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Slacking for a Living

As a professor, I am a professional slacker. After all, professors like me hardly work, are way over paid, and are the source of ever-increasing tuition at institutions of higher ed.

At least that is the conclusion of David C. Levy, a man who works for something called the Cambridge Information Group, does not list a single teaching position in his biography, and yet was somehow allowed to describe himself as “a career-long academic” in The Washington Post last week as he exposed me and my slacker colleagues.

Levy’s argument is simple: unions and professors are bad. See what happened is that

With the 1970s advent of collective bargaining in higher education, this began to change. The result… senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000, roughly in line with the average incomes of others with advanced degrees.

Not changed, however, are the accommodations designed to compensate for low pay in earlier times. 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.

Levy’s op-ed would be funny if it were an Onion article on slacker professors. But it’s not. He apparently believes that professors work 15 hours a week eight months a year. He also acts as though faculty have strong unions representing our interests and allowing us to become the lazy slackers we are.

The truth is “collective bargaining” has been difficult, to say the least, in higher ed as in other industries. As with many industries, higher ed has seen decreasing job security and  the vast majority of teaching done is now done by adjunct and contract professors,  who are mostly woefully underpaid. According to an AFT survey of teaching positions from 1997-2007, “contingent faculty” rose from 2/3rds of all positions to 3/4ths. In other words, only about 25% of faculty are tenured or tenure-track. Meanwhile, non-instructional staff and administrators (which David Levy has been) increased substantially during the same time period. In other words, the real reason for the crisis in higher ed has far more to do with not paying teachers to teach while simultaneously paying a lot of money to those who are not central to the educational process. As with all industries, higher ed has found itself with a lot of highly paid higher ups with an increasingly overworked and underpaid employee pool.

But Levy, the “career academic” who has NEVER taught, believes that overpaid and tenured professors just show up to classes, with no prep work, no grading, no office hours, no administrative work, and no committee or other institutional obligations, for a mere 15 hours a week and then go home and eat bon bons.  We spend our summers napping, our winter breaks skiing, and spring break flashing our breasts somewhere in Florida.

If only it were true. I’d be eating a bon bon right now instead of drinking yet another cup of coffee so I can work tonight.

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