Following Up: How Hard Do College Professors Work?

Today’s not-quite rerun revisits one of my favorite hissy fits, directed against an op-ed arguing that those of my profession don’t work hard enough.

Original post: Do college professors work hard enough?

Follow up: Nate Kreuter, “The Math Doesn’t Work(Inside Higher Ed, April 22)

It took me about a year, but sometime during spring break this past March, I think I got over my anger at David Levy’s op-ed arguing that most college professors don’t work nearly hard or long enough to justify the “upper-middle-class wage” they receive. I won’t review my responses, but click on the link above if you’d like some evidence that even a conflict-avoidant Midwesterner like myself is capable of self-righteous vitriol.

But I got over it.

Then, in the middle of a semester in which I’ve been told repeatedly how “exhausted” I look, I read English professor Nate Kreuter‘s attempt to quantify just how his time is used. First note while Levy’s whole complaint was that people like me don’t work anything close to the forty-hour work week you’d expect from professionals, Kretuer started by assuming half again as much time:

While we tend think of white-collar work in terms of the unit of the 40-hour work week, I don’t know of a single full-time faculty member at any institution, neither in the tenured/tenure-track ranks nor in the adjunct ranks, who works as little as 40 hours a week. I suspect that in many professional occupations the 40-hour work week has also become a thing of the past, the ideal of a bygone economic era. But in order to avoid sounding hyperbolic, for the calculations below I’ll use a 60-hour work week, even though I know that I sometimes, and other faculty members frequently, put in even more time on a weekly basis. Notice too that I’m not talking about spending 60 hours per week in one’s office, but refer instead to the sum total amount of time committed to fulfilling one’s job duties, whether in the office or grading and answering correspondence from home.

Time card machine
German time card machine – Creative Commons (Marcin Wichary)

How does it break down? Noting that the state university at which he works (Western Carolina) expects professors’ time to break down into thirds (teaching, scholarship, service), Kreuter nevertheless estimates the following:

  • 10 hours for research (broadly defined)
  • 10 hours for service (though the type and amount can vary greatly)
  • 40 hours for teaching, which further breaks down into 9 for actual contact time in the classroom with students (like me, Kreuter has three courses this term), 2.5 hours for office hours and unscheduled meetings with students, 9 hours for course prep, and the remainder (about 16 minutes per week per student for Kreuter) for grading

He suspects this is pretty close to true for many professors, though of course it gets even crazier for those with 4/4 or (at community colleges) 5/5 loads (or those of us who teach J-terms). What does it all mean?

There are several consequences to this increasingly nonviable math, which becomes even more nonviable as universities endure budget cuts that inevitably increase class sizes. First, the math explains why, despite working on a nine month appointment, faculty members should expect to use their summers “off” to conduct the research that was likely shafted during the academic year. The time must be made up somewhere. Second, instructional quality obviously suffers from these class size and time pressures as instructors have less time to prepare courses, less time to respond to student work, and less time for individual instruction. Third, instructors’ quality of life obviously suffers. Where is the time for family and for rest and for recreation?

Yes, yes, and yes. And we’re not even including non-institutional service like the 3-6 hours I spend each week in my role as church chair and 4th grade Sunday School teacher. And I’m trying hard not to factor in that yesterday I heard two different people two hours apart warn that colleges will need to control labor costs and boost productivity…

Hmm… Perhaps I shouldn’t have classified an earlier post on alternative, fall-back careers under “Less Serious”…


One thought on “Following Up: How Hard Do College Professors Work?

  1. Reblogged this on Carolina Mountain Blue and commented:
    This is also something that burns me up at times; whenever I think back to the years I spent in college(’93-’95 at W.Piedmont, ’95-’97 at UNC-Charlotte) the instructors and professors were not only very dedicated to their fields, they worked with students, many served as sounding-boards for various student groups and many, even with their intensive workloads at the time, were still able to get in research…yet people still have the gall, even today, to say that college professors don’t work hard.

    Makes me wonder whose side those critics are on…the side of the taxpayers or the side of the fiscal beancounters?

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