Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Talk about starving artists!

Yes, Professors Work Hard, But ...
So the problem isn't that college professors don't work hard--clearly most do. The problem is that the working lives they lead more closely resemble the working lives of writers, artists, and musical composers than they do of the working lives of other upper-middle-class professionals: odd hours and feast-or-famine working schedules; bursts of creative intensity punctuated by relative idleness, long periods that can strike outsiders as unproductive but that actually generate intense creativity down the road. Someone--students, parents, taxpayers, managers of university endowments--has to pay for this sort of lifestyle, of course. Someone has to judge whether one of its end results--reams of scholarship that, as Mark Bauerlein has argued on Minding the Campus--may be "superb" in quality but seldom gets read or cited--is worth all the expenditures and the apparent waste.

14 comments:

  1. I hope it's not a case of only being appreciated 20 years after I'm dead like other worthwhile artists.

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  2. I wonder how many professors get a research allowance (as in, money set aside in their salary for research), at the cost of $7,000 an article, for example. How many places actually factor that in to the pay? I make way less than the pay rate in the article and teach a full load each quarter, yet am expected to publish with no time off for such (we have no sabbaticals or reduced loads to accommodate research).

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    1. I think that number was just dividing the professor's pay into various duties. So if a prof makes $X, and Y% of a salary is devoted to research, and if they produce Z number of research artifacts, then in effect they are earning $A per article. That type of thing.

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    2. Ah, I see your point better now. Effectively being paid for research happens only at research institutions with lower teaching duties to compensate. Otherwise the expectations are there, but you're not actually being compensated for it.

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  3. Teaching loads at CC institutions dropped from 4.5 courses per semester to a little over 4?

    Wow! Freedom!

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  4. I suffered for my art, and now it's your turn.

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  5. I wasn't quite sure of the author's point, as the tone of the lead didn't carry through the whole piece.

    But in any case, yeah, I do my scholarship for free. The breakdown of efforts during the course of the year probably works out to something like:

    60%= Teaching (Preparation, Classroom and grading)
    25%= Research (Reading, Writing, Presenting Results at Conferences)
    15%= Service (Committee work, Advising, Department Meetings, etc)

    The fact is, though, that the five kids in the front row of each of my three classes of 25 are paying my salary; I'm earning for the boss-man just by teaching, so I don't want to hear complaints from those above me whose salaries are being paid by the other 80% of the students in my class.

    If I was in it for the money, I'd be doing something else. If I was in it to have my evenings free, then I'd get a 9-5 job. Graduate-school taught me how to get by on a four-figure annual income, so I consider myself almost living the high-life when I am able to drive a fully-insured 10-year old car.

    I did know what I was getting myself into, and if I didn't deep-down thing it was all worth it, like other brave souls who have posted below, I would quit and do something else. It would be unrealistic to think that just because I value what I do very highly, that everybody else should automatically do so as well.

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    1. Everybody else should value it highly because it's inherently valuable.

      It's like being a mother. Lip service all year, then on *your day* you get burnt toast and have to pretend to love it.

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    2. None: Is there any way we could convince you to pick another user name. None and Nobody and Anonymous and Anonymous Guy and all the other non-names are too easily copied and used by trolls and troublemakers. It would be greatly appreciated if you'd pick something like a more recognizable CM-style name.

      Thank you for your consideration.

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  6. Replies
    1. We got to this problem as soon as we could.

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  7. I do agree that this is not a new topic. This is a perennial discussion in academia. Alan Bloom discussed it in “The Closing of the American Mind” in 1987, and he was by no means the first. A solution boils down to the following alternatives:

    (1) We discourage university faculty from being active in research. This won’t work, because what profs know can get out of date quickly, in the absence of current practice. My own undergraduate education in astronomy was an example of this: two old professors who hadn’t done any research in 20 years taught us how to develop photographic plates, but the words “electronic imaging” never passed their lips.

    (2) We encourage faculty to be active in research, but insist that it be “relevant” or “of current interest to today’s world.” Again, this won’t work, because “current interest” can change so quickly. For example, after the launch of Sputnik, NASA was surprised to find that only one astronomer in the west, Gerard Kuiper, was actively doing research on the planets of the Solar System. (All the other astronomers of the time were doing research on stars and galaxies.)

    (3) We educate our students and the public to be intelligent enough to be able to appreciate what we do. I know, these days that seems like a long shot, but wasn’t that what we were supposed to be doing in the first place?

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    1. Of course, encouraging faculty to be active in research and giving the freedom to choose their own research topics can have its own problems. Often one hears the complaint that profs spend too much time on research, and not enough time and effort teaching.

      Having been burned by this myself as a student, I can sympathize. Still, profs at many universities, and not only R1 or even R2 universities, are evaluated by their administrations almost exclusively on research. This includes number of publications, number of citations, and especially, amount of external research funding brought in. Universities love the overhead on that external funding. If they're serious about improving teaching, though, they'd give profs incentive to improve it by having teaching count more, in how profs are evaluated.

      And of course, evaluating good teaching has its own problems. Relying on the students to do it through anonymous evaluations is such a cruel joke, since good but tough teachers tend to get lower evaluations than bad but undemanding teachers.

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