Faculty productivity in higher education is a recurring theme of this blog. It is well established that Virginia colleges and universities pay the highest salaries to faculty members who teach the least, spending their time instead on research, writing, and administrative tasks. My hypothesis, hardly original, is that this trend is getting worse — worse, that is, for the students and taxpayers who pay the bills for higher-ed.
I started my inquiry into the causes of runaway college costs knowing little more than the average citizen, and I’m still going up the learning curve. The following observation, while new to me, might strike some as remarkably naive. But it turns out that the ratio of teaching to non-teaching activities for faculty members is spelled out in contracts. In theory, then, faculty productivity should be readily quantifiable and the hypothesis of declining productivity should be subject to verification or disproof.
In a column published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Pennsylvania State University professor Katerina Bodovski describes how she collapsed on the job from overwork. She writes:
My job description stipulates that I should spend 60 percent of my time on research, 30 percent on teaching, and 10 percent on service.
Bodovski is an associate professor, not even a tenured full professor, but her contract calls for her to spend less than one-third of her time teaching. I find that astonishing.
The cause of her physical exhaustion was that the teaching and committee work consumed her life. In the fall semester, she writes, she taught two graduate courses, ran one of her department’s three “programs” (it’s not clear what the program did), served on two committees, completed six manuscript reviews for leading journals, advised six graduate students, and served on 15 graduate committees, providing feedback and writing letters of recommendation. Last fall she wrote close to 40 letters. “Add to that the steady stream of emails I must read and respond to every day.”
I have two reactions. One is that, yeah, she sounds really busy. She’s working a lot more than 40 hours a week. My other reaction is, waaaah. Many people work 60 hours a week, especially when they’re young and working their way up the career ladder. I married one such person. Working your ass off is pretty much a requirement in American society for getting ahead.
Of greater relevance than Bodovsky’s personal plight is this: Are the burdens that Bodovski describes more onerous than they were, say, thirty years ago? Are faculty members expected to engage in more committee work? How much of that work is truly essential, and how much of it consists of academic navel-gazing? Are the teaching duties more onerous? How does the teaching and advising load compare to that of associate professors 30 years ago?
I presume that Virginia’s colleges and universities are structured similarly to Penn State. Pick an institution, any institution. It would be interesting to examine the contracts of all tenure-track faculty and determine how they are directed to apportion their time (even if the contracts do not fully reflect actual practice). How do teaching commitments vary between assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors? And how have those commitment changes over the years? How has faculty productivity evolved over the years?This data is obtainable and quantifiable. Someone should be obtaining and quantifying it.There are currently no comments highlighted.