Faculty productivity has become a major issue these days, fueled by arch-conservative politicians such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but this topic has been around for a long, long time. It is extremely difficult for the public to comprehend or relate to the realities of a typical faculty member’s workday, his or her responsibilities and out-of-classroom activities. Gene Maeroff, former education writer for The New York Times, first took a shot that this issue in 1994 when he wrote a Wall Street Journal column headlined “College Teachers, the New Leisure Class.”
“Productivity is a dirty word when it comes to higher education,” he wrote after noting the average college teacher spends between 9.8 and 10.5 hours a week in the classroom with students. “Yet the cost of an education to a student and his family surely must have some connection to the productivity of faculty members.”
Instruction and preparation account for about 20 hours of a typical faculty member’s week, Maeroff contended. The rest of the week is filled out by conducting research, writing about research findings, advising and counseling students, attending meetings and performing administrative duties, according to data compiled by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.
“While some members of the faculty are constantly pressed for time,” Maeroff wrote, “others find abundant opportunities for playing tennis, running errands, taking on consulting assignments that generate extra income and for merely doing nothing special.
“Certainly, any conscientious professor does a lot of reading and reflecting, but so do professionals in other fields and no one necessarily pays them for the time involved. The schedule on campus adds up to a pleasant life for most faculty members who are at least working at jobs they like. And they get summers off.”
Maeroff suggested the “work schedule taken for granted in higher education ought to be examined in recognition of current fiscal exigencies.” He noted the 10 hours a faculty member spends weekly in the classroom is only “slightly greater than the workday of most Americans.”
“And the average is inflated by the schedules of community college teachers who spend 15 or 16 hours a week in the classroom. What makes these astonishing figures especially noteworthy right now is the handwringing in one state after another over constraints on the budgets for higher education and the difficulty of holding the line on tuitions.”