Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Random Thoughts on Professorial Workload

Maggie posted about how many hours professors do/should work per week yesterday, and it's a post I've been thinking a good deal about. On the one hand, Maggie asks, "I mean, who in their right mind becomes a professor because it's an easy gig? Who in the world gets a PhD and expects to work no more than 40 hours a week, dammit, as if it is their Right and Entitlement? Really? Would you like a punch card and a time clock, my friend?" but then she further asks, "Is it unrealistic to dream about a place where professors work 45 hours a week, get weekends off, and don't teach summers? Is it unrealistic to assume that one can be a professor, and also have a life?" In other words, Maggie is torn between thinking that profs who complain about workload are misguided in their complaints while at the same time she wonders whether it's really so wrong or delusional to expect to have a life with more balance between work and other areas. There's a lot to which to respond here.

On the one hand, Maggie talks about (also in the comments) the fact that we ourselves are responsible for the time that we spend working. You know, that's kind of true and kind of not. Yes, I can choose to assign more or less writing, and I can choose to spend x amount of time grading and commenting. Some parts of this are in my control. I think on the other hand, though, that if we put the responsibility for professorial workload entirely on the shoulders of individual professors that we make a mistake. The reality is that I'm not entirely in control of my workload. I don't control how many courses I teach or how many students are enrolled in them. I don't control how many advisees I am assigned. I don't control tenure expectations at my institution, nor do I control the ways in which I will be called upon to "serve" (though obviously one can say no to some things, you can't just say no to them all, or to all the ones that are time-consuming, or whatever). What do I control? I control the type and number of assignments in a course (within certain parameters of course, as one can't exactly get away without assigning papers in a writing course). I control the amount of reading in a given semester. I control my research agenda. I control some parts of the service that I agree to do.

So when I think about workload, and complaints about workload, I start thinking about the invisibility of so much of the work that I do. Here's an example: student advising. Now, I care about advising and being a good adviser. That said, advising now counts as teaching in the tenure requirements at my institution, an institution with a 4/4 load already. It does not count as service. One major reason for this is that by counting advising as teaching, departments that don't want to advise the students in their majors can justify hiring people whose primary job is to work as advisers, counting x # of advisees as a course (although I think they've got to use course releases or lecturer lines for that purpose, which takes away from course releases for research or course development within the department or from permanent teaching hires, which exacerbates the reliance on part-time adjunct labor). What this means in a department that doesn't take that approach is that advising for faculty already teaching a full load ends up being completely invisible because you don't need more teaching evidence. So, one response could be to ignore your advisees, which would be a pretty sucky response I think, or it could be to limit your availability to them. However, if word gets around that you're not available to students, that's bad, too.

So anyway, my point here is not that advising students shouldn't be part of the job (in fact, I think the full time adviser thing is a wack way to go for many reasons and I think it's important that faculty active in their disciplines do at least some advising, especially of students close to graduation) but rather that if it is part of the job that it should count for something. It should be considered meaningful. As it is, I get little credit and no compensation (well, other than the warm fuzzy feelings that fill my bitter, bitter heart) for this work. And this work takes time. I put the time in because I care about my students. The institution takes advantage of the fact that I will do that for the good of the students in spite of the fact that they've worked it out so that this work goes almost entirely unnoticed in terms of my performance review or review for tenure.

This is just one example. I could come up with many more. The point isn't to arrive at some litany of grievances about how tough a professor's life is (hint: I do not think it is very tough at all, ultimately), but rather to note that a lot of what professors do is mystified to such a degree - even within our institutions - that depending on one's context one can become really freaking resentful about issues related to workload. It's not about the hours put in. It's about the lack of control over how one spends those hours and the lack of acknowledgment of the fact that we spend them.

Now, I feel like I should note that I don't feel terribly burdened in this way at my institution. Or at the very least I don't feel so burdened that I am filled with resentment and anger over it. Do I think that some sort of shift needs to happen that realigns how faculty jobs at my institution are seen and evaluated? Sure I do. But I'm not constantly pissed off. Part of that is that within my department I feel very valued and I feel like my hard work and quality of work is recognized. That's not true for all people in my department, though, nor is it true for all people at my university. Now, this may because these people just tend toward disgruntlement, but I really don't think that's the answer in all cases. I think that some people end up being "favorites" and others don't. Some people are more about self-promotion and other's aren't. And so some people feel recognized and rewarded while others don't and it ultimately has little to do with difference in performance, I often think.

But so anyway, I don't think people make it through graduate school and into a tenure-track job with the expectation that they won't work hard at the job. I do think that they think a benefit of this career path is that they will choose the ways in which they work hard (within reason) and that they will receive respect for the hard work that they do (from students, colleagues, administrators, whomever) and the necessary support that it takes to do that work well. Considering the pay for professors, and considering the level of training required and all the rest of what comes before actually acquiring a full time gig, it does seem unreasonable to think that we should work 60-hour weeks doing crap that is imposed upon us and for which we don't receive credit or adequate support.

You know, I think I may do an experiment next week where I log my work-time and how that time is spent. That might be a fun way to address this issue. Hmmmm.


Fretful Porpentine said...

You know, I think I may do an experiment next week where I log my work-time and how that time is spent. That might be a fun way to address this issue. Hmmmm.

I've actually been doing that experiment for the last four weeks (and will post about it soon, but I decided to give it another week). I'm a VAP with no real service requirements, so it's a bit of a different situation, but I have been counting job market stuff as work, since it's a huge time sink that I can't do anything about.

So far, the results have been interesting but inconclusive; mostly, it's brought home to me how much trouble I have telling the difference between work and not-work. (I'm not sure whether that is reassuring or scary.)

Belle said...

Crazy, you rock. You've got me thinking about this kind of stuff too, and like you I'm going to start logging my time. I'm going to do random sampling of weeks, as right now there's some pre-registration and end of term advising that feels more intense than mid-term advising. I also do 4/4, so it'll be interesting to see how we compare.

Hilaire said...

Yeah, you do rock! This is a great post. If the teaching hadn't just ended for me, I'd do the experiment too.

It's the service, as you say. At my interview with the Dean of my faculty, he told me, "service commitments are higher here than at other places." I'll say - unbelievable. But then I have him, and my Chair, telling me all the time, "Service won't get you tenure." It's a ridiculous bind.

Second Line said...

When I was full-time and had advisees and a 3/3 load, there were a few weeks I might have hit 40 hours -- if there was a lot of grading. But more typical was around 25 to 30. But if you add in time spent trying to write etc., then ys, I was well past 40 hours.

And now, as an adjunct, teaching 8/8, I clock in at around 32 hours a week. Yes, grading weeks are a differnt story. But I lessen those by giving tests in my intro lit. classes. And I no longer botherr with research.

Fabio Sundeen said...

There were a number of posts on Rate Your Students last year about workload.

I like to think I work pretty hard, but I have some colleagues who definitely HAVE to be the last ones out of the building, and I don't have any idea why they're logging so many more hours in their cubes than me.

lil'rumpus said...

Can we also add that our pay sucks? I mean, seriously, can we truly talk about the work we do without adding the resentment that phds in the humanities get crap pay? especially considering that we have to put in about 10 years of schooling that many of us have had to pay dearly for financially (that mortgage payment I send to Sallie Mae every month, for example). Yea, I resent the expectation that I put in more than the 37.5 hours a week my contract says I am being paid for... not because I dislike or resent the work, but because i am simply not being compensated for it.

Dr. Crazy said...

FP: I've become much better at distinguishing between work and not-work since entering the tenure track. I think it has to do with the way the tenure process requires one to count every little thing.

Belle: Remember, though, that I'm in a weird (and wonderful in many ways) position this semester in that the admin thing I agreed to do has me teaching but two courses. That said, I really do think the admin thing takes as much time as the two courses from which I've been released.

