Thursday, April 05, 2012

There's probably nothing I could say

...that would convince people who think I'm lazy otherwise. But I'll say that stories like this annoy me.

Now, granted, it might be an apples-and-oranges comparison. Apparently the columnwriter is addressing community colleges, where expectations are somewhat different. But still, you hear from lots of places, both right and left, that college professors don't work hard enough, or they're paid too much. (For the record, as a full professor with 12 years experience, I make just under $60K a year, provided I teach in the summer as well.)

But I bristle at the same old, "Professors are only in the classroom 12 to 15 hours a week! We need to work them harder!" I got to thinking last night about a breakdown of my time in a given week.

In a typical semester, I teach 14 hours. A "full load" here is 12, but because my department is down two tenure lines and an instructor, 14 hours is the usual  minimum. Some semesters I've taught 15. (At 16 hours, we're supposed to be paid more. I've never taught that many. I think one of my colleagues is doing 18 this semester, but he's getting paid the (pitiful) adjunct rate on top of his base salary for those extra hours).

Another complication for people in the sciences - I am not sure if this happens at every school or not, but where I teach, we get one hour of teaching credit for every two to three hours in lab. So many semesters, I "officially" teach 14 hours, but am in the classroom 17, which is approaching the "magic minimum" that Levy proposes. (The semester I taught 15 hours, I was in the classroom, I think, 19 hours a week. That semester is kind of a blur now).

Also, even though I'm at a "teaching focused" university, I'm expected to do research. I try to make between five and seven hours per week during the regular semester (more in the summer) to either do fieldwork, do labwork, analyze data, write manuscripts, or read articles related to my research. I don't always get to it - because research isn't what I'm being directly paid to do, it often gets pushed to the back burner when I have a busy week.

I don't currently have any graduate students, but here, if we do, that's on top of everything else we do - there is no release time, unless you have written an enormous grant that brings in lots of overhead costs. 

:Levy suggests profs spend an hour out of class for every hour in class. That can vary widely. I might spend an hour out of class per hour in class for the classes I've taught for a long long time that require little updating beyond reviewing the material. But when you do new preps - which on a small campus you tend to do fairly frequently - or you are taking a class you've taught and replacing the textbook - it can take as much as 3-4 hours out of class per hour in class to prep. (And it can take longer if it's material that's difficult or that is less familiar to me.I always find the stuff on predation models in ecology requires a lot more review than things I actually use in my own research).

On top of that, there's grading and test-writing. I suppose some profs use the textbook-supplied testbanks, but I loathe them, because the questions are often badly written. So I write my own tests. And I write new ones each semester, because I hand the old ones back (I think there's heuristic value in students getting to read over their tests with my comments on them). It can take a couple hours to write an exam and another hour to type and proofread it (including having to do multiple forms with scrambled questions to try to defeat cheating).

Grading can take a while, as well. A half hour to an hour, perhaps, for a quiz, maybe up to 4 hours for an exam, depending on how extensively I write comments on the papers and how complex the essay questions were. And grading papers - I assign papers in most of my classes; even if they're "not English classes" as some students protest, students need experience writing in a range of disciplines. Papers can take me a couple days' worth of free time to grade. Grading labs might take an hour or so, but that's a weekly thing, that's something that's "always there" to be done. (Same with quizzes)

On top of that, I'm expected to hold 10 hours of office hours a week. Granted, I can be in my lab working or in my office grading or prepping if no one comes in - but I have to be available. (I have heard that some people believe professors come in to campus 10 minutes before class starts, and leave right after class. Not so, at least not in my department. I'm usually here from 7 am until maybe 3 or 4 pm, and I often take grading home with me).

There's also committeework. We're expected to serve on at least one campus committee. If you're clever, you can pick a low drama one like Library or Honors (and if you're lucky, you get your choice), and the amount of work is fairly minimal. But if you're a chair - or if you're on a committee like Academic Appeals - you wind up not just putting in a lot of time, but dealing with a lot of stress.

