Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Letter to the Editor - Wash Post.

I am concluding my first year of retirement after teaching geography at Prince George’s Community College for 42 years. My weekly workload consisted of 15 teaching hours and five required office hours. I taught five classes and a two-hour lab. At the time of my retirement, at the age of 73, I was earning a little more than $90,000. Add to this $26,000 that I have been receiving annually from Social Security since turning 65. Not bad for working a 20-hour week for what amounted to a little more than eight months’ work a year.

All of my classes were capped at 25 students, and they always were filled. I was considered to be an effective teacher, and most of my students succeeded, some beyond expectations.

Over the years I succeeded in publishing more than a dozen articles in a variety of professional journals and was a journal editor. This might be considered minimal if I were employed at a four-year college or university, but I was told by several administrators that it was exceptional for a community college professor. I have been recognized as a distinguished teacher as well as a distinguished scholar by two academic associations within my discipline. One college administrator, on more than one occasion, told me that I “was one of the good ones.”

So why do I agree with David C. Levy’s opinion that some professors, unless they are employed in research institutions, and especially those teaching at community colleges, aren’t working enough and are overpaid? With my reputation established, in the last few years of my tenure (with the exception of Wednesday afternoons when I conducted my two-hour lab), I was home by 1 p.m. And I wasn’t alone. A number of other faculty members did not work an eight-hour day. Upon departing from my office, I must admit, I had a sense of guilt when passing custodians at work as I exited toward the faculty parking lot.

I retired in the middle of the 2010-11 academic year. My replacement was an individual in dire need of employment. His adjunct salary was far less than mine. The college was not sorry to see me go. In retrospect, I can’t say that I blame it.

- Sherman E. Silverman, Silver Spring

36 comments:

  1. This guy reminds me of Harry Harlow: oblivious to the misery he clearly knows he's part of, indeed, seemingly determined to leave as big a mess behind him as possible. I recommend he re-read Dante's Inferno.

    Also, do you realize it took a measly $360/student to sustain him?

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    1. P.P.S. I think I know who got that winning ticket in Maryland. If there's anything worse than a sore loser, it's an smug winner.

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  2. Well whoopie for him. I work from 8 am to about 9 pm, usually 5-6 day a week so this guy can suck it.

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  3. Personal anecdote is not evidence
    of wider trends. But perhaps that's not the case in geography.

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  4. This dude says he worked 20 hours a week, 15 teaching hours and 5 office hours. So he never designed a new course? Prepared his individual classes? Graded anything? Sat on any committees, or otherwise participated in the governance of his institution? Did any independent studies with students? Participated in any student extracurriculars, or served students in any way outside of the classroom, lab,and office hours?

    I bet they WERE glad to see him go. They weren't getting anything close to their money's worth.

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    1. Right. The working hours he claims only cover in-class time. So he doesn't count the research and editing he claims to have done as "work." And, like F&T said, he never prepared a class, did any grading, sat on any committees, advised student organizations, attended any conferences, or organized any conferences. He just magically knew everything when he showed up each day at work, recited it, and went home. At night, the article fairy left fresh research under his pillow. Wow.

      Now, if someone is teaching the exact same shit for 40 years, and doesn't publish, this can work. After a few years, prep time drops to near zero. During three minutes of your office hours, you can leaf through your old notes. But then you suck, because even a field like geography will have changed since 1970.

      So he is either magic, a liar or he sucked as a teacher.

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    2. At least at my school, geography now relies on some very cool but quite technical and fast-evolving software that barely existed 10 years ago, let alone 40. If he wasn't spending substantial time each year learning to use the latest software himself, and figuring out how to teach students to make good use of it, I bet they were, indeed, very glad to get rid of him.

      To the best of my knowledge, the focus of geography has also been changing pretty rapidly -- lots of concern about global warming and sustainability and similar subject, for instance.

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  5. Now this is the definition of trolling. Haven't we had enough of these posts re: faculty workload that do nothing but stir up trouble?

