TITLE: Faculty Workload and the Cost of Universities AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 27, 2012 4:53 PM DESC: ----- BODY: This morning, @tonybibbs tweeted me a link to a Washington Post piece called Do college professors work hard enough?, wondering what I might think. Author David Levy calls for "reforms for outmoded employment policies that overcompensate faculty for inefficient teaching schedules". Once, he says, faculty were generally underpaid relative to comparably educated professionals; now senior faculty at most state universities earn salaries roughly in line with comparable professionals.
Not changed, however, are the accommodations designed to compensate for low pay in earlier times. 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.
My initial impressions after a quick read this morning were
  1. Yes, some faculty work too little.
  2. Most faculty work more than he seems to think.
  3. Changing #1 is hard.
After a second read, that still my impression. Let me expand. Before beginning, let me note that Levy mentions three kinds of institutions: research universities, teaching universities, and community colleges. I myself can't offer informed comment on community college faculty. I have spent my professional career as a faculty member and department head at a teaching university. I also spent six years in grad school at an R-1 institution and have many colleagues and friends who work at research schools. Finally, I am in Computer Science, not a more stable discipline. These are the experience on which I draw. First, #2. Levy seems willing to grant that faculty at research institutions work longer hours, or if not at least that the work they do is so valuable as to earn high pay. I agree. Levy seems unwilling to grant similar effort or importance to what faculty at teaching universities. He thinks himself generous in allowing that the latter might spend as much time in prep as in class and concludes that "the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth". At my school, data on faculty workload have routinely showed that on average faculty work more than fifty hours per week. When I was full time faculty, my numbers were generally closer to sixty. (As a department head for the last few years, I have generally worked more.) These numbers are self-reported, but I have good reason to trust them, having observed what faculty in my department do. If we aren't meeting an R-1 school's stringent requirements for research, publication, and grant writing, what are we doing? We actually do spend more hours per week working outside the classroom as inside. We are preparing new course materials, meeting with students in office hours and the lab, and experimenting with new programming languages and technologies that can improve our courses (or making some of our course content obsolete). We advise undergrads and supervise their research projects. Many departments have small grad programs, which bring with them some of the duties that R-1 profs face. We also do scholarship. Most teaching schools do expect some research and publication, though clearly not at the level expected by the R-1s. Teaching schools are also somewhat broader in the venues for publication that they accept, allowing teaching conferences such as SIGCSE or formal workshops like the SPLASH (neé OOPSLA) Educators' Symposium. Given these caveats, publishing a paper or more per year is not an unusual scholarship expectation at schools like mine. During the summer, faculty at teaching universities are often doing research, writing, or preparing and teaching workshops for which they are paid little, if anything. Such faculty may have time for more vacation than other professionals, but I don't think many of them are sailing the Caribbean for the 20+ weeks that Levy presumes they have free. Levy does mention service to the institution in the form of committee work. Large organizations do not run themselves. From what I remember of my time in grad school, most of my professors devoted relatively little time to committees. They were busy doing research and leading their teams. The university must have had paid staff doing a lot of the grunt work to keep the institution moving. At a school like mine, many faculty carry heavy service loads. Perhaps we could streamline the bureaucracy to eliminate some of this work, or higher staff to do it, but it really does consume a non-trivial amount of some faculty members' time and energy. After offering these counterpoints -- which I understand may be seen as self-serving, given where I work -- what of #1? It is certainly the case that some university faculty work too little. Expectations for productivity in research and other scholarship have often been soft in the past, and only now are many schools coming to grips with the full cost of faculty productivity. Recently, my school has begun to confront a long-term decline in real funding from the state, realizing that it cannot continue to raise tuition to make up for the gap. One administrative initiative asked department heads and faculty to examine scholarly productivity of faculty and assign professors who have not produced enough papers, grant proposals, or other scholarly results over a five-year period to teach an extra course. There were some problems in how administrators launched and communicated this initiative, but the idea is a reasonable one. If faculty are allocated time for scholarship but aren't doing much, then they can use that time to teach a course. The reaction by most of faculty was skeptical and concerned. (This was true of department heads as well, because most of us think of ourselves as faculty temporarily playing an administrator's role.) That brings us to #3. Changing a culture is hard. It creates uncertainty. When expectations have been implicit, it is hard to make them explicit in a way that allows enforcement while at the same time recognizing the value in what most faculty have been doing. The very word "enforcement" runs counter to the academic culture, in which faculty are left free to study and create in ways that improve their students' education and in which it is presumed faculty are behaving honorably. In this sense, Levy's article hits on an issue that faces universities and the people who pay for them: taxpayers, students and parents who pay tuition, and granting agencies. I agree with Levy that addressing this issue is essential as universities come to live in a world with different cost structures and different social contracts. He seems to understand that change will be hard. However, I'm not sure he has an accurate view of what faculty at teaching universities are already doing. -----