Thursday, October 05, 2006

Professors and their work habits - got a interesting comment

Got a comment to my entry about professors working. Anonymous Said -
I have worked industry and it is my observation that university faculty work longer hours than comparatively trained people in the private sector. You have not offered any data to support your views, so I will weight them accordingly. Perhaps you think that hurling insults is a form of evidence. It is not. But, doing research does require work.

Are Faculty Members Overworked?
11/5/2004 Chronicle of Higher Education

Faculty members are frequently ridiculed for having some of the cushiest jobs around. But exactly how many hours do professors put in?
Jerry A. Jacobs, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that the average full-time faculty member works more than 50 hours a week, regardless of academic rank. About 35 percent of faculty members reported working more than 60 hours a week. Mr. Jacobs analyzed data from a U.S. Department of Education survey of more than 10,000 faculty members at four-year institutions in 1998-99, the most recent year for which figures are available.
If you are in a department or college that is working more than 40 hours per week at SIU, name it here anonymously. This is Blogger's server and I can't and will not track stats or IP address here. Be brave, tell us where you hard workers are so we can send you fan mail. Not going to ask for 50 like your document says. Go on and tell us, we are all waiting.

I notice that anonymous didn't tell us that he/she works 50 hours a week. Please, we are waiting on that too.

Just to define our terms, I am sitting in my office at work right now and I'm not working. I'm writing this thing. We are not talking about sitting in your office and talking to your wife on the phone or balancing the checkbook as work hours. When you are in the shower and thinking about random things you aren't working. When you are driving to work, you aren't working. When you are drinking beer, mowing your lawn, playing golf, watching TV or sleeping you aren't working. Do you count reading the paper, Science magazine, National Geographic, as work? I don't. How about surfing the web? Nope.

There is nothing better then a club protecting itself and producing its own study data. How are these 50 work hours determined? Timecards? Questionnaires? Kind of like Congress and their pages isn't it? Or what college is the best party school. Human nature says that 10,000 professors are willing to lie about work hours and in this case likely have. Only white lies though, so that is OK. We can assume there isn't an audit on the data?

Talk about observations without data, you worked at a couple of places and you know something about the real world? Go lookup working hours for American white collar workers, they are wild too. I certainly didn't compare professors to industry, though we all know that most professors have a PhD so they don't have to deal with that real world crap. I used to sit at Microsoft and all the awesome young dudes used to work far into the night. The came to work at 10:00 am, went to lunch for an hour or more, did some exercise (soccer, pickup basketball that sort of thing) in the afternoon for an hour or more, went out to dinner and left at 10:00 pm. Hours worked per day? Around 8, but in the office for 12. Counting hours isn't that easy.

I'm going to teach you a trick that good managers use. If you get something out of this please give the Boys and Girl's Club of Carbondale a little gift in honor of the wisdom. Ready? As you drive through the blue parking lots at SIU, you can tell who is working and who isn't. Drive into any lot at 9:00, 11:00, 2:00 and 4:15. You tell me the professors and staff are working 40 hours a week. The place has no cars at 8:00 am and no cars at 4:30 pm. There are no cars on the weekend, period. We will not go into Friday where everyone blows out of work after lunch. Unless the professors are biking or walking to work, I think we can draw a pretty interesting result with almost no work. Pretty smart isn't it? Works in all industries and professions these days. We have a 100% reading on 40 hours here, 50 hours? Not possible. Need more data or is that enough?

I think that pulling average numbers out when discussing the work ethic at SIU is wrong and self serving. SIU isn't average, it is below average on results. Since SIU professors are pretty much average in ability (which is fantastically high) vs. other universities, maybe working as hard as other universities would suddenly raise results to average or above?

But none of this is what I was writing about. I was writing about how the people who own SIU, the taxpayers of Illinois can tell you guys aren't working hard enough. This makes them much less likely to increase state funding. It is as clear as the nose on your face, we are your neighbors and it wasn't like this 30 years ago.

If you want to claim professors are working on research at home, no problem. What percentage of professors would have received tenure based on the previous 6 years of work? A majority or minority? 6 good papers in 6 years (or equivalent) isn't too much to ask for is it? At SIU, we don't know because the university hides all statistics, but I will bet you money it follows my position pretty closely.

To the minority of SIU professors who are working hard and getting great results, I tip my hat to you. I wish more of you would grow a backbone and use peer pressure to get the rest of the professors to work hard, but still, congratulations on your hard work. I hope you are richly rewarded for it.


Anonymous said...

I had a professor - former large company exec - who actually had his department chair come into his office one night when he was working late and told him to knock it off because it make the rest of the department look bad.

True story, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Reading Science doesn't count as work? I guess that means the English professor reading a novel, the music professor listening to a concert or the cinema and photography professor watching a film don't count as work to you either.

Jon (Not Working Now) Bean said...

What a dumb survey. Of course, people inflate their numbers (i.e., give the socially-preferred response).

