Should professors work as hard as many of the rest of us?
If you compare the sort of work week and vacation time that many professors enjoy with other highly educated professionals, you could conclude that there are a lot of slackers hanging out in the Ivory Towers.
I hope that professor productivity becomes a big issue with the published costs of college continuing to rise. Pushing university professors back into the classroom could certainly help reduce expenses and also benefit students who are too often taught by graduate students. There is a story in today’s issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education that focuses on this issue:
I remember reading a history of the University of California system once and I was shocked when I discovered that decades ago professors at the University of California, Berkeley used to conduct their research on the weekends and during the work week they taught students. Today plenty of professors at Berkeley and many other research universities conduct their research during the week and rarely, if ever, teach undergrads.
Coincidentally, I wrote a post yesterday for my other college blog over at CBS MoneyWatch on this very issue of professor productivity. I am sharing an excerpt here that mentions a study conducted by The Center for College Productivity and Affordability, a higher-ed think tank, that examined workload data from the University of Texas at Austin that suggests that many professors aren’t teaching much nor conducting much research. Here is the link to my post and an excerpt:
After analyzing the preliminary numbers, The Center for College Productivity and Affordability argued that if professors were made to work as hard as many other Americans, college costs could shrink dramatically. In fact, according to the center’s calculations, tuition at the University of Texas could be slashed by 50% if the 80% of professors with the lightest teaching loads had to teach a mere 150 to 160 students a year. That doesn’t sound too tough.
What’s More Useful: Research or Charmin?
Apologists for professors counter that academics need copious amounts of free time to conduct research. At universities, there is a widespread belief that research is far more valuable than teaching Biology 101 to a lecture hall stuffed with hundreds of freshmen.
This is actually the mindset of academia. Professors are evaluated by what kind of research grants they get and how many research papers they can crank out. Research leads to tenure. In contrast, teaching undergrads, much less being an excellent teacher, doesn’t get professors anywhere. In this sort of environment, professors spend more time avoiding undergrads than teaching them.
Much of this hallowed research, however, is less essential than the toilet paper in your own bathroom. All of us use toilet paper everyday, but very few people ever read, much less benefit from the busy-work research that many professors are generating.
The Ivory Tower is drowning in research papers that nobody needs. You can learn more about this sad phenomenon by reading this article written by leading academics in The Chronicle of Higher Education: We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low-Quality Research. And here’s another one that focuses on academia’s shortsighted worship of research: Diminishing Returns in Humanities Research.
Would research, whether it’s mediocre or brilliant, be threatened if profs had to spend time in classrooms? Hardly. According to the Center for College Productivity and Affordability’s report, 99.8% of the research grant money at the University of Texas was brought in by a mere 20% of the faculty.
Are you wondering, as I am, what professors, who aren’t doing much research or teaching, are doing with their time after they’ve finished the daily New York Times’ puzzle?
You can read the rest of my CBS MoneyWatch post on professors here: