Do college professors work hard enough?

If I had any energy left in my after my rather exhausting job, I would lift my arm just high enough to take a swing at the eye of the author of this faux-respectful  WaPo op-ed piece, who concludes that not only do we not work hard, we don’t even work full-time:

But we all should object when they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers.

Now, professors have heard this saw before, and although it makes me want to give up all my efforts every time I hear it, this time it’s written by a former chancellor of the New School.  So, what the expletive?!  How does someone preside over a university without ever learning that the professors work?  In my anger, at least I’ve got company from this rather excellent response on the ginandtacos blog:

The best part about being a professor in this country [USA]  – I can’t speak for any other – is that no one really understands what we do but everyone knows that we’re doing it wrong.

I highly recommend reading both, the op-ed so that academics know the details of the cultural conversation about just how lazy, how very, very lazy we are, and the ginandtacos rant responding to it so that you don’t feel quick so heartsick.  But I do.  I feel heartsick. Or at least, post-burrito sick.

Thanks to Barrett Emerick for the link to the rant, I guess (although the op-ed really isn’t sitting well after my burrito, Barrett).

13 thoughts on “Do college professors work hard enough?

  1. Professors work very hard and very long to get to where they are today… Even if they DO work half-the time of the peers (which they don’t) they deserve it through the endless hours they have dedicated to the subject.

  2. I saw this circulating among some friends earlier today. The intellectual laziness in Levy’s piece is amazing, even for a business administrator’s op-ed. He is making enormous conflations between different types of universities (prestigious private LACs, flagship public universities, small LACs, regional public universities, community colleges, etc.) and different fields (humanities, sciences, business, law, etc.).

    The most charitable way possible to interpret this piece is that his point is isolated to faculty in teaching universities who have zero or little research expectations (because, otherwise, the time that faculty spend on research obviously demolishes his entire argument). But, even then, Levy is simply ignoring service and professional development as things that occupy the time of faculty. Furthermore, he’s completely ignoring the fact that his statistics on how much professors are paid are skewed toward research universities, prestigious private institutions, and fields like business and law to the exclusion of the humanities. Faculty in the humanities at the schools he’s aiming at do not make the type of money he cites. Even on a maximally charitable reading, Levy is pulling stats from one area to support an argument aimed at faculty in a completely different area.

  3. I should note that the version I saw was actually an earlier version of this article that has since been corrected. In the version I read, Levy claims that the faculty he’s targeting make six-figure incomes. To his credit, at least he has now removed that howler from the piece. Of course, he just changed six-figure to “upper-middle-class,” which has basically the same problem. Humanities faculty simply don’t earn upper-middle-class wages in most institutions.

  4. At any of the places I have worked (academic or real world) whoever you talked to always worked harder than anybody else. Day shift or night shift; front of the store or back of the store; servers or kitchen staff; teachers or janitors; doctors or nursers or aides; etc., etc.

    The only people everyone agreed worked the least were the top managers and executives who did little or nothing at all and could be easily done away with.

  5. If I look at some of the questions that grab me – such as how revisionary of commonsense should brain science be – then it is hard to see how one could in a position even to start without a lot of work. I’m confident that many, many faculty coming to this blog are looking at equally broad issues.

    So the idea that we don’t do enough suggests that either they do not know the big questions change from one generation to another at least in the details needing mastery Or they think courses as they were 25 years ago would do today’s students.

    We need to edit a book on this topic. IMHO.

  6. I’ve cleaned toilets and buffed marble floors, packed strawberries, pressed pants (for $1.60 an hour in a 120 degree un-air-conditioned factory in an ununionized souther seat shop)–all to get through school, get a PhD, and do philosophy. And thank Darwin I did just that.

    But those horrible jobs all had one thing in common. When I clocked out–I clocked out. I did other things. Like what I do now.

    Which is what I now do ALL THE TIME. In class, in office hours, yes; but also on “spring break” and “summer vacation” and at 3 am when I should be sleeping instead of planning how better to present a lecture or re-thinking a possible worlds analysis of dispositions for a paper I’m trying to polish.

    I’m not at all different from the overwhelming number of colleagues I’ve worked with and met. There is this myth of getting-tenure-and-cruising-picture of the majority of academics, but not in my experiential sphere. The committed life of the mind is on the clock 24/7–and for what it typically provides for that commitment in terms of quality, it deserves compensation.

    FWIW–I teach at a state 4/4. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. (And yes, I’ve had my chances.)

  7. Thanks to Alan (and others). I am SO sick of this meme – even within my own family.

    I have come to believe that we should stop comparing (based on our uninformed assessments) how ‘hard’ people in this or that role work – and just start talking about decent wages, decent conditons, and what any human might hope to achieve in her/his career.

  8. For once, the comments on the piece are actually heartening (and make excellent points).

    I can hardly believe I’m reading them on the internet, let alone a newspaper’s site.

  9. I’ve posted on this before, so I’ll try not to repeat. Of course many faculty work hard. The life of the mind, as another put it, is unique. There are quite a lot of people who will never know what it is like to think so hard about an idea that it makes you physically unwell (to say nothing of irritable to your immediate family). I’m sure just about everyone here has gotten themselves out of bed and to the computer at 3 AM, because writing for a couple of hours is the only way to keep the thoughts from running through your head.

    But, not all faculty work hard. I’m also sure all of us also know some tenured faculty (and not a few at that), who have long since checked out. Also, the “12-15” instructional hours mentioned in the article is not an adequate reflection of faculty loads. 12 hours (50 minute hours) would be a “teaching position”, which may faculty regard as burdensome. 15 is a community college load, which many faculty consider barely academia. Quite a few faculty have a 3-3 load or better, which is only nine.

