In which the professor expresses her frustration with the perennial bashing of her occupation.

I am generally a patient person, sometimes more patient than I should be. I am also usually optimistic about people's potential to learn and grow, which is probably a good thing since I am in the business of educating adults and since a good bit of my job also involves being on committees.

But darned if I'm not starting to believe that there are some issues that are black holes of dialogic suck, around which people are absolutely committed to killing the potential for learning and growth where it stands, and where any speck of patience is likely to be rewarded with a punch to the gut.

I refer you to this steaming pile of fail that posits that college professors do not work hard enough.

Others, including Zen, and DrugMonkey, and Crooked Timber, and Echidne, and Lawyers, Guns and Money, have gone into some of the dimensions along which the author's model of what's happening in non-R1 colleges and universities (and what, therefore, should be done) veers widely from reality.

And there's part of me prepared to jump in to lay out what kind of time it takes to teach college students well -- the time that is invisible because it happens out of the classroom, when we're prepping classes, and updating classes, and designing assignments, and refining assignments, and grading assignments in ways that actually provide students with useful feedback that helps them figure out what they can do better on the next round of assignments for twice as many students as the same number of classes had not ten years ago, and seeing students in office hours, and answering their emails, and providing websites with announcements pages and periodic email blasts to one's classes to keep them on track -- and these are just the demands on time and effort of teaching, not even starting in to what research and "service" activities or various sorts pile on.

But I'm not going to lay out all these details because the people who are reading David C. Levy's op-ed and nodding approvingly just don't care.

They will simply deny that my workload could be what it actually is.

Or, they will insist that I'm somehow exceptional and that everyone else in a tenured position in a teaching-focused state university is doing much, much less (and that those slackers at community colleges are doing less still).

But I'm pretty sure the ugly truth is that these people believe that my students, and the community college students, do not deserve quality education at a reasonable price.

And, I'm pretty sure they believe that professors at teaching-focused state universities and at community colleges (not to mention public school teachers, too) do not deserve to make a middle-class wage. Never mind that we sometimes work so many hours that it's hard to find time to spend it (for example, to get to the grocery store to buy food for our kids, or OTC medicine for ourselves so we can drag our lazy, sniffly asses in to class to keep teaching).

It matters not a whit to these people how many years we have devoted to our education and training. A Ph.D. program (or two) is obviously just a multi-year exercise in sloth.

Verily, to these people I and my entire sector of the workforce are a problem to be solved. We are doing something of which they do not approve, and even if we were giving it away for free and living on alms, they would hate us.

I can't argue with committed ignorance of that magnitude. I cannot counter such thoroughgoing selfishness.

So this time, I won't even try. Instead, I'm going to fix myself a drink, make dinner for my family, and brace myself for as many more hours of work as I can manage before my eyelids refuse to stay open.

21 responses so far

  • Jeff Knapp says:

    Very well said.

    Not to mention also that many of those very same kinds of people are the ones accusing you all of being left-wing, liberal dogmatists and your institutions of being centers of secular liberalism corrupting our kids minds with godlessness.

    I know damned well how hard you guys work. I know how valuable a really good teacher or professor is. It's a shame that, as part of the overall anti-intellectualist trend in this country, teachers and professors get help up as the costly, lazy, wrong-minded scapegoats for their anti-intellectualism. Makes me rather angry, truth be told.

    Don't give up and, especially, don't give into the ignorant ones. If you do, they will win. As hard as it is, all of you have to keep fighting the good fight - in part just bybe being very good at what you do.

    Society is so much better off because of you. Don't ever forget that no matter how much or how often the ignorant asshats of anti-intellectual right tell you otherwise.

  • As a faculty member of a decidedly teaching-focused institution, this is the phrase in David Levy's op-ed piece I find most presumptuously wrong:
    "Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation..."

    That may be true for Levy's research-institution friends (whose high salaries he defends), but I easily spend MORE time outside the classroom devoted to grading and class preparation.

    • P.D. says:

      "That may be true for Levy's research-institution friends..."

      But not even there. Preparation and grading take up a lot of time for anyone. It can only be avoided if one has taught the course many times before, one is willing to phone in old lectures, and one has assistants to do the grading. And almost nobody is in that situation for all of their courses.

      It is a strange fantasy to think that professors only work when they are visible in front of students. By the same logic, we should only count corporate executives as doing work when they are actively making a presentation to the board!

  • Sue says:

    I trained as a teacher more than 40 years ago, and have been actively in and around education for that entire time. At that time, teaching was a respected position. I never dreamed I'd see a time when teachers and educators are so reviled. I'll agree with anyone that many decisions made about education on the state and federal levels make absolutely no sense and are based purely on political motives. But those in the trenches - those who work with students - do indeed work their asses off. No, we're not perfect, but who is? Instead of looking exclusively at education to find the reason that some segments of our population do not thrive, we need to look at our society and culture as a whole. In reality and practice, where does education fall on the rank of everybody's top ten most important things?

  • Kyle Peck says:

    Thank you, for writing this piece, for devoting your energy to teaching, and for inspiring others to do the same. When anyone describes a large group (like teachers, professors, lawyers, politicians, etc.) they will be wrong about many. Don't let them sap any more of your enthusiasm and energy. Carry on!

