In a recent Washington Post opinion piece, former university chancellor David Levy argues that most college professors are overpaid for their work. Levy draws attention to the low number of hours (9-12) most faculty spend in the classroom, the high salaries they earn ($80-100,000k), and their ridiculous 22 weeks of vacation a year. Correcting this problem would, Levy claims, allow us to solve the problem of ever-increasing tuition prices:
If the higher education community were to adjust its schedules and semester structure so that teaching faculty clocked a 40-hour week (roughly 20 hours of class time and equal time spent on grading, preparation and related duties) for 11 months, the enhanced efficiency could be the equivalent of a dramatic budget increase. Many colleges would not need tuition raises or adjustments to public budget priorities in the near future.
This intriguing proposal has come under a barrage of criticism from many quarters, including the Huffington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the AAUP. These authors rightly point out that most faculty earn significantly less than $80,000 and work long hours outside of the classroom preparing for class, grading papers, doing research, meeting with students, serving on committees, etc. And they are not complaining; every one admits they do all of this because they love their work. Still, increasing the average number of teaching hours to 20 rightly strikes most professors as completely absurd.
Even still, it is important for those of us who make our living as professors to take Levy’s criticism seriously. A New York Times article a few weeks back showed how college reinforces the huge gap between the most privileged and least privileged among us. The prevalence of the wealthiest Americans in our elite colleges is stunning. There are many reasons for this gap, but surely one of them is the incredibly high price tag that is common to all of these schools. While significant financial aid is available, many students do not even apply, some find the financial aid packages to be inadequate, and others work too hard while going to school and take on crushing debt.
Though increases in staff, opulent dorms and new athletic centers account for some of rising tuition rates, the most costly item in most university budgets is faculty salaries.
As a Catholic moral theologian, I have to be concerned about that. I have to ask, “Am I using my time wisely? Are there more efficient ways to help students learn? Does it make sense for me to spend all of my time training those who have everything? What can I do to help my university welcome more students who cannot pay full tuition?”
The late Dean Brackley called Catholic universities to higher standards. I hope we have the courage to heed his call.
Thanks for this, Julie. I think you’re particularly right to bring up the education gap that exists. But it makes me think about the other gap in higher education: the gap between those who make $80,000 per year, and those who have no benefits but who are lucky to make even $12,000 a year teaching as adjuncts. I think that one of the points in bringing that up (and I am well below $80,000 as a salary) is to recognize that for every course release I have, someone else is making up that course by teaching for $2000 or less.
But then I think also of one of the other points of Catholic teaching: the nature of work in relation to the human person – which is that work is for the good of humans rather than the other way around. In a world where Americans work the most, with fewest paid vacation days as a whole, high stress rates, and lower rates of efficiency, job enjoyment and so on – it seems that something about work is out of whack with our cultural expectations. And in that sense, I think a university’s jobs and benefits ought to stand as more of a model in a working culture that often treats humans more as machines than as humans. I think one of the reasons that people (not just faculty) often like working for universities is because that is less the case here.
Which is to say, while it does seem to me that some kind of rethinking of salary and equity is a good idea (at the least in relation to adjunct pay) I’d hate for universities to succumb to a model like the one Levy proposes, if all it does is reinforce a broken American working system. Surely there are other, better ways.
Thanks for this! And thanks for raising important questions about the “haves” (tenured/tenure track faculty) and the “have-nots” (adjunts, temporary faculty) in our university system. This is only getting worse as time goes on (as institutions replace retiring tenured faculty with adjuncts).
What I find disturbing about the op-ed coming from a former university chancellor is that quite frankly, he should know better. One thing that we as college faculty need to do better is to communicate to the wider public what it is we do. It is not like any other model they have for “education” (elementary/high school teachers) and the idea of work that isn’t 1. classroom or 2. meetings – is difficult to communicate to the wider culture/society. (This is, I think, probably more so for humanities than the sciences – as people understand “lab work.” Perhaps the question I hate most is “do you go to work today?” – I love my job (and certainly am not in it for the money) but how do I communicate the reality and value of the scholarship I do (and that I am contractually expected to do!)?
(I realize this comment is very much from a tenure-track prof. but…..)
Now I realize he profiled a particular community college…but many of the “teaching colleges” already do have a 4/4 teaching load (increased from research institutions)….A bigger question as well is whether or not one should be expected to do the increasing level of outside research that is being expected at many of the formerly “teaching colleges.”
