Should Professors Work As Hard As We Do?

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:

How to Justify Our Paychecks

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:

Is Toilet Paper More Valuable Than Professor Research?

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.

Disposable Research?

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?

Read More:

You can read the rest of my CBS MoneyWatch post on professors here:

Is Toilet Paper More Valuable Than Professor Research?


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  1. I do not buy it from what our neighborhood sees. New professor moved in and is ALWAYS home. No tough life there. The rest of us (all professionals) are up at the crack of dawn and come home well after dark in busy, stressful jobs. This guy is home gardening, fooling around with the kids or in the garage doing ?? Tenured, I am sure at a major University on the west coast. I would be no stitch of research either. Go sit in the quad, grade a few papers while starry eyed students think he is “cool.” Do they deserve high incomes for a Phd to stay at home and maybe work 10-15 hours a week? Absolutely not. Whack off some money from their salaries and save the Universities a whole lot of wasted money. Those of us in the medical and legal professions, plus fire and police and other service industries work wa-a-ay harder than this fool.

  2. There is a lot of federal government money funding this research – especially the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. One of the reasons there is so much research is because there are a lot of graduate students doing research as they work on their graduate degrees.

    1. Much of the research that is done leads to income for the colleges.
      I teach at a community college (not a university). I teach a full load of 5 courses per semester. If I even told you what my base salary was, ……….well it’s lower than most of the “most expensive universities” tuition!! Although I have summers “off” – that is when I can work on projects, research, plan for the upcoming year, have meetings with other administrators in the college regarding new programs/ideas for restructuring and do “the work of the college”.
      University Profs do not “work” that hard…………but they do bring in the $$$$ and that’s what the colleges want – money and prestige.

      1. HI Joanna,
        I think you are right. Many professors, including those at community colleges, are working hard. They have no access for tenure and many of these professors are working part-time with no benefits. There is a huge gulf between the halves and the have nots.
        Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    2. Kate — Thanks for your observation. Yes, there is a lot of research, but I’d argue too much of it is pointless.
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy