An undergrad student is helping out in my large enrollment Introduction to the Study of Religion this semester, getting some experience in the classroom and doing some extra readings on teaching and designing courses. Because comparison is the basis for making any sort of novel claim about the world (“Oh look, that’s higher than this”), one of his first assignments was to hit the web and find several sample syllabi, from other schools, as examples of how other people structure their intro courses.
While I leave it to him to pen a blog post of his own in the near future (next he’s meeting with other faculty in our Department who routinely teach the intro course, to see what they do in their classes), one thing struck me as telling when he reported, just now, on his findings. Though the sample size was, admittedly, pretty small (5 syllabi, dating from 2011 through 2014, originating from: UT Austin, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of South Carolina, and UC Santa Barbara), 3 of the 5 courses were taught either by instructors or grad students.
And the remaining two? They were taught by untenured Assistant Professors.
That’s 100% taught by people without tenure.
Sure, there’s likely plenty of senior people out there for whom the intro course is a bread and butter class and thus part of their regular (annual?) rotation — or is there…? That two or three of the courses were better classified as surveys and not introductions (i.e., covering the material rather than initiations into a discipline’s tools) was interesting, sure, but not nearly as significant as what this small random sample might tell us about who teaches whom in our field and, despite our rhetoric, what role many of us really think the intro course plays.
After all, it’s not hard to find colleagues who have not taught an undergrad class for years, working in programs where armies of grad students get stuck — that’s likely the right way to describe it, no? — with the intro class.
I find that picture of our field concerning, don’t you?
Maybe the next step is to approach this all a little more methodically, to try to see just who teaches what in the academic study of religion — who’s generating all those credit hours?
If we do take that on, you’ll be the first to hear what we learn….