Thanks to Charles Carrigan at Earth-like Planet for pointing out this opinion piece in the Washington Post. As he makes very clear, the argument that professors "don't work hard enough" is hardly fair. Professors most certainly don't get paid "executive"-level salaries. And summer "vacations"? Most colleges run summer sessions. If we don't work a summer class, then we are laid off for a few months. It is not time we get paid for. That's also a time when academic research (which is part of the expectation for most university professors) gets done, especially in geology.
As I commented on Carrigan's blog, I think that arguments like this (saying that professors don't spend enough time "teaching") need to be reversed backwards onto the journalists or columnists who write this kind of material, and the private sector executives who supposedly work so hard for their money. Media talking heads only spend 5% of their time actually speaking on television? Why do they get paid the big bucks for so little work? Journalists only spend 30% of their time actually writing articles? Ridiculous waste. PR execs only spend 20% of their time making presentations to clients? Why do they get paid so much? A stockbroker spends only 30% of his time on the phone with clients? Why are they being paid so well? In all of these professions, a large percentage of the time on the job involves research and preparation. Attacking professors for not spending enough time in the classroom shows a misunderstanding of what they are expected to do.
Public universities don't operate on a business plan that places profit motive over the good of the community. I suspect this is the problem with the philosophy of the columnist, who works in a privately held investment group. Research taking place in private industry is primarily driven by profit motive, and "pure" scientific research without commercial goals is generally discouraged. We as a society need a cadre of academics who do research for no reason other than to increase knowledge and broaden our scientific horizons. This is one reason why the mission of our universities is a mixture of teaching and academic research.
Professors aren't paid at a level equal to their private industry peers, but those who have worked a decade or more to earn a Masters or PhD have earned the right to be paid at professional levels when they are doing the work expected of them...all of it, the classroom time, the grading, the preparation time, attending committee meetings, meeting with community members, and research (along with the onerous task of writing grant proposals). And my colleagues who work in the trenches of K-12 education need to be paid more. Think about it: these are the people in our society tasked with training future generations of our society. There are things more important than short-term business profits.
I enjoy my work, but I like to think that I am doing something good for the community too. I am saddened by attacks like this on my profession.