Press and Pop Culture

David Levy is Frighteningly Wrong about Faculty Labor

In his recent Op-Ed in the Washington Post, “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?” David Levy parrots banal misconceptions about what is required of college faculty and how those faculty spend their time. He reduces a faculty career to teaching and assumes that teaching is nothing more than the hours spent in the classroom and an equivalent number of hours prepping for those in-class performances. He then blames faculty salaries for the rising cost in tuition.

Levy is wrong about faculty requirements, wrong about the time spent teaching, and wrong about faculty salaries causing the rise in tuition.

Typically, faculty are required to apportion their time across three areas: teaching, service, scholarship.

When teaching, faculty requirements include preparing courses, class preparation, actual in-class teaching, office hours, additional meetings with students, grading, freshman advising, major advising, and senior thesis advising.

Under service, faculty requirements include departmental meetings, standing committee meetings, ad-hoc committee meetings, faculty meetings, and the paperwork and administrative work associated with a functioning department and college.

For research, faculty requirements include doing research, writing up that research in the form of conference presentations, going to conferences and giving those presentations, writing up that research in the form of grant applications, writing up that research in the form of articles and books, and reviewing other grant applications, book and article manuscripts, and external personnel cases.

Clearly, faculty are doing more than just teaching. But even in that teaching category Levy is grossly mistaken about what faculty do and how long it takes. Class preparation and in-class teaching are only a small part of the time and effort required of faculty. There is no easy way to quantify the various categories, but some broad estimates would be: for every in-class hour faculty often spend 2+ hours preparing. So, using his estimated time in the classroom, if we are teaching 12-15 hours per week, we spend another 24-30 hours preparing for class. Add to that the mandatory office hours and extraordinary meetings with students, typically 4-5 hours per week. Add to that advising of various sorts, 2-3 hours per week. Add to that grading, which averages out to about 3-5 hours per week. Some weeks require more time, others less. The teaching requirements range from 45 to 58 hours per week.

But faculty will lose their jobs if all they do is teach. They must find time to be participating members of their institutions and must produce scholarship. Service necessarily occurs most during the academic year, when faculty are already working more than full time. The only time left to do research and produce scholarship is during the periods when faculty are not teaching, what Levy glibly labels those “almost 22 weeks for vacation or additional employment.”

As for faculty salaries causing the rise in tuition, Levy is either being deceitful or is woefully ignorant. Increases in tuition owe more to falling public support for higher education over the past decades and to rising administrative costs: administrative salaries have risen considerably as has the size of the typical college administration. There are more people in administration making considerably more money now than ever before. Faculty salaries, by contrast, have risen much more slowly. Despite what he seems to think, faculty salaries are rarely “commensurate with their hard-earned credentials” and certainly haven’t kept pace with the salaries of people whose credentials did not take as long or as much effort to acquire.

What makes Levy’s op-ed so frightening is the fact that as president of the Cambridge Information Group he will appear to have the credentials and expertise to seem reasonable to many people who are looking for scapegoats.

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