Articles I Never Should Have Read, #1093

Someone sent me a link to an article from The Washington Post by David Levy called “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?” Levy writes:

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.

He says this may be fine for research institutions, but at teaching institutions? Nah. He goes on:

Critics may argue that teaching faculty members require long hours for preparation, grading and advising. Therefore they would have us believe that despite teaching only 12 to 15 hours a week, their workloads do approximate those of other upper-middle-class professionals. While time outside of class can vary substantially by discipline and by the academic cycle (for instance, more papers and tests to grade at the end of a semester), the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth.

A myth, huh?

I don’t teach for a research institution, but in one where the teaching load is called “4-4” (four three-hour courses each semester). This is my sixth year there. During that time, I have written, edited, or co-authored five books and have seen seven of my essays appear as book chapters. In addition, I have presented seventeen conference papers. Oh, and have had a variety of other publications appear and have done other speaking. At the same time, I have developed a number of courses, worked with programs concerned with the transition from high school to college, and am spending time trying to improve developmental-writing courses. Beyond that, I serve on a number of committees, including our hiring committee, all of which take a great deal of work. Over the next week, “spring break,” I will be completing two new book chapters, developing a new Call For Papers for a volume I am editing, preparing a presentation for May, and getting moving on my current book project. And, of course, I have to prepare for my classes.

Now, it may be true that I do a bit more that shows than do most professors, but that is only because I have been extremely lucky with my writing. I have a publisher, Praeger, that likes my work and gives me an extraordinary amount of freedom to cross disciplinary boundaries (which is the reason I stay with Praeger). But the amount of work I do is not that different from my colleagues in the City Tech English Department.

Though it may be true that certain members of the generation before mine in college teaching often did take something of a free ride, this generation (by that, I mean those who entered the academic profession in this century) certainly does not. At least, in my experience it does not. Of course, in any field, in any business, one can find people content to slide by, but what I see in most of my younger colleagues is, instead, exhaustion. Each of them is doing too much, working far too many hours.

It’s true, though, that when I returned to academia in 2004, I had something of a snotty attitude towards professors and the easy workloads they seemed to have. After all, I had spent the previous decade running a business, working seven days a week, generally twelve hours a day. I thought things would certainly get easier once I got off that treadmill.

They did not. If anything, I work as much now as I did then. And so do many of the professors I know. We research, we write, we teach, we deal with students on all sorts of issues, we take on administrative tasks, we work with colleagues to improve teaching and research skills and assist each other with projects. We don’t count the hours we work–and certainly don’t stop working once we are done with class and class preparation.

Levy’s article is wrong-headed in ways beyond his simplistic misrepresentation of what we professors do with our time. A post by Laurie Essig at The Chronicle of Higher Education does a better job than I can in taking the rest of it apart.

Enough. I’m tired of the sort of nonsense Levy spouts… and I do have to get back to my work.

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