College Guide


March 26, 2012 3:20 PM Lazy Faculty?

By Daniel Luzer


This weekend the Washington Post ran an interesting editorial by David Levy, former chancellor of the New School. Levy apparently believes that the reason college costs are increasingly is because college professors are just not working hard enough. It’s a little unclear how more work from professors could actually reduce the price of college, however.

As he writes:

College faculty…. deserve salaries comparable to those of other educated professionals. Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000, roughly in line with the average incomes of others with advanced degrees.
Not changed, however, are the accommodations designed to compensate for low pay in earlier times. Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.

This makes sense at a research university, Levy argues, but now these luxurious schedules extend even to faculty who exist primarily to teach. Full-time professors at Maryland’s Montgomery College, a community college, earn an average $88,000 a year.

Of course professors could work harder. Everyone could work harder. Let us ignore, for a minute, the validity of asking them to do so. Does it matter? Are faculty salaries responsible for increasing college costs?

In sort, no. In the last 30 years, tuition rates have increased between three and fourteen times as fast as full-time faculty salaries. Full-time academic employees also aren’t even the major players here. About 60 percent of college instructors are actually part-time employees. And faculty don’t account for the major growth in college expenditures. Between 1975 and 2005, as more Americans began to go to college, the number of academic administrators increased by 85 percent. The number of staff employed by colleges increased by 240 percent. The number of college professors increased by only 51 percent during the same period.

Even at Montgomery, the college Levy used as an example, it’s pretty clear that faculty aren’t much of an economic drain. The institution employs 587 full-time faculty. That sounds like a lot, especially given that $88,000 a year figure cited earlier. But that’s only about one-third of the total employees. The institution employs 1780 people total.

There, in fact, two things driving the increase in tuition. The first is the rapid growth in highly-paid administrative staff. The second, more important change, is declining state support for higher education. (About 80 percent of college students attend public institutions.)

Total state fiscal support for higher education nationwide declined by 7.6 percent from fiscal year 2011 to FY2012. The cuts occurred in 41 states, ranging from 1 percent in North Carolina and Indiana to 41 percent in New Hampshire. Arizona, Wisconsin, and Louisiana all saw funding drop at least 20 percent.

This is also true over a longer period of time. In inflation-adjusted dollars, total state support for the top 101 public universities declined by 10 percent between 2002 and 2010. This is why tuition is increasing.

While there is, no doubt, some waste at state universities, there’s no evidence that increasing tuition has anything do with low faculty productively. Nothing indicates that professors are getting paid much more, or teaching less, than they were 20 or 30 years ago, when tuition was much lower.

Levey writes that:

An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals. Yet they receive the same compensation.
If the higher education community were to adjust its schedules and semester structure so that teaching faculty clocked a 40-hour week (roughly 20 hours of class time and equal time spent on grading, preparation and related duties) for 11 months, the enhanced efficiency could be the equivalent of a dramatic budget increase.

But this is misleading. Professors already work 40 hours a week, at least.

As Robert Farley writes at Lawyers, Guns, and Money:

In case you’re wondering, 12-15 hours per week is a 4:4 load or a 5:5 load; I have NEVER encountered anyone able to undertake such a load on less than fifty hours per week of actual work. Indeed, I’d guess closer to sixty hours. I simply cannot believe that Levy is ignorant of this; he’s just lying. He wants his readers to believe that an assumption of 1:1 inside-outside the classroom is standard, which is simply absurd, even if faculty do their best to ignore student e-mails and grade completely through scan tron. And it should be noted that research and service requirements are ON TOP OF THIS load.

In truth, trying to adjust that wouldn’t result in greater efficiently; it would just result in crappier instruction and less research productivity.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • ceilidth on March 26, 2012 10:13 PM:

    Maybe Levy didn't work any harder than that. That's why he "knows" that a professor teaching 12-15 hours of classtime doesn't spend near that time in prep, grading, office hours and other requirements of the job. I'm sure there are lazy people in other fields also, but don't assume that because you never did any work, that that's the norm.

  • Snarki, child of Loki on March 26, 2012 11:21 PM:

    As usual, it's a top administrator trying to divert attention away from where the real cost $$ are being wasted: administration.

    Fact is, pick any university in the US. Fire half of the administrators...any half, doesn't matter..and not only will the cost go down, but the efficiency will go UP.

    That's because the only way you can keep all those administrators busy in their little empires, is by having them impede the work of those who actually EDUCATE.

