculty members boycotting the Directed Studies program after news emerged that it would no longer be a paid position. (Media: Courtesy/Heather May)

Though the issue of directed study fell to the wayside over the last few months, May said it’s indicative of larger concerns faculty have with the college valuing their input. 

“I definitely think that got pushed to the backburner as we tried to figure out what was going to happen in the fall,” May said. “There’s lots of conversations going on about shared governance at Emerson and what that looks like. And workload and by extension, directed studies are a part of that conversation.”

A Tiered Governance Working Committee in Faculty Assembly was created recently after faculty said they were mostly excluded from reopening planning talks over the summer. May said she hopes the committee will discuss workload and compensation, along with the issue of unpaid directed study. However, she expects the issue won’t be resolved until the union contract is renegotiated in June 2022. 

“One of the things that have come out of this summer is that the administration has realized just how dedicated faculty is and just how willing we are to do the work,” she said. “We just have to be involved in the process.” 

May added that she hopes faculty can resume paid directed studies since she believes the one-on-one connection is a special experience for students and professors alike. 

“That is a really sad loss,” she said. “Faculty would like to keep the opportunity to be able to do that.”