Thanks for calling attention to this issue and its complexity. Higher education is often not what it appears to be “from the outside.” At the same time, those of us “on the inside” sometimes miss that the way we do business results in a host of unintended and undesireable social effects.
In addition to asking ourselves the difficult yet important questions you raise, Julie, we may also need to give more attention to some of the major transformations that are taking place in higher education. These include greater reliance upon adjunct and affiliate faculty in lieau of full-time faculty and the proliferation of on-line courses. A growing number of colleges and universities are embracing these changes and divesting from the traditional model of the 4-year, residential college. Many are doing so as a matter of economic necessity; others are doing so as an expression of their commitments to educational effectiveness and/or to meeting their students’ needs. Whatever the reason, the transformations are widespread and significant, and they deserve an enormous amount of reflection and analysis. Indeed, there’s so much energy (and money) behind these transformations that those of us who are committed to the traditional model, whether by habit or conviction, may soon need to defend our preference before a public that seems increasingly to insist upon more value from its universities.
For those of us who are concerned about the class-related “education gap,” reflection upon these transformations ought to be a matter of special urgency. Many less-elite institutions are wooing non-traditional, unwealthy students through new modes of educational delivery that are relatively inexpensive. I don’t wish to pass a judgment on this phenomenon so much as to simply note that the market is addressing the gap in its own creative way. Of course, market solutions are not necessarily the best solutions. But if there’s a better model for extending the reach of college education, what is it? And how might it be brought to greater realization? It seems to me that we moral theologians ought to allow ourselves to be challenged by these questions.
I remember reading this article and being very frustrated by it. He picks a community college in Montgomery County (outside DC), one of the wealthiest counties in the country (median household income: $93,373). Perhaps he could show what public school teachers make in MontCo and what the median house price is (just checked – median for owner-occupied housing: $482,900). Moreover, the idea that $80K for someone who has achieved full professor – and thus has worked 15-20 years in the field? – hardly seems worth being outraged about compared to, say, the salary of virtually every doctor in the county.
OK, I’m done venting about the skewed example! The fact is, the assumption he is making is that college should be more like high school. Many students should be in class more often than 2-3 times a week, and faculty should be concentrated on teaching and meetings and nothing else (i.e. no research, except maybe in those 22 weeks of “vacation”). And I suspect it will be hard to resist a drift in that direction. (Jana, UD needs to pay its adjuncts more!)
As some of us discussed at SCE, this question is complicated. It assumes that college is “too expensive” – but it ignores the fact that at many schools, the “sticker price” is not the real price, and in fact paying the sticker price subsidizes others, either through merit or need-based aid. I am not sure what price is expected – when one looks at per-pupil expenditures for public high schools, it is not that far from what our actual tuition revenue per student is. Frederick County PS spending, just over 12K per, and I think the Mount gets 15K per student (not including room & board). So I’m not quite sure what folks expect college to cost. We could all be forced to give honest sticker prices, but in fact (a) we need to be able to give some merit scholarships, and (b) if we did that, we’d have no financial aid to give (since our endowment is tiny).
However, the first and most important thing we can do is reduce the prevalence of that stereotype of the lazy senior prof, who hasn’t published anything in years, has a nice house, barely preps for class anymore, and tells students that he/she doesn’t care what goes on the student evaluations. Fortunately, there aren’t that many of these, and there are a lot of different ways to be a hard-working member of an academic faculty (some people who are less apt to publish much may be leaders in pedagogical and curricular development for the faculty, for example). But the ones that exist do give our profession a bit of a bad name, and (unlike some of these other issues) we actually have a say in this.
Dave – just for the record – $2000 is not what UD pays its adjuncts, it does pay (a little) more; but I know schools in this region who pay less than $2000, so I’m doing a composite based on my meagre knowledge.
That said – it’s difficult to find accurate info about how much adjuncts make; the AAUP doesn’t (so far as I can tell) do ranges for people working on a course-by-course basis. Anyone know?
Thanks for drawing attention to this piece. I think the cost of high education is an issue and salaries are a key part of it. Yet, I find it somewhat ironic that Levy, an administrator, is blaming it on faculty salaries when part of the problem seems to be administrative salaries. See Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (oxford, 2011) Whereas the number of faculty members across the country have kept pace with the rise in the number of students, both increasing roughly 50% over the last 40 years, the number of administrators have increased over 200%.