Monday, March 26, 2012

Lazy Professors?

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.


Anonymous said...

That said, there are some professors who generally ARE lazy, not because they don't spend large portions of their time working, researching, or teaching, but because when they do teach they are lazy and half-hearted at it. One can only hope that these people are in the minority of professors worldwide.

Garry Hayes said...

One can always come up with examples of profs like that, but in my experience this is not usually the case. I work with a lot of dedicated people. Something worth pointing out is that professors are given a great deal of training in research methods in their field, but little or no training in teaching methods. That grad students teach a lot of courses at universities is important because it is the only teaching experience they get.

Gaelyn said...

Right on!

As an informal educator I put in at least 110%. I talk and help visitors 10 hours a day. Yet Park Rangers don't get the big bucks. But I LOve My Job!

Randy A. said...

The author of that "opinion" piece wrote: "In the unlikely event that [professors] devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation..."

Ok, here's the truth: I spend at least twice as much time on grading, lesson planning, meeting with students, meeting with fellow faculty members, attending meetings, etc. as I do in the classroom.

As Garry said, classroom teaching is just part of what professors do -- and it's often not the most important part. Meeting with students one-on-one, and giving them personal attention and encouragement is probably the most important thing we do at teaching institutions.

At research institutions, professors spend a lot of unpaid time on grant writing. The grant will then support the research not only of the professor, but also of students, funding the research they need to complete their own degrees.

In other words, David C. Levy, president of the education group at Cambridge Information Group, is ignorant -- and proved it on the Opinion page of the Washington Post!

Karen said...

I just finished an M.S. Geology degree at a California State University school. As far as I could tell, every professor in my department worked his/her rear off, semester after semester, with one exception. Lectures, labs, papers, grading, service obligations... they were the most beavering group of people I've ever met. And again, with that one exception, they were always trying to improve their teaching. The fact that most of them even squeezed in serious research impressed me even more.

David C. Levy is an idiot.

Rod said...

Hi Garry,

I hear your distress. I am not involved in academic circles but I do note that your comments appear spot on from my undergraduate experience. Professors had to teach but they also had to conduct and supervise research to expand scientific knowledge... this then has to be packaged up in an understandable way for undergraduate and graduate students alike. Some professors were better than others, but we all have different skills.

If academic staff have to spend all their time in the class room then there is very little chance for them to help develop new areas of understanding - there are many aspects of a job and teaching is important but not the only task.

Unknown said...

This story makes me sad. I am a new student to Geology and I must say I have amazing professors who dedicate a large amount of their time to the betterment of their students. My Geology professor recently went on a three day trip to the Grand Canyon (the school is Rexburg, ID. At first this may sound fun, but when have you spent three days with 24 college students?! Try spending 14 hours in a car with 8 18-21 year-olds.

I dont know how much they get paid and I dont care. I know that they sacrifice a lot for my education. The one-on-one attention I get and my fellow classmates get is astounding.

Our educators deserve our respect!


Anonymous said...

The Myth of the Lazy College Professor--OBSERVED. I must add a different slant. Recently a new professor at a major Ca. Bay Area University moved into our neighborhood. We would like to have the same work hours that we see. Every other professional in the neighborhood leaves before dawn and comes home after dark while this professor MAYBE works 10 hours week-MAYBE. A tenured professor. Not emeritus status. No tough life there while this person works in the garage, mows the lawn and has a nice day of R & R while normal hardworking people of the world work hard. While students are digging into their pockets for tuition or the professional parents that I work with everyday struggle to come up with tuition money for their kids this fool exemplifies what is really wrong with the picture. Whack down the salaries of waste-of-time professors like this one and maybe all universities would not be in trouble. Sorry---but this is what the neighborhood observes MOST weekdays which does not fare well for professors boasting they have a tough work life as compared to most people these days. No..we don't sit home with binoculars watching this fool--at 5 am his house is dark while we all head into rush hour traffic.
The neighborhood gardeners (who get cancelled by their boss in the rain) work harder than this fool. No doubt a tenured six-figured salary in a (waste of time) major he teaches. Try medicine----or law----where you have no time to barely breathe during a stressful and hectic day. We come home to watch this illustrious, tenured professor fooling around in the garage or mowing the lawn or using his skill saw in the back yard. We come home--his car is in the driveway. Tough day. Fraud. Dishonesty?
Students/parents do NOT deserve to fund a salary for this self-centered fool. What a rip to the educational system.
Universities begging alumni for money while we watch this waste of a salary. Parents digging into pockets for tuition! Shame on Universities for allowing this. Shame on this university for allowing this! There ARE lazy professors skimming off the system.
There are good ones too---but NOT what we see in our neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Let me add my response in agreement of the last poster, see directly above. I am one of two clerical staff in the math department of a state funded university. At maximum capactiy, we enroll 12,000 students. Our faculty numbers 36, half are instructors and half are tenured and tenure track professors, assistant professors, and associate professors. The average hours they teach at our school is 9 hours per week, with instructors teaching 12. Office hours are required to equal 4 per week. Regularly about 1/3 of our tenured faculty 'blow off' their office hours and are never available for student questions. As a result of this, we (staff) are barraged with every student issue, question, and situation imaginable. The chair then comes down on us if he feels we handled an issue in the wrong way, but he never disciplines the faculty for not keeping their office hours. There are never any repercussions for them even after numerous student complaints. One of the professors regularly has undergraduate students do all his grading (they are not hired for that, of course, and there are privacy laws). He has been "asked" not to do this but still does. Notice that I put asked in quotes; he was gently told not to continue doing this, no voices were even raised. Needless to say, it is still going on. Again, no repercussions even after students and staff have complained about this. Have they not heard of FERPA and HIPAA and other privacy laws? The illegality of this is mind boggling. Before I worked in this department, I worked for the physics department at another state school. The differences between how many hours the scientists put in weekly versus the mathematicians' schedules are staggering. Physicists were regularly there before and after me. Most of the math faculty only put in the 3 required class hours for each day and then leave for each day. Enrollment is dwindling at an alarming rate and the state is in arrears numbering in the millions to our school. What is scary is that we, the staff, feel that soon positions will be eliminated and those positions will probably be ours. We have 3 tenured faculty earning $105.000 - $125,000/year. Other tenured faculty and tenure track faculty make between $65,000 - $85,000/year. Instructors start at about $31,000. Staff, of course, is paid much less, yet we feel that we will be taking the hits soon. So I can see both sides of this debate. I worked in a very industrious department, but now I'm afraid I work with mostly slackers.