    Of course, there are other associated duties, like grading, prep, and committee work – but let’s be honest. Those with high teaching loads (like myself) don’t need a lot of prep, because we’ve taught the introductory level class a hundred times before (literally). Grading? That depends on the class. We’re all familiar with the graduate seminar of 10 students and one paper as an assignment. Committee work will vary widely, and sometimes involves just showing up, not the producing of anything.

    The biggie is research, and whether this gets counted as work. Clearly, getting tenure at a top school requires significant work (books, several top journal articles). But this is not a reflection of the discipline as a whole. A colleague related to me the story of how there was a minor faculty revolt at his university, because the administration wanted to make the publication of ONE journal article a minimum requirement for tenure. At community colleges, there is no requirement at all.

    Many faculty will publish regardless of tenure requirements. That’s just who they are. There are CC profs who do quite a lot. I know a university prof who gets out a minimum of 10 journal articles are year, plus 5 conference papers. Is this part of the job or not? It’s hard to argue that it is, since we’d do it anyway, and most compensation is not sensitive to it.

    I don’t think faculty are overpaid (in general). I do think that looking at academic life by “hours worked” is an inappropriate measure, and so I don’t think we should respond to such articles by claiming that we really are “putting in the time”. It’s just a different kind of work. Work that financially provides only a comfortable life – certainly less comfortable than the numerous administrative positions that produce very little of substance.

    (Disclosure, I have a 5-5-2 load at a CC.)

  10. Both the op-ed and the critical response already note that not all faculty work hard. Gin and Tacos, especially, is being honest, and to good effect, so I recommend reading it. The author makes the point that “not everyone works hard” is a statement one can make of every single profession.

    I do think we should claim that we are putting in the time, for the very important reason that views like those in the original op-ed imagine we’re not even working half-time. That’s in need of correction.

  11. @Kate Norlock

    The “not everyone” is, as you say, true of every profession. But I wasn’t meaing to refer to outliers in my post. I also wasn’t meaning to suggest that all of those who fall into that category are lazy or not deserving of their job or salary. Further, I’m speaking of academics generally, not philosophers in particular. I’ll just say that it’s been my experience that “working like mules” as one author puts it, is neither a necessary condition for being an academic, nor does it apply to the vast majority (perhaps the majority) – and I think measures like widely varying pubication rates bear this out.

    Maybe I’ve just got a different (flawed?) conception of how to interpret expressions like “hard work”, “working like mules”, etc.

  12. ajkreider – I wonder if it depends where you work? In the UK, we have the REF, so the pressure to publish a lot, gain lots of research funding, engage in various research projects, and so on is enormous. We also have a lot of administrative work to do, which I gather is largely absent from the lives of US folk?

    During term time, on average, five days of my week (8am – 7ishpm, occasionally a half hour lunch break) is taken up with teaching and admin. I’m teaching courses I’ve taught many times before, but there is always more to revise, more to read and add to the reading list, more to re-read in preparation for discussion classes, and so on. Add to that a steady stream of students – those taking my courses, and personal tutees with various problems who come to see me to talk about their essays, and so on. I have no graduate teaching assistants, so I see all my students (all 190 of them) myself. Some more than others, of course.

    Admin-wise, I’m the Admissions tutor. That means reading the non-straightforward applications (someone else deals with the straightforward ones), writing to college tutors asking for further references, interviewing mature students, advising applicants by email about how to gain entry to the courses, telephoning teachers and schools to ask for further information about unusual cases, developing widening participation policies, meeting with Central Admissions to discuss entry criteria, attending meetings approx twice a term to go over uni-wide admissions issues, writing blurb for brochures, proofreading brochures, reading new A-level syllabi when they are introduced to reach some view on whether they are suitable for entry to the uni, talking to applicants at approximately 20 open days throughout the year, and meeting applicants on an ad hoc basis who can’t make the uni open days. This year, this role has also involved reading, digesting, and writing reports on a few government white papers, due to the various changes our wonderful gov are making to Higher Education over the next few years.

    I’ve then somehow got to do some research, so that I have enough publications for the REF, try and write some funding proposals, and such like. The only way to fit this in is to work at least an extra day at the weekend.

    During holidays, I mostly get to work on my research. Then, I generally refuse to work weekends. I’m not getting as much work done as my other colleagues, who work all the time (weekends, evenings, family holidays, you name it).

    EVERYONE I know who is an academic (in the UK) is in the same boat. I love the teaching, and I don’t mind the admin, but trying to fit the research in on top of it is extremely hard. Quite frankly, the expectations of workload and work hours are completely insane. I have NO idea how people with children or other caring responsibilities manage. (Not a massive coincidence that most of my older colleagues all have wives.)

    I don’t think that this situation is unique to academia. The work culture in the UK is, in general, utterly ridiculous. People I know in many other jobs are also expected to work incredibly long hours.

    The difference is that I don’t think many folks outside academia know how many hours we do put in.

  13. I am at a Black university. I teach undergrads (4/4). It becomes a 4/5 midspring (plus study abroad in summer). Some of my colleagues teach a 5/5. I’m on campus by 9am and I work as late as 10 pm. I spend an hour or more on public transportation coming and going. I’m freshman advisor and I do what I can to engage students outside of the classroom (e.g. panels, office hours, activism). Admittedly, Booker T. Washington worked a lot harder, but he was born into slavery. Thankfully those days are past us. kzs

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