Here's the crux of the argument: Professors at research universities work hard, but we all “know” that only a tiny fraction of universities actually do research, and those people don’t work hard enough (emphasis added).
The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.
Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions.
Speaking as someone at a state university, we have research expectations. And they’re increasing. Indeed, it is arguably more difficult and time consuming to conduct research at an institution with a history of being primarily teaching, because there is less infrastructure and support.
To say that only a tiny number of universities should conduct research is a huge waste of talent and opportunity. Indeed, one of the things that we should be teaching our students is how to conduct research, which requires working individually with students. One of the side effects of these kinds of proposals is that they enhance the Matthew effect at universities: big research universities protect their turf and accumulate more resources, prestige and opportunity, while other universities – and the communities they serve – get less and less done.
And, not surprisingly, the amount of teaching expected does scale with research expectations. Teachers at an emerging research institution like my own teach less than at a community college, but more than a research intensive institution.
There’s a more subtle bias, here, too. It’s the notion that researchers are worth more. Teaching isn’t being valued. Yes, this is couched in terms that researchers put in more hours. However, this editorial provides no evidence that researchers at highly intensive research institutions work more hours than instructors at community colleges and state universities.
The article continues a fine tradition of underestimating the time it takes to prepare and grade students.
Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation...
Unlikely? In many classes, particularly more advanced classes, the time spent preparing and grading can easily exceed the time in front of a class several times over.
The article also overestimates some of the advantages of being a professor. According to Levy’s piece, professors not only get tenure and “light” teaching loads but “long vacations and sabbaticals.”
By long vacations, I am guessing the author means “summer.” Do you know most academics get nine month appointments? We don’t get paid for summer, unless we teach in summer 9which at our institution is a separate budget and not guaranteed).
I have never had a sabbatical. In my entire department of about twenty faculty, exactly one professor in our department has had a sabbatical. To get that, he sought and received an external grant to pay for it. (And the program is limited to American citizens, so I am not eligible to try for it. But I’m not bitter.)
The other issue with looking at wages of people at the very end of their careers is that it overlooks that training to be a professor takes a long time. In my case, I was in training for over 15 years. There needs to be some acknowledgement of compensation over the course of a career, not just at the very end of a career, with what “top” (most senior) professors earn.
It’s also noteworthy that part of this editorial’s “advantage” of increasing workload is that we would need fewer professors, just in a time when there is a job shortage.
Additional: More discussion from Kristina Killgrove on G+.
More additional, 26 March 2012: Janet Stemwedel, College Guide (with data showing professors are not responsible for driving up tuition costs), and Gin and Tacos.
Hat tip to Neuropolarbear for harshing my mellow on a Sunday morning. Thanks to Scicurious and Katiesci and Cedar Reiner and Kari and other folks for Twitter discussions.