Even by the standards of Washington Post op-eds, this is shoddy and misinformed.
Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.
Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions. For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week. The faculty handbook states: “Teaching and closely related activities are the primary responsibilities of instructional faculty.” While the handbook suggests other responsibilities such as curriculum development, service on committees and community outreach, notably absent from this list are research and scholarship.
…I take no issue with faculty at teaching-oriented institutions focusing on instructional skills rather than research and receiving a fair, upper-middle-class wage. Like good teachers everywhere, they are dedicated professionals with high levels of education and deserve salaries commensurate with their hard-earned credentials. But we all should object when they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers. … 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.
I work at a strongly research-oriented department in a research-oriented university, and most of my colleagues work long, long days to keep up with research expectations. So Levy is right on this. But the claims that he makes about community colleges are – at best – remarkably obtuse. On average, faculty budget at least 3-4 hours of prep and grading time for every hour of teaching (I’m averaging about 6-8 at the moment – but then I’m teaching two graduate level courses). This is for students who tend to be pretty well prepared, and who also have a lot of time and outside opportunities. A lot of students at community colleges don’t have those advantages. I don’t have any doubt that the modal community college professor works harder, and under more difficult work conditions, than the modal professor at a research oriented institution. This blogpost written by a Montgomery College professor who is trying his hardest to sell his institution to potential job applicants, gives a much better idea of the pros and cons.
All full-time professors have to work at least 15 course hours a semester (we call these “esh”). To meet these hours, we either teach or do alternative projects. All full-time professors in the English department have a spoken agreement to teach at least two composition classes a semester and then any additional courses we offer. … here is never enough time to do much personal reading or writing. I have had to carve out some time for myself and have found that keeping a blog has given me one way to do some personal writing. Most of my reading and writing is work-related though. For the next year and a half, I’m the editor for the Potomac Review which means much of the fiction I read comes from the submissions we get. Also, even with a reduced teaching load (three classes this semester as opposed to five) I still have lots of grading to do. Summers are usually good for writing. …
Lately, I have been feeling like all I do at home is sleep and most of my time awake is spent at work. I teach a MWF schedule (with office hours on MW afternoons) but I’m on campus on Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays for administrative tasks. After you teach for a few semesters, you will be invited to participate in governance roles. Currently, I sit on the Rockville campus’s faculty council, which meets on every other Tuesday afternoon for two hours. I also help plan the annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, which takes a year to organise. And I am one of the Safe Zone organisers and trainers (a program that teaches faculty and staff to be accepting of GLBTQ students). I frequently volunteer to hold workshops or talks (recently I co-facilitated a poetry workshop for “Will Power,” our Shakespeare festival). And just last weekend I presented at the 4 Cs in Atlanta.
As you can see, a lot of my time is dedicated to MC-related projects, but I’m certainly not overwhelmed nor do I think I’m under appreciated. We are allowed one day off during the week (we are only required to be at work 4 out of 5 days but as you probably guessed I tend to read, write, or plan for work on that day too). Teaching at MC is a time-consuming but fulfilling experience.
This is a good job, as compared to many jobs in academia (e.g. the silent majority of adjuncts with rotten pay and no benefits or job security). There is some flexibility (Zachary Benavidez, the author of the blogpost has one day a week off in theory, if not in practice), and some of the work sounds interesting (he sometimes gets to teach courses that speak to his own interests). But it’s also, unmistakably, very demanding. Teaching 5 courses a semester is not fun – it takes a lot of preparation. Being able to substitute some administrative work for coursework helps, but not as much as you might think (administration is a time-suck). Teaching freshman composition courses to incoming students who are likely to have no experience in writing academic-standard prose is hard.
Community colleges get far less attention than they deserve in debates over US higher education. Journalists, who almost invariably went to elite institutions themselves, worry more about diversity issues at Princeton, Stanford and Harvard, than they do about the institutions that do “critically important work” (to use Levy’s inopportune phrase in a more opportune way), in supporting economic and social mobility among a far larger and more diverse sampling of the US population. Community colleges are badly underfunded, and becoming more so over time (see the background information in this article in the Washington Monthly, which has done a lot of good work on this over the years). Frankly, the US would probably be better off overall if institutions like my own got less support from the US government via various indirect means, and institutions like Montgomery College got more.
In any event, lazy and ignorant articles like this don’t help. I don’t know if this commenter’s suggestion that Levy has no teaching experience himself is true (I would guess that Levy has done some teaching, but that his days of doing any instructing that involved serious preparation are in the far distant past). But if Levy would like to put his money where his mouth is, I imagine that there are opportunities open to him. With his excellent qualifications, I’ve no doubt that he could line up four or five adjuncting courses over one semester in Montgomery College or an equivalent institution, perhaps, with the agreement of the college, under an assumed name. Afterwards, he could report – on the basis of actual knowledge this time – on whether or not community college professors are overpaid slackers.