TITLE: Faculty Workload and the Cost of Universities
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: March 27, 2012 4:53 PM
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
My initial impressions after a quick read this morning were
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
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
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
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
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.
- Yes, some faculty work too little.
- Most faculty work more than he seems to think.
- Changing #1 is hard.