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.