Friday, June 15, 2012

Does Publishing = Work?

In response to the "Professors need to come down from their Ivory Towers," opinion piece, I recalled this Crampicle Commentary  from last week about how professors are judged too narrowly by the public and others who don't understand what, exactly, it is professors do to stay busy.


"Just Because We're not Publishing Doesn't Mean We're Not Working"
By Bruce B. Henderson

The public is on to us. They now know our six to 12 hours in the classroom is for a week, not a day. And we teach for only 30 weeks a year if we can afford to avoid summer work. What was once just a running joke is now a serious question raised in op-eds, spread in viral e-mails, and brought before legislatures. 

Everywhere, it seems, unproductive faculty members are blamed for the rising cost of higher education.
The general public does not understand our workloads, and we have not done a good job educating them about what we do. We often haven't made a convincing case even to ourselves. A common academic's response to questions about our work focuses on our time spent in generating new knowledge, usually in the form of publications. Indeed, faculty productivity is often measured by numbers of publications.
But that defense won't stand up to scrutiny for many of us who don't work at research universities. Critics might be surprised by how much some faculty members at regional universities and liberal-arts colleges do write; however, compared with faculty members at major research universities, we typically spend more time with students, teach more courses and more different courses, and provide more direct service to local and regional communities. Yet for many of us, the number of hours we spend teaching and performing service doesn't account for a large proportion of our time.
We have no concise term to describe what we spend much of our time doing. Our colleges are focused on scholarly products that can be peer-reviewed and published, but the reality is that many of us spend much of our time on being scholarly, not on producing scholarship. We are, and should be, consuming the scholarship of others. Consuming scholarship includes preparatory time for teaching but is much broader. We need a name for this ubiquitous activity. I offer "consumatory scholarship."
Effective teachers (and researchers) develop expertise by reading and studying deeply and broadly. Professors take this activity for granted. Our students, our supporters and detractors on boards and in legislatures, and the general public do not.
Read more here.


  1. Well, yes. For once I agree. There is also the labor of evaluating scholarship, editing other people's work, and writing endless recommendations. I had to laugh at the medical researcher who was miffed that his son did not get an e-mail response from his professor. Go to office hours, doofus.

    1. I have to laugh at the fact that the son complained about the fact that he didn't get an email response. I do agree that at my SLAC, there is a lot more emphasis on and expectation of responding immediately to student concerns than when I taught for the state system. I don't know if this is because of being on the quarter system, or if the culture at the SLAC is more customer-service oriented (I'm guessing THAT's the cause).

  2. This argument is too difficult for many of our more strident critics to follow. "Consumatory" isn't an everyday word, and it has five syllables.

    I just point out that with 100 students, if I spend ten minutes per week grading their papers, plus the 3 hours per week of class time, plus 20 minutes per week of class prep time, that comes to 20 hours per week, half the work week that Woodrow Wilson promised the American worker. I typically get two large classes like this per week. Everything else (research, writing, advising, committee work) comes on top of that.

    Also, that class prep time is a large underestimate. It should be more like 1-2 hours per hour of class time. For a class one is teaching for the first time, it's more like 5-8 hours prep time per hour of class time. Now you know why an assistant professor isn't an easy thing to be: it has nothing to do with the uninformed question, "Who are you assisting?"

    Nevertheless, I still usually answer students' e-mail within 24 hours. I almost always do so within 48 hours, except in the most ridiculous cases, such as anonymous love notes from students. Those are better left unanswered.

  3. The implications of this passage smell just a bit like pure, uncut bullshit:

    "[The public] do not see us reading, talking with—and listening to—colleagues, or translating new information into class notes or research ideas. They do not see us struggling to find out what is important in the overwhelming amount of new information in every discipline. Yet such consumatory scholarship is fundamental to up-to-date teaching, to the initial stages of research projects, and to institutional and community service based on expertise rather than just good intentions."

    True, the public doesn't see this. Yet it seems to me the same relationship between (publicly invisible) struggling with new, difficult, and/or voluminous material in order to be an effective X at tasks A, B, C, applies more or less equally to lawyers (maybe 10-20% of their work time in court or negotiations and 80-90% reading & analyzing, prepping witnesses, reviewing relevant case law & developing their own arguments for that court performance or negotiation) or even doctors. Such professionals may spend much smaller amounts of their total work time "on stage"--the (more) visible execution of their duties in clinic hours or sitting at negotiating tables--and rather more of their time in part preparing for that stage time, not to mention making contributions to their professions' available knowledge through research.

    Yet I suspect many of the critics challenging professors' use of time & contributions would, I'm sure, maintain that lawyers and doctors are of course professionals who earn every penny, and who outside their own ranks could have standing to challenge how they spend their professional hours? And sure, doctors & lawyers may be regarded as "crooked" in some ill-defined sense, but I've never heard it suggested that either profession is generally somehow defrauding clients or getting paid too much given their working hours, let alone that much of their work isn't *really* work…

    1. Athletes provide another good example. Football players work all week to play a three game.

      The difference between these occupations and faculty is that we are supported by the public. It's their money so they can call the tune.

    2. Also hello? BILLABLE HOURS. If I had billable hours I'd be rich.

  4. I was a little disappointed when I read this over on the Chronic. It started out with a good idea, but then brought in the idea that now we're going to have to keep track of and add up into some sort of 'score' to justify our existence:

    "For example, faculty members can provide narratives about how they have incorporated new ideas and information into their teaching, research, and service when we submit annual reviews."

    Ugh! What have you read for me lately? This is actually what I think lawyers do when they track their 'billable hours' - add up every time they pass gas because their client gives them indigestion and then charge the customer.

    NOT where I want to see academia headed.

    1. I wouldn't mind keeping track of hours worked like that IF we got paid at the same rate as doctors and lawyers...

    2. Aeron Haynie did a better job of this back at the end of March on the IHE blog "Mama PhD"-- which is not just for mamas, really:

      I kept track of the hours I worked in my large analog planner for an entire month. Office hours, meetings, class time, prep time, meetings outside office hours, hours worked at home. It came out to an average of 48 hours per week (I teach 3 writing classes and a lit course every semester). I'm paid on a 40-hour basis. Part of my summer is going to be spent trying to figure out how to work a 40-hour week.


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