Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I give him or her the long version of “professor.” I find that most people assume professors only teach and are unaware of all the other things we do.
David C. Levy, a former university administrator, recently wrote an essay in The Washington Post titled “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?” In his essay, Levy claims that faculty members are paid at a rate that is equal to other positions that require advanced degrees. I’m going to assume that he means doctors, lawyers, and business people. He concludes that the higher salaries of faculty members are a positive change in comparison to the past, but thinks that faculty members don’t work hard enough to deserve these salaries. Of note, Levy does spare those faculty members at research institutions from his critique. Faculty members like me. Regardless, there are several problems with Levy’s assertions.
First, most faculty members across the country do not earn salaries comparable to other professions that require advanced degrees. Yes, those faculty members at elite institutions, especially elite research institutions, are paid well, but this is not the case at most institutions. Consider those faculty members at community colleges or regional public institutions or black colleges or tribal colleges—these faculty members are not being paid high salaries, especially given the inordinate amount of hours they work.
Second, Levy asserts “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.” This assertion demonstrates Levy’s complete misunderstanding of the work of faculty. For example, if a faculty member teaches three or four classes a semester, it might appear on the surface that she is only working 9 to 15 hours a week. However, that professor is also preparing the lectures and class activities for each of those courses. Most faculty members spend at least three hours preparing for each class each week. In addition, although a faculty member might only list 2 to 3 office hours on his syllabus, he is typically meeting with students outside of those officer hours. Although I work at an elite research institution, I meet with students 10 to 15 hours a week. Moreover, although faculty members have the summers off, they are on 9-month contracts and if they are to be paid during the summer they have to raise the funds through grants or summer teaching. With regard to winter and spring vacations, most faculty members I know are preparing for the spring academic term over the winter holiday break and grading midterms during spring break.
Third, more and more colleges and universities are requiring their faculty to conduct research—even those institutions with a teaching focus. Of course the requirements are not at the level required by a research-focused institutions, but they are being ratcheted up nonetheless. What does this mean? It means that even at teaching colleges, faculty are required to do research on top of their heavy teaching loads. I am in favor of requiring faculty to conduct research (within reason) at any college or university because it keeps you fresh intellectually, but research takes time. Faculty members at teaching institutions tend to do their research at night, on the weekends, during “vacations,” and over the summer.
Fourth, faculty members serve on countless committees and provide service throughout colleges and universities. Levy seems to have forgotten this completely. The best colleges and universities operate under the notion of shared governance and this results in faculty members’ participating in tenure and promotion reviews, faculty senate, and admissions meetings. Faculty members also serve as department chairs and lead academic programs. Moreover, faculty members advise student groups, give pro bono lectures on campus, and interact informally with students. In addition, faculty members are usually required to present at conferences and to be active in national organizations. These conferences typically take place over the weekend, adding to the hours that faculty work.
Fifth, I’m not sure if Levy has ever visited a community college (like Montgomery Community College, which he names in the Post article). If he had, he would know that most faculty members at community colleges have lower salaries, work long hours, participate in countless meetings and spend considerable time advising students. Because many students at community colleges are low income and first generation, faculty members spend hours acclimating students to college life in addition to explaining course content.
There are the exceptions, but I know faculty member at all types of institutions across the country—research institutions, small liberal-arts colleges, black colleges, community colleges, tribal colleges, and more regionally focused public colleges—and all of them work long hours during the academic year and throughout the summer. Most faculty members invest countless hours in their teaching, are constantly thinking about new research and writing, have a commitment to service both on campus and off, and care deeply about their institutions.
By the way, I wrote this essay at 12:39 a.m. My day rarely ends at 5 p.m. Regardless, being a faculty member is incredibly rewarding. I do it because I love it, but I definitely earn my salary!