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“Do Professors Work Enough?”: A Reaction

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March 26, 2012 by Stephen

Sunday’s Washington Post had an interesting article in the Outlook section (B2).  David C. Levy, former chancellor of the New School University, says in his article “Do professors work enough?” that faculty should spend more time teaching.  Levy makes some good points when he discusses changes to be made – the call for more teaching. Unfortunately, I think Levy misses the point or is uniformed about the specific details and circumstances found in colleges whose primary mission is teaching – many state colleges, most community colleges, and many private institutions.  Here is an excerpt from his article that I disagree with:

Critics may argue that teaching faculty members require long hours for preparation, grading and advising. Therefore they would have us believe that despite teaching only 12 to 15 hours a week, their workloads do approximate those of other upper-middle-class professionals. While time outside of class can vary substantially by discipline and by the academic cycle (for instance, more papers and tests to grade at the end of a semester), the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth.

My wife teaches at a community college.  She is on a nine-month full-time teaching contract.  She teaches 15 hours each week and works an additional 10 hours at the school in office hours and other college duties.  In addition to those 25 hours (the required minimum) each week, she must spend time preparing lessons, grading papers (she teaches writing classes), and other technology/administrative details related to her classes.  She easily puts in 40 or more hours each week.  And she does it for a good, but by no means excessive salary/benefits package (especially when you take into consideration the cost of living in our area).  She does this every time she teaches, even if it is a class she has taught many times.  She keeps current on what is going on in her field and is always trying to come up with ways to be a better teacher.  My wife is a good teacher and her work efforts show that.  And I know she is not alone – good teachers work hard.  I think a part of what Levy has a problem with is average, mediocre, or even bad teachers.  That’s a different problem to solve and just working harder is not the solution.

Levy raises a good question in this article.  More teaching, especially by good teachers, is always a great idea.  I’m afraid Levy fails on at least two points: he undervalues teaching and its worth when he makes comparisons to executives and other non-academic professionals (no matter how great he thinks professors are getting paid, they are still underpaid in comparison), and he doesn’t understand how much work and hours good professors/teachers put in when they do their jobs.  Yes, there are lazy professors who don’t work 40 hours a week, but don’t judge all professors based on that fact.  Value teaching as an important profession and expect excellent teaching from professors, and the results are likely to be what Levy is searching for: widespread access to a good education.  In answering his original question, I would say that good professors do work hard enough.

NOTE:  Another issue he raises in the article that is worth exploring is the number of weeks teaching professors work.  He says that most work 30 weeks and he calls for more.  That seems a more valid argument for more teaching that just adding another class or two to a professor’s schedule each semester.

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