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    1. Pent up rage much? My point is this is the fourth post we've had in a week dealing with faculty workload. It's been discussed to death.

      http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2012/03/from-gawkercom.html
      http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2012/03/i-know-links-are-not-welcome-post-but.html
      http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2012/03/more-from-adjunct-project.html

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    2. I actually think StockStalker's note today is just a wiseacre crack, which we support. His previous comments, however, have often strayed over the line we're trying to enforce, and we're endeavoring to do a better job of limiting bullshit like that.

      It's sunny, people. I'm loaded with bagels. I have no grading in front of me. I'm as happy as Sherm Silverman (above), and just as rested!

      Cal, if you're reading, where are those RYS posts about workload? There was one guy named Professor Bullshit or something who raised a ruckus.

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  6. I really hoped that this was an early April Fools, but nope, it appears to be on the WP website. And I agree with earlier commenters that this dude's POV is HIGHLY fishy -- like left on the beach in the hot sun for two days fishy. If it's true it's just sad.

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  7. Here are the workload articles that caused some consternation. Need to read them in order, I think, to see the progression:

    Where we discuss how hard we work.
    Bullshit.
    Mr. Bullshit gets called out.
    Semi-culpa from Mr. Bullshit.

    This was all from late July and early August 2007.

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    1. Thanks for this, Cal. I have never seen these links. I'm doing my own math right now!

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  8. I looked Silverman up. He is indeed a person who taught at St. George's, unless someone else is pretending to be him.

    And well, you know, Silverman is correct. SOME professors do this. Just like SOME students phone it in. And some people with 40-hour workweeks sit there on facebook half the time.

    But there's something wrong with his math. As it stands, he had to work 15 hours teaching his classes, two hours for lab, and five office hours. That's 22 hours. Of "face time" that was required for him to at least appear to do his job. So is he saying that at a busy community college he was never ever required to do committee work? That with those five classes he was never ever required to grade?

    Yeah, what he's saying is POSSIBLE. If he managed to do all his grading during his office hours (because students didn't bother him) and if he never changed his course prep, and only used scantrons, and had someone else keep his books.

    But it's only possible for washed-out old people, who have already established themselves, and are unwilling to put in more than the bare minimum. Try this before you're full prof at your peril. Only an old guy with tenure can tell people to go hang. That he won't serve on committees, that he won't give anything but multiple choice tests.

    Thus I'm sure that the people at Prince George's WERE happy to see him go. They didn't value him as a colleague and he had no respect for himself or for them. Everyone is happy to see a useless piece of deadwood float away.

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    1. 100% agree with this. My one surprise is that a CC let Silverman potentially become deadwood, given the teaching demands. It seems a lot easier at R1s, where the teaching loads are greatly diminished to allow time for research. I knew several such proffies who pretty much just stopped active research entirely; unless they had a grad student get something out; so they simply had to show up for their two classes per week, fob the grading off on their TAs, and watch the money roll in. One popular method is to make an online course that basically runs itself. The instructor pops into some chat rooms once in a while, stirs the pot, and then goes back to doing whatever the hell a tenured piece of deadwood does.

      I blame the tenure system, even though I want in badly.

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    2. There are ways to deal with this kind of thing, even if a person has tenure. I have a friend that barely got tenure at an r-1, then pretty much stopped publishing entirely. During an open meeting, they publicly removed him from the graduate faculty. He now has another course to teach every semester (only undergrads), plus they feel free to load various other tasks on him as well. My friend is aggravated. I don't say anything but how can he expect anything less?

      At a certain point they do leave the old useless folks alone, and just start counting the days until they leave. But how is that different than it is in most other places, say, if one is a civil servant with "seniority"?

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    3. I suspect there was something particular about his department, including the size and age structure of the faculty, and the number of core courses covered (or not), that let him get off the hook for a lot of work.