And that's actually the uncountable factor: the wear and tear and stress of some of the parts of the job. I know every job carries its own load of stress, but on college campuses there seem to be all kinds of things. I've had to pacify students who were angry about something. I've had students share awful, frightening TMI stuff with me (either medical stuff or stuff pertaining to court cases they were involved in).  I've had to write make-up exams on short notice for students who had big problems and couldn't take the regular exam, and I didn't know that they weren't just "skipping" until after the fact. I've had students in class who behaved strangely. I've served on committees where the meetings got kind of ugly and nasty.  I've had people e-mail me and tell me "Here is this thing I need you to do and I need you to do it by 5 pm." where I have to reshuffle my day's schedule. I've had interactions with administrators, where they exerted their authority over me to a degree where I went back to my office and cried. (I'm not an unusually sensitive person, I think, but when someone's told you "yes, you can make this accommodation for a student" and then when it actually comes down to them having to DO something toward that accommodation, yelling at you for putting them in that position...)

And even without problems, teaching well takes a lot of energy. I'm tired when I walk out of class, even on days when it's been a good and dynamic class. I'm on my feet a lot. 

On top of all of that, we're kind of expected to do off-campus volunteer work. And we're expected to document it. And there's other kinds of documentation....we have to keep up portfolios of our scholarly productivity, service, and teaching evaluations. And we have to participate in departmental review, and we have to do work towards accreditation renewal when that comes up. And then there are other things that come up...I had to fill out a "diversity report" last spring, on how I was incorporating "diversity" into my classes. (One of my colleagues proposed we all talk about "species diversity" on the questionnaire...which was not what it was getting at, of course, but to paraphrase the old blues musician, "The microscope don' care what color your hand is." So we tend to feel that overtly teaching "diversity" (the way it's being intended to be taught) is kind of....beyond the scope...of biology)

And there are lots of other little one-time things. Recruiting events. Interviewing people who've applied for scholarships.  Advising students. Dealing with red tape on behalf of students. (It's interesting how offices will sometimes tell them flatly "no" for something they SHOULD tell them "yes" for, and when you as a prof call up, they're willing to accommodate the student...)

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. I understand that there are lots of things that go along with the position of a tenured professor, that there's a lot of stuff expected of us. I find myself busier now than before I had tenure.

The thing is...some weeks I have a hard time finding time to take care of myself. I joke that I need to have at least 14 pairs of skivvies (and I do), because if I can't make time to get to the laundry for a while - well, I can wear the same brassiere a couple days in a row if I need to, and I have enough blouses that I can generally make it for more than a week without laundry (and could probably wear some more than once without washing)....but underwear, no, I need to have a clean pair each day at a minimum.

There are some days where I get home, eat dinner, do a little prepwork for the next day, and then head out to evening meetings or volunteer work - where I'm essentially involved in work from 7 am until 9 pm. I'm glad those days are rare - but they do happen a couple times a month. Some weeks I have something nearly every night of the week. A lot of times these days I feel like I'm beginning to lose "myself," because I have very little free time (And yes, I AM complaining there). When it gets to the point, like it did one day last fall, when you realize you're out of milk and you sit down on the kitchen floor crying because you don't have TIME to go out and buy milk, and you DON'T KNOW WHEN you will have time to go out and buy milk...

Some days when I do get home early, I've gone to bed at 7:30 because I was just that tired.

I suppose I do need to dial back on something. Probably the volunteer work, but I can't really see what I would's valuable to me and some of it, it would be hard to find someone else to do. (Not many people willing to lead a teenaged Youth Group...) Usually I wind up "dialing back" on doing stuff for myself...I don't read as much for fun as I used to, I don't sit down and watch movies like I used to. I sew less and knit less.

So it frustrates me when someone who might not have taught on a college campus claims we're "lazy" and that we need to be forced to work more hours. At this point, if the state legislature came to us and said, "Either teach 25 classroom hours a week or take a pay cut" I'd take the pay cut without hesitating. 

And, to end, an old joke: A senator, upon hearing of the reported workload of college professors, was enraged. "We must get these people working 40 hour weeks!" he exclaimed. And throughout the land, college professors rejoiced, because that meant their workweeks would go down by at least 1/3....

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