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The Myth of the Lazy Professor

What’s a day in the life of a tenured professor like? Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t (usually) involve golfing or “polishing the fixtures on our yachts,” FemaleScienceProfessor writes in a recent column. And, in fact, professing is but a small slice of the professorial-duty pie, she points out. Much of a tenured professor’s time is actually spent working outside the classroom on an array of (largely unheralded) administrative tasks, FSP writes:

After tenure, our service commitments ramp up, and we serve on committees at our own university and beyond. Some of us edit journals and hold other positions in professional organizations. And we spend a lot of time advising students and other researchers, helping them reach their career goals. Most of us are busier after tenure than we were before.

Universities really do “get what they pay for: hard-working faculty members,” FSP adds. And then some, Brainstormer Gina Barreca is quick to chime in. She notes, for example, that professors have taken on many administrative tasks that used to be handled by support staffers:

When I started as an assistant professor 23 years ago, there was more help available for faculty. For example, an administrative assistant would photocopy the exams or make copies of articles for graduate students, and another might be assigned the responsibility of typing letters of recommendation written by faculty for both undergraduate and graduate students, not to mention making sure they were sent to the correct addresses.

In those days (can you hear the old-lady voice?) we were not expected to handle our own enrollments/permission numbers either. …

In fact, Barreca writes, rumor has it that …

once upon a time, there was support staff to help with typing and with manuscript preparation, as well with as the preparation of annual reports and committee reports. I don’t know if I believe it, though. It’s sort of like hearing about Atlantis, or about the time when department offices would have a hot pot of coffee available so that people could gather and talk. Sure, it sounds nice, but who could conceive of such a thing?

It’s no wonder some tenured professors have service fatigue. Of course, paperwork is just one of a number of additional burdens that have been placed on professors in recent years, David Evans, a fellow On Hiring contributor, noted last year. The problem, as FSP, Barreca, and Evans see it, is that professors’ contributions outside the classroom are usually overlooked or undervalued by the public, which increasingly views professors as spoiled and lazy.

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