Overpaid and underworked?

College professors get full-time pay for part-time work at colleges and universities that focus on teaching rather than research, argues David C. Levy, a former university chancellor.

Faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom and perhaps an equal amount of time preparing for class and grading papers, Levy writes. That puts their workload at 36 to 45 percent of the hours non-academic professionals.

Administrators do even better. Despite a sharp fall in graduation rates, Wayne Watson received a golden parachute worth nearly $800,00 when he left. It’s “like giving a performance bonus to the captain of the Titanic,” says the CEO of the Better Government Association.

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  1. And yet, a favorite academic quote is from one professor to another: You know, if it weren’t for all these students, this professorship would be a pretty good deal.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Let me start by saying I’m in favor of a free market. You don’t like the value you’re getting from professors? Pay them less. See if they’ll take it. I’m totally on board with that sort of action. People’s economic services aren’t “worth” anything inherently, they’re only worth what other people think they’re worth. And if you think Professors’ services aren’t worth what you’re paying them, pay them less.

    But what I don’t think is a good idea is to address the problem by misrepresenting it.

    “Perhaps an equal amount of time preparing for class and grading”, indeed. That’s a mighty big “perhaps.” Let’s see what we can do with this word:

    The President of the United States makes more than $120,000, and perhaps as much as $52 Billion per year.

    Virgin Galactic is expected to have commercial spaceflight by the end of the decade, and perhaps colonies in another galaxy as well.

    Now, I’m not going to say that David Levy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His bio over at the Cambridge Group is pretty impressive. But I will say he’s wrong, for several reasons.

    First, he’s just wrong: prepping and grading is usually larger than in-class time, by a factor of 1.5 or 2. Typically, academics (as Levy should know, considering that he seems to have a PhD) read all the materials for each class, even if they’ve read them before. It’s part of what being a serious academic is really about — revisiting and continually mastering the texts in your field. Grading — at least good grading — takes time. Lots of it, especially with papers. Still, let’s take the low end of that — using a factor of 1.5. So we go from 36-45% to 45-56%.

    Second, he’s ignoring professors’ administrative duties (meetings, more meetings, grade appeals, and paperwork from here to the moon). That’s another four hours a week, even during vacations. But let’s go ahead and call it just 100 hours instead of 200 hours, though. That’s another 5%, so now we’re at 50-61% instead of 36-45%.

    Third, he’s ignoring professors’ student advising duties, independent study supervision, individual conferences, and office hours. Let’s assume that we’re talking about lazy teachers who try to avoid these things, and say it only takes up 4 hours a week. (As a TA with just one class I typically spend this much time on these types of tasks.) That’s 30 weeks of instruction… 120 more hours. Another 6%.

    So now we’re at 56-67%.

    And let’s go ahead and assume that at teaching colleges, professors engage in absolutely NO research whatsoever, that they don’t care about either tenure or professional advancement.

    So the truth — the pessimistic version of the truth — is that professors spend between roughly half and two thirds as much time as non-academic professionals in their duties, not between a third and a half.

    Still, you might think… ridiculous! Right?

    Well, maybe you should go get some of those non-academic professionals and ask them to bring their 2000-hour always-on-task-no-talking-in-the-break-room intensity to academics! It will be GLORIOUS. So much efficiency!

    Oh wait… they’re not qualified. Are they?

    Bother that. Easily fixed. Just convince them to go to graduate school and give up around two-thirds of a million dollars in present-valued opportunity cost getting a PhD.

    Of course, they might demand something in return, the selfish bastards.