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.
5 years ago