The right time for a college professor like myself to read an op-ed piece asking the question above is not during a short break from a grading session that would end my spring “break” at 1am, five hours before I woke up to take my children to day care and then start a teaching day that will end around 8pm.
But let’s hear David C. Levy out, shall we?
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.
Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.
Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions….
I take no issue with faculty at teaching-oriented institutions focusing on instructional skills rather than research and receiving a fair, upper-middle-class wage. Like good teachers everywhere, they are dedicated professionals with high levels of education and deserve salaries commensurate with their hard-earned credentials. But we all should object when they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers.
Now, my first inclination is to call David C. Levy rude names in the languages I had to master as the product of one of his beloved research universities. But after taking a deep breath…
First things first. I do not feel slighted by my wages. As it happens, I just got my contract for next year and my pay will go up, in accord with a new compensation plan that demonstrates our institution’s recognition of the value of its faculty. But even so, my salary is certainly not “upper-middle-class.” (Levy sets the comparison according to the average salary of a full professor at a community college in Maryland: $88,000. That’s not too far above what I could expect at that level in my discipline… But less than 40% of history professors in this country are at that rank.)
According to 2010 Department of Labor estimates for workers in the state of Minnesota, what I’m paid as an associate professor of history finishing his ninth year teaching at a small private university roughly compares to the industry averages for the following professions:
- Floor layers
- Pile driver operators
- Postal clerks
- Railroad conductors
- And the captains and mates of water vessels
Now, I also earn a bit more than the people who clean up the mess when a haz-mat truck crashes in downtown Minneapolis at rush hour, so yes, I’m overpaid. But I earn less than the average Minnesotan chiropractor, athlete, and CEO, so “overpaid” is clearly a relative term.
And I’m absolutely positive that I would feel unfairly compensated if I were to learn the sum paid to a senior administrator at a “family owned management and investment firm” (a little mom ‘n’ pop that’s acquired thirty companies in the last eight years) who specializes in education yet apparently is so out of touch with his area of expertise that he thinks the following is true:
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. Yet they receive the same compensation.
How the clause “Even in the unlikely event that [faculty members] devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation…” slipped past the fact-checkers at the Washington Post is beyond me. Since, of course, what makes that event unlikely is that most of us spend far more time grading and preparing to teach than we do in a classroom. At least two to three times as much, plenty of it extending into our days off (weekends, holidays, vacations).
And that doesn’t count student-centered activities like academic advising, mentoring, and writing recommendations for alumni applying for jobs and graduate school.
Or the kinds of wide-ranging conversations I have with colleagues that lead to innovative teaching and course design rather than repeating the same old moves year in and year out. (That accounted for my entire morning last Friday, and will be the focal point of several workshops that will help fill my summer “off.”)
Or the service we provide to our institutions: much of which is tedious, all of which is important to the maintenance and growth of institutions like ours.
Or the research and other scholarly activities us small college rubes engage in despite our not being at the “center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits.” (Over my spring break I did some more work preparing for the second conference I’ve helped coordinate in three years, worked on a couple of grant applications, organized a session for my main professional society’s meeting this fall, and wrote the first half of a manuscript due in May. And I’m worried that I won’t meet my institution’s increasingly lofty criteria for promotion, given the exceedingly impressive scholarship engaged in by my colleagues who do have full professor status.)
I haven’t even touched on the amount of time that we invest in reading — an indispensable activity that is hard to find time for as it is, but would be almost unimaginable under Levy’s proposed model of faculty employment at schools other than research universities:
If the higher education community were to adjust its schedules and semester structure so that teaching faculty clocked a 40-hour week (roughly 20 hours of class time and equal time spent on grading, preparation and related duties) for 11 months, the enhanced efficiency could be the equivalent of a dramatic budget increase. Many colleges would not need tuition raises or adjustments to public budget priorities in the near future. The vacancies created by attrition would be filled by the existing faculty’s expanded teaching loads — from 12 to 15 hours a week to 20, and from 30 weeks to 48; increasing teachers’ overall classroom impact by 113 percent to 167 percent.
I could do this. If it were the only way to keep open a school whose mission I believe in, to keep me working at the vocation I’ve been called to, and to provide for the family I love, I would do this.
Spending more time in front of a classroom would even energize me, since I’m a ham who can manage an extroverted facade for 50-70 minute bursts. But it would also result in my having much less time for all the out-of-classroom activities that actually permit teaching to flourish and learning to occur.
Levy is right that the salaries of my colleagues and myself “make up the largest single cost in virtually all college and university budgets,” including Bethel’s, but he is wasting ink to continue the sentence, “think what it would mean if the public got full value for these dollars.”
(Beyond the obvious fact that contact hours alone do not measure the value of teaching professors… Need I point out that paying Bethel for my teaching, advising, mentoring, etc. is not like paying Wal-Mart for a box of Ho Hos or a bottle of Pepto Bismol? Those things will be gone in days or — during grading — hours; a college education has somewhat longer lasting effects.)
In all modesty, I think I can say that my students get full value for their tuition. That would not be true under Levy’s short-sighted proposal.