      In an English or History department (or any of a number departments with similar conditions, I'm sure, in the sciences), he would have been run ragged doing all the committee work necessary to supervise, evaluate, prepare curriculum for, etc., etc. the ever-growing army of adjuncts teaching most of the sections of the core courses for which the department is responsible. I suppose one could get out of that by being stubborn, tenured, and regularly making such a nuisance of oneself on committees that taking on added work seems like the preferable alternative to many committee members, but even one committee-work-eligible proffie who doesn't pull his/her weight is getting to be quite a crisis in many departments, given the growing imbalance between TT and non-TT faculty.

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  9. I won't lie and say there aren't people like this at Large Urban Community College (right down to the poor math skills). We do have some silverbacks and uberparents whose motto is "In by 9:00, out by 1:00." They sign up for committees like "Office Supplies Task Force" that rarely meet, and then they don't show up or worse, do show up and either sleep or bring their kids, both of which keep them from contributing. Those people are the minority, yet somehow they've become our public face, not unlike the wingnuts on the far right who've become synonymous with Christianity and taken that term away from the more reasonable people who practice it.

    I've talked with reagents in my system about what it's like to be a faculty member. They tell me "Oh, you're exceptional." While it may be true that I put more dedication into my work and my students than some of my peers, I hardly think I'm exceptional. But to them, the face of the faculty member is the idiot suing the system because his department chair didn't let him teach only Advanced Basket Weaving for Hamsters, Gerbils, and Mice on Tuesdays and Thursdays so he could have the other days off to pursue his side job.

    I'm amazed at this attitude because I've attended their meetings. We have presentations every month about how faculty at this college or that college have won some sort of award for teaching innovation or gotten a grant to establish a new program or taken students to a national contest who placed in the top three. But when it comes time to do anything for us, all they can remember is Professor Lawsuit, who is very much like this idiot in the WP except even more irritating because he costs the system attorneys' fees.

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  10. Silverman says that he was on cruise control only "during the last few years of [his] tenure." And he was replaced by a poorly-paid adjunct. These details are important, too.

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    1. Except ... why would the majority of his "expose" focus on how he was able to skate for the last few years of his career. It used to be in the auto assembly plants that the silveriest silverback was the guy who drove the finished vehicle off the line. Certainly, even in academe, there can be some measure of "phoning it in" as a deserved reward at the very tail end of a lengthy career.

      If Silverman had a similar workload as the rest of us for the majority of his 40+ years, why would he shit on those carrying the torch by framing his farewell to make it sound like his final couple of years were like all that preceded it?

      OK, he has no skin left in the game.
      But by taking this farewell dump, he also diminishes his life's work as well.

      Talk about voting against one's own interest.

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    2. Obviously the guy is proud of the fact that he's been sitting around doing nothing, that he's "put one over" on the people that pay him.

      My guess is he hates his school, his colleagues, and the administrators there. So it's his way of saying "fuck you--you paid me for doing nearly nothing--fuck you."

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  11. It's the public face of this that worries me the most. If the only academics who are in public are people like Silverman, or the folks Levy apparently knows, then those of us who put in the time are thought of as slackers, too.

    It also sometimes worries me that those of us who complain about students are seen as whiners, when in fact, for me, I think it's more important that the snowflakiness of students needs to be publicized more, for our sakes, for future students' sakes, and for the education of helicopter parents soon to be in our airspace.

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    1. It's recently occurred to me (probably not original), but today's snowflakes are likely to be tomorrow's helicopter parents and today's helicopter parents are likely to be the drones-in-the-sky-with-death-from-above.

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  12. Robert Farley over on Lawyers, Guns and Money had a really great response to the original Levy article.

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/03/stupid-or-lying-wildly-overpaid-faculty-edition

    This idea about proffies who don't have to work is not going to go away. The general public does not see teaching as work--if it did, teachers' unions from K-12 all the way up would not have come under such attack over the last several years. All the general public sees is that teachers work from 7:30-3:30 M-F with summers "off" (never mind that in K-12 at least, many teachers have to take summer employment to make ends meet).