Hilaire: The service thing is a horrible bind. It's a job requirement and yet because it's called "service" rather than "job-dependent bureaucracy" or something like that, it both counts and doesn't count. Gah. And our service is *ridiculous* here. If I've learned one thing from going on the market, I've learned that. And sure, I could say no to more than I do, but part of me does want to be a good servant. The whole situation sucks.

SL: Your approach, given your situation, is exactly appropriate. (This is actually one of my worries about the calls for longterm contracts and doing away with tenure, though. I know I'd make the same choices were I not on a track that would give me the job/income security that the t-t does, and I ultimately think that's not great for students or for the university.) What's important to add into my equation is that it's not just advisees and teaching - it's a bunch of other crap as well - even if we leave out research. That said, I'm thinking that because I've decided to start this little experiment today, given where I am with my classes and in the advising calendar and the fact that I finished up the major part of my research stuff this past week, I'm thinking I'm going to come in around 40 hours if not less. It will be interesting to see.

Fabio: Welcome! I don't think you've commented before. And thanks for the links, though I'll say that I often feel like the tone over at RYS isn't my favorite. I may be bitter, but I'm not nearly bitter enough for what goes on over there, and I often find that it just depresses me to read what is posted rather than making me laugh or making me feel better about my own lot.

Lil: Have you commented before? If not, welcome! And if so, welcome back, because I know you've not lately! And yes, the pay. I try not to think about it too much, as it, too, makes me bitter and depressed. Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks we should work for nothing for the love of the field or something (that's just ridiculous, I think) but at the same time, IF we get the benefits of controlling our time more and of doing what we love, I do think it offsets some of the financial opportunity costs of the profession. If, however, we don't get that? Yeah, the system is totally screwing us.

And I don't think that there should be an expectation of an "overtime" workweek without acknowledgment. The expectation should be a standard workweek, and extra should be VALUED as that (if not monetarily than in other equally valuable to the WORKER ways).

(you know, I get especially irritated by the idea that research isn't work. Just because one finds the work valuable or because one enjoys it doesn't make it not-work. It just makes it enjoyable work. Do we not pay lawyers for their time in court if they enjoy themselves there? Or not pay doctors if they enjoy treating patients? The answers to those questions would be NO. We need to stop thinking that just because academic work may give the individual pleasure that it's not actually work. That's so insane.)

Second Line said...

Dr. C.: Or, forget tenure. Pay adjuncts (or non-tenure track) more so they're not spread so thin, be fair and offer health insurance and benefits, and you likely find that far fewer corners will be cut.

I hate to be simple minded about this, but provide an incentive to the workers -- better pay and a reasonable assurance of continued employment -- and you will ultimately have a better product. But that's not the long term logic we employ. Ours is more of a day to day affair that pinches nickels and dimes to get the most that it can now.

Feminist Avatar said...

At my uni (in the UK), staff are randomly asked to log their entire schedule (work, travel, everything) for a week. At any point over the university, significant number of faculty are completing the forms, but no one person does it more than about twice a year. If you are on holiday you just write holiday for the week (and you should be honest because it is meant to reflect real life). They then use them to determine teaching loads and research expectations and such things. As a result, we have quite a good system for allocating workloads- although it tends to be backdated- so the more teaching you do the more research sabbatical you get the next term etc.

Professor Zero said...

The official workload at my place is 60 hours a week, 10 mos. a year. That's official.

I've repeatedly seen at AAUP and so on that the average work week is 58 hours. I know we all logged above 60 as new assistant professors, getting to 70 some weeks. Deans and such do 100 because of all the dinners they have to go to, and breakfasts, and yes those are work.

I started logging in grad school and kept coming up with 50, 55, 58.
I felt like I was working longer hours but when I actually kept track it was consistently in the 50s. That was teaching + doing my grad program.

Now when I log it it still comes up to those numbers, on average. There are weeks with less and weeks with more, depending on what's going on
but it stays in the mid to high 50s
on average, no matter what I do, and that must be how the university came up with that number, 60.