Yes, I do work hard enough

Okay, maybe I actually spend too much time blogging (but, I suppose we could see that as “teaching” to a broader audience.  Or not).  Anyway, this Op-Ed in the Post arguing that too many college professors are overpaid for not enough teaching is just horrible.  Whatever academic experience David Levy has had it sure seems nothing like mine.  To wit:

Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September…

An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals. [emphasis mine].  Yet they receive the same compensation.

This is so stupid on so many levels.  Fortunately, I came across this terrific rebuttal by Robert Farley.  I especially love that he uses that beloved frame of mine: lying or stupid:

Right; the reason for the increase in college tuition is “insufficient teaching schedules,” not the massive increase in administrative costs. This is helpful; we now know that David Levy is lying about cause and effect, and can adjust our expectations for the rest of the op-ed. This is aggravated by a second (obvious) fallacy; the “insufficient” teaching time is almost invariably made up for by cheap, temporary, low cost adjunct faculty, lecturers, and grad students. Having senior faculty double their teaching load wouldn’t have faculty costs; it would simply push out the very low cost workers we now hire to fix the “shortfall.”…

Okay, so two possibilities. The first is that Levy is too stupid or ignorant to appreciate that faculty positions at most private universities and “state colleges” do in fact include research requirements, and that salaries at institutions that don’t have a research requirement are considerably lower than those at research institutions. I’ll allow it’s possible that the man is either a moron, or is ignorant of the basic structure of the profession. The other (more likely) possibility is that he’s simply lying, and expects his audience to know nary a thing about the actual structure of faculty compensation in the United States.

As I understand it, my contract is fairly common for my field; 40% teaching, 40% research, 20% service. Do the math; this means that 60% of my job performance is evaluated on terms other than teaching. I’m at an R-1 university, but I’ve seen a lot of contracts at other schools that are similar, and at schools where the research load is less the teaching load is heavier. Indeed, at UK it’s not uncommon for non-tenure track Lecturer positions to include service and research requirements, above and beyond a much heavier teaching load…

In case you’re wondering, 12-15 hours per week is a 4:4 load or a 5:5 load; I have NEVER encountered anyone able to undertake such a load on less than fifty hours per week of actual work. Indeed, I’d guess closer to sixty hours. I simply cannot believe that Levy is ignorant of this; he’s just lying. He wants his readers to believe that an assumption of 1:1 inside-outside the classroom is standard, which is simply absurd, even if faculty do their best to ignore student e-mails and grade completely through scan tron. And it should be noted that research and service requirements are ON TOP OF THIS load.

Thank you Robert Farley!  I would’ve simply said the same things less thoroughly and less artfully.   Shame on the Post for publishing such crap.  (Then again, their Op-Ed page is the home of Krauthammer).

In a totally different vein, I also thought Ygelesias‘ take was interesting (mostly because I think he’s wrong):

The basic issue isn’t that professors are lazy, it’s that they’re workingunproductively. As you can see above, real output per employed person in the United States has skyrocketed over the decades even as annual hours worked per employed person has fallen.

That’s how you make progress, not by “working harder” but by working more productively. Journalists, for example, can write articles much more quickly in 2012 than was possible in 1962. It’s much easier to edit text on computer than on typewriter, it’s much faster to find phone numbers on the Internet than by flipping through paper books, it’s much easier to leave messages for people or see what calls you’ve missed, it’s possible to communicate with sources and colleagues via email and IM, you can look data up on FRED, and so forth. Professors have access to most of these same tools and they use them and relates technologies to conduct their research much more efficiently (looking up old articles on JSTOR instead of digging through a library, collaborating with coauthors in other cities over email) but they haven’t succeeded in becoming much more efficient at teaching.

Yglesias makes the error of equating “teaching” with time spent in the classroom.  In fact, all those great tools for making research easier also make time spent preparing for class more productive.  For example, in preparing my health care policy lecture recently, I took information from all sorts of great sources all over the internet and assembled them quickly in a compelling visual presentation.  I cannot even imaging doing something half as good in twice the time, pre-internet.   That said, the Levy Op-Ed is still horrible.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to Yes, I do work hard enough

  1. itchy says:

    Oh, wow. I’ll show the op-ed to my wife. Maybe she’ll get a chance to look at it between teaching, preparing lectures, designing courses, lab work, administration, grant writing, student mentoring, publishing, peer-review panels, conferences …

    But, as always, the “lying or stupid” frame is oversimplistic.

    It’s probably both.

  2. Mike says:

    What does “service” mean in relation to “my contract is fairly common for my field; 40% teaching, 40% research, 20% service.”?

  3. Steve Greene says:

    Service generally means soul-sucking committee meetings. It also means things like advising students, organizing speaker series, helping recruit new students, serving on admissions committees, etc.

  4. Mark says:

    Yeah, that op-ed is a joke. Even as a TA, I spend close to 10-15 hours a week preparing for class, teaching, having office hours, grading, answering email. How can you totally disregard time spent doing research? If you told a professor working at a research university that they only work 20-30 hours per work, they laugh at you.

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