    The same goes for proffies: 12 hours a week in class, 5 office hours, and maybe a little committee work (for another 2 hours, tops). That's what the public sees. The rest of our work: the PD; the grading; the advising; the prep--for courses we're currently teaching + those which are coming up for the next semester or academic year; the handholding; the myriad things almost all of us do--those are invisible to the public. I'm re-reading Dracula in advance of teaching a survey of British HamsterFur Literature next fall--I enjoy it, but it's still work.

    There's another thing--because we're supposed to love our jobs, we're not supposed to complain--

    And if we dare to point out that yes, many of us work in the evenings and/or on weekends, then we must be inefficient or ineffective if we can't get it all done in whatever time seems to be allotted (let's say 40 hours). Which is also bullshit. Because how many lawyers do you know, or doctors, or any other professional in any capacity who only works a 40-hour week? It's a thing of the past. And we're the only profession which requires advanced degrees but pays worse than the local car mechanic's salary, especially if you're an adjunct. It will be interesting to see if SS changes his tune once he's out of his TA position and looking for work.

    Perhaps we can all do the log-work that's suggested for April 2. We need to do something to make our work visible.

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    1. BurntChrome, that link was great. Thank you.

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  13. We have post-tenure review, continuing after Full. If I phoned it in like this dude, I would indeed find myself with an increased teaching and service load, and no graduate teaching. No, they wouldn't fire me, but they would make my job pretty miserable.

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  14. PS. What kind of douchenozzle retires in the *middle* of an academic year?

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    1. Sometimes colleges are so desperate to get rid of highly paid silverbacks that they offer incentives to get them to leave, and those incentives go over a full academic year so they can not let the door hit their asses on the way out at the end of any term. It has been a regular staple in my system for most of the years I've been here. The only problem with this approach is that when the finance people get really desperate and throw a huge wad of cash out there (factoring in the long-term savings as justification), that then sets the bar really high for any future offer. I work with people who still remember the Great Retirement Buyout of 1905 or whenever it was (sometime long before I came on board), and they swear they won't leave for anything less.

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  15. Sherman E. Silverman: Biggest. Dick. EVER.

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  16. Yep, sometimes I'm home by 2...
    ...where I grade, write, read, and research till after midnight. Those things are pretty difficult to do in my office because I'm involved in some big projects now and people want updates or to tell me what they are working on.
    This works well online, but in person we often end up chatting and wasting time...I love my colleagues, but if I don't have time to chat I'm not hanging around campus.
    So I work from home. That does not mean I'm not working. Jesus.

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    1. I was thinking this, too. If he was able to actually work on campus, then he had a much better office setup than many of us.

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  17. As I student I think I get the most out of classes that didn't have any preparing involved, such as working out problem sets and having random discussions. Why would a professor need to prepare on how to work out problem sets in front of the class? Prepared lectures are nice, but they can easily be blown off without jeopardizing one's education because such lectures are only a tad better than lectures from the Teaching Company DVDs, which is only passive learning and quite forgettable.

    Haven't we all been through way too many cheesy powerpoint lectures?

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  18. Preparation is not about cheesy powerpoints, but about really cool powerpoints. It takes time...

    ...to make each bullet point come in from a different side
    ...to make full use of the software's font spectrum
    ...to make each slide materialize in a different pattern, especially when you need the really speshl slides to spin in like the "news flash" sequences in old movies
    ...to give each slide a different background color
    ...to upload 2-gigabyte images and 12-gigabyte vids
    ...to put complete copyright information under each image when you have to find the image again somewhere online, God knows where, searching for it until you find it again on some cat blog

    That ain't cheese, my friend, that is fine wine. That's "picking up the students where they are." That's "using technology in the classroom." That's cutting edge pedagogy.

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