  • Texas Aggie on March 27, 2012 12:16 AM:

    I was going to say pretty much what Snarki and cellidth said. It was notable that Levy "forgot" to mention that administrators spend even less productive time than professors do and are paid a lot more. And Snarki's observation on firing half the administrators applies to all levels of education from elementary school on up.

    Robert Farley pretty much hit the nail on the head in his comments about Levy's screed. He should have noted that most professors are required to do things besides research and teaching that take up a lot of time and count toward tenure. Administrators don't do those things.

  • William Burns on March 27, 2012 7:38 AM:

    Everything's cool because the senior faculty make as much as the average of all those with advanced degrees? Surely the issue is average vs. average, not elite vs. average. That kind of logic wouldn't pass muster in an undergrad paper.

  • paul on March 27, 2012 8:43 AM:

    If classroom time is the only time that professors teach, then clearly meetings are the only time that managers manage. I can't think of any top or even middle managers who spend 15 hours a week in meetings. And yet we pay them for 40 (or more) hours a week, just based on their say-so that the time they spend alone in their offices is productive working time.

  • godot on March 27, 2012 9:02 AM:

    Farley's right, Levey's an idiot. My wife works as a full professor at a major state university. She's written two well-received books, teaches packed classes, has won major teaching awards, speaks at conferences, is researching a third book and spends a part of her time teaching high-school teachers about the cutting edge research in her discipline. I watched her work over spring break on a third book, and see her constantly working over the summer and during other breaks. She makes less than $80K/year. Question. How can she get one of these community college gigs?

  • pasco on March 27, 2012 2:11 PM:

    I remember my elementary school in the mid fifties--6 grades and a principal who also taught 3rd grade. Total students about 150; staff 7 (included a nurse) No secretary, no receptionist and no security guard.

  • disgusted on March 30, 2012 12:13 AM:

    The Myth of the Lazy College Professor--OBSERVED. I must add a different slant. Recently a new professor at a major Ca. Bay Area University moved into our neighborhood. We would like to have the same work hours that we see. Every other professional in the neighborhood leaves before dawn and comes home after dark while this professor MAYBE works 10 hours week-MAYBE. A tenured professor. Not emeritus status. No tough life there while this person works in the garage, mows the lawn and has a nice day of R & R while normal hardworking people of the world work hard. While students are digging into their pockets for tuition or the professional parents that I work with everyday struggle to come up with tuition money for their kids this fool exemplifies what is really wrong with the picture. Whack down the salaries of waste-of-time professors like this one and maybe all universities would not be in trouble. Sorry---but this is what the neighborhood observes MOST weekdays which does not fare well for professors boasting they have a tough work life as compared to most people these days. No..we don't sit home with binoculars watching this fool--at 5 am his house is dark while we all head into rush hour traffic.
    The neighborhood gardeners (who get cancelled by their boss in the rain) work harder than this fool. No doubt a tenured six-figured salary in a (waste of time) major he teaches. Try medicine----or law----where you have no time to barely breathe during a stressful and hectic day. We come home to watch this illustrious, tenured professor fooling around in the garage or mowing the lawn or using his skill saw in the back yard. We come home--his car is in the driveway. Tough day. Fraud. Dishonesty?
    Students/parents do NOT deserve to fund a salary for this self-centered fool. What a rip to the educational system.
    Universities begging alumni for money while we watch this waste of a salary. Parents digging into pockets for tuition! Shame on Universities for allowing this. Shame on this university for allowing this.

  • ceilidth on April 03, 2012 10:51 AM:

    Glad disgusted and his gossipy neighbors don't live near me. They sure seem like the ones with a heck of a lot of time to waste. Imagine the outrage: his lights aren't on at 5am! And he's working in the yard when they get home after dark instead of being out in rush hour traffic! Maybe he wasn't completely brain dead and didn't choose to live somewhere requiring four hours of commuting time every day. Maybe he is doing a lot of his work at home and therefore has an extra four hours a day. Just because you commute an insane amount of time doesn't mean that's work time. In my personal experience in the work world, the people who worked twelve hours a day were not the most productive. They just thought seat time equaled work time or they had no life.

  • disgusted on April 06, 2012 4:40 PM:

    ceilidth: You are delusional to believe that laziness does not exist in any profession. Either you are an educator who refuses to look at the reality of what we have posed and positioned here as a counter-argument or you are a starry-eyed student who has yet to get out in the work force at a real job? Either way, pal, no one in our neighborhood sits at home doing pedicures, doodling around or picking daisies--------wake up. These are real live neighbors who work for a living, not gossip columnists. Get a clue. This is a LAZY Chair of a Department who spends more time fooling around at home than educating students. A true rip to the system.