  • AcademicLurker says:

    The Washington Post is owned by Kaplan, whose business model is "vacuum up as much federal student loan money as possible while delivering a worthless product".

    If they had their way, the nonprofit higher education sector wouldn't exist, which explains the regular "darn those professors!" pieces that appear in the WaPo.

  • LindaCO says:

    Just wanted to add my voice to those who appreciate and respect the work teachers do.

    I enjoy your blog posts plenty.

  • Kayle says:

    A year or so ago, my mother-in-law, a former college president at a public university in Ohio, pointed out the gender dynamics of teaching: once upon a time, elementary and secondary school teachers were primarily (unmarried) females, while professors were primarily males. The result was that university teaching was "men's work" and thus accorded the respect of such. Once the gender barrier was broken, teaching in general ceased to be considered a profession that was worthy of such respect. Now, I'm not one of those feminist male-bashers, and as a methodologist I do know that correlation is not causation, but I do find the inverse correlation between the number of females professors and the respect afforded to the profession interesting.

    • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

      "I'm not one of those feminist male-bashers ..."

      I'm pretty sure they live on the same island as the tragically lazy college professors.

  • Dave Evans says:

    There is a general disparagment of teachers at all levels. The problem is the perception that teachers are not working unless they are in a class teaching. So at every level they clearly do not work as hard as the people in 9-5 jobs. They have long summer unpaid "vacations" and are generally goofing off. That is all part of the public perception.
    To do a decent job at any level of education is hard work. Preparation is work and more thought than most people put in in a week. Being in an elementary or high school classroom means making more decisions every day than most executive make in a week. Keeping up in your field is important and necessary and time consuming and not necessarily relaxing reading.
    People who come out with this nonsense need to be forced back into a classroom to instruct. Is is possible (but not altogether likely) they might change their opinion.
    Thank you.

  • becca says:

    Levy's a deluded dingleheadedwombat.
    There are real and important questions to ask about access to higher ed and cost, (and perhaps research vs. teaching needed by society), but that type of an approach doesn't shed any light on the situation.

    Don't let the turkeys get you down.

  • Hughes says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Teachers do work very hard. Having done a very small amount of teaching myself, I know that the work (and creativity required) outside the classroom often dwarfs actual classroom hours. And of course there are increasing class sizes, new technologies to learn, etc. I appreciate all the hard work professors put into education!

    I would like to hear your opinion about the causes of rising tuition costs though. Tuition costs rising by double-digit percentages year after year are certainly troubling. They have been rising much faster than inflation for many, many years now. Is university middle management and bureaucracy to blame? I have certainly heard of University presidents making over $1M / year which seems very high. Is it sports programs sucking out the money? How come the tuition just keeps rising and rising?

    These days there are certainly many degrees I can't in good conscience recommend to my children since they will never earn enough money from those degrees to make up for the debt burden they will have after graduating. This is sad to me since I think there is definite value to society in many areas of study, but the high cost of tuition leads lots of students to choose degrees leading to careers where they can make enough to pay back the loans.

  • Peter R. says:

    "A steaming pile of fail." Beautifully put.

    I saw this a few days ago (via Paul Krugman). Levy actually argues that a 4-4 teaching load (12 contact hours) is not sufficient return on the taxpayers money. He wants at least 20 contact hours.

    We are, after, just automatons who can just spout out BS with absolutely no preparation.

    I also think TV news anchors are also grossly overpaid. They only put in 30 minutes on the job a day, after all.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I think it is generally agreed that rising administrative costs have driven the increase in higher education (perhaps all levels of education) costs. Certainly, unless you are a Nobel Laureate, and can land a well funded Chair, the best avenue to making good money in education is to be found in administration.

    In my university, during the last decade, state funding has fallen from 46% of the university budget to the present 29%. Meanwhile, tuition income has increased from 17% of the budget to 26%. I don't know how faculty costs have changed as percentage of the budget during that period, but I will guess they have remained fairly constant, perhaps even decreasing.

    I would think very carefully about how to afford a university education. Perhaps a prospective student could move instate, and work for a year to establish residency, for example.

  • ecologist says:

    My father taught all his career in a small, teaching-oriented, state college, and I can say that the attitude Levy expresses has been around for a long time, but its present viciousness is something new. A part of the anti-intellectual thread so strong in our society. Don't let the attitude, or people like Levy, get you down. I'm reminded of this. There are several performances out there, but I like this one: http://youtu.be/RxsOVK4syxU .

  • [...] have joined in the conversation to counter Levy’s arguments, and accounts like Philip Nel’s tracking of an [...]

  • [...] In Which the Professor Expresses Her Frustration with … by Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science [...]

  • [...] in unwalkable cities of their own making (it’s obnoxious, but there is a legitimate point) In which the professor expresses her frustration with the perennial bashing of her occupation. (must-read) How About Them Teachers? Ripping Us All Off, From Primary School To Universities! [...]

  • [...] the Tea Party and other aligned elements started attacking professors and teachers in earnest, I was immediately reminded (more than I already had been) of the Chinese Cultural [...]

  • I want you to know that there are still many of us who appreciate all the efforts teachers put into the learning process. Don't let the people who believe you deserve less get to you.