Another example: They asked women to rate what gives them the most satisfaction in life (a "global" question):

1. Children/family
2. Friends
3. Husband
4. Hobbies
5. Sex

Then they actually had women keep logs of their days -- day-by-day satisfaction. The results:

1. Sex
2. Friends
3. Coworkers
4. Husband
5. Children (the little brats)

I don't know how husband fell to 4 and sex rose to 1 -- perhaps the women are doing something on their own! LOL

"Lies, damn lies, and statistics," said Mark Twain. Or, read a best-selling book by former SIU professor Joel Best (who is now at U. of Delaware) on statistical fallacies.

Peter in Carbondale said...

> Reading Science doesn't count as work? I guess that means the English professor reading a novel, the music professor listening to a concert or the cinema and photography professor watching a film don't count as work to you either.

I realized the weakness in this part of the discussion. The problem is that down this path lies madness. When business professors go golfing, are they studying how the country club is run, so it is work? When a chemist eats ice cream is that work because they are learning how it melts? When a film professor watches a Rambo rerun on TBS is that work?

A hard call and a good question. We don't know the answers in every case, reading Science is hard to call. But we both know you have to reach really far to attack this logic, but you did well to spot it.

Anonymous said...

I find parking lots start to empty about 2:30pm. Funny you should mention parking lots as a information source. In the biography about Sam Walton, he would frequently drive by KMart's and count or note the number of cars in the parking lot to gage his competition. :-)

Long hours? I know one guy how's put in the hours for years. Walter Jaehnig, School of Journalism. His car is like, always in the parking lot. I hope it's not broke down. ;-) (Just kidding, it moves around from day to day.)

Anonymous said...

Many times, golfing can be a part of work. Many business deals are made on the golf course, and it also helps to promote your company. Now, im not saying that every time you play golf, that should be counted as work...but the line between work and play can sometimes be a bit blurry.

Peter in Carbondale said...

University professors don't sell and so we have to eliminate golf as work. If you are in the insurance business you might be able to lie about this and get there.

I think this argument is exactly how you get to a 50+ hour work week as a professors. While I was pushing the cart through the line at Walmart I figured out how to solve my problem method of counting hours. I'm sorry, not as good as the Science Mag. complaint. :)

Anonymous said...

I do not buy the parking lot theory of time measurement. I will be going to conferences next weekend and two weekends after that. I may get some of my travel expenses reimbursed but I will get no pay or comp time for the hours. In fact I work almost every weekend. I have worked ten summers without pay.
Google “faculty workload.” Lots of interesting stuff comes up.

BTW: The 40 hour workweek was designed for people who do hard physical work. We should expect more from those of us lucky enough to do mental work.

In visiting other departments in my field it is my perception their faculty work harder than ours. Here are some reasons why this might be. (1) We have a PhD program but we do not have many students. Supervising PhD students is a lot of work. It can be stimulating work for sure. (2) Our faculty doing departmental administrative work seem overwhelmed. At the other departments I visited people is these positions still published. (This really does not effect hours logged, but rather productivity.) (3) For many years being promoted to full at SIUC gave little financial gain. This may have contributed to a “laid back” atmosphere. This is something that your arch villain has worked hard to change.

Still most of us are working although I have no means of counting their hours. I’d guess I work 50-55 hours per week, but have never really tried to compute it. Sometimes I force my self to take a day off. Instead of worrying about time logged Peter, I suggest you look into productivity. Every year very tenured or tenure track faculty member writes an annual accomplishments report and provides an updated CV. I guess you could request copies of these although it would cost you. It would probably be hard for you to make fine judgments, but you might be able to out some deadwood. You can compare national rankings of PhD programs that are made by the National Research Council. They measure results (well reputation) not hours logged.

Here are two workload issues SIUC could do better on. (1) Faculty, especially senior faculty members, are assigned to work on various committees and task forces. Some people do a lot of this sort of thing. When I go to these meetings many people do not bother to show up! They get the same “service credit” in their annual reviews as those of us who do show up. Perhaps task force and committee chairs should send attendance records to each member’s department chair.
(2) Some people view sabbaticals as paid vacation and feel they are entitled to one every seventh year as a job perk. The Provost is trying to crack down on this but I am not sure how successful he has been. I think chairs value departmental peace a little too much, and even deans do not want to deal with grievances. You might ask how many sabbatical requests are turned down.

Don said...

I’d like to add my two cents, if I may. As a former faculty member at SIUC, I can attest to the fact that not many professors, at least in the department in which I was located, put in 50 or more hours per week. With the two-course teaching load and very little in the way of service requirements, one can get by, if one is not particularly interested in doing research, with working only 20 or so hours a week.

Having seen the writing on the wall, and understanding in so doing that my career would go nowhere if I stayed at Southern, I am now at a place (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) where no one who is doing her/his job well gets by with fewer than 50 hours a week. Some proof for this comes by way of a slide that our chair showed at our first departmental meeting, in which the percentage of time spent on each of teaching duties, scholarly work, and service, was calculated on the basis of a 50-hour workweek, and the consensus was that the 50 hours, if anything, is an underestimate.

To give you an idea of why the average faculty member would think this, let me tell you how my typical weekday progresses. I rise between 6:00 and 6:30, work out and otherwise prepare for the day, then travel to the office, arriving on average around 8:30. I spend the morning grading, preparing lectures, and meeting with students (we have an open-door policy here, and students take advantage of it) before heading to lunch at 11:45. I return around 12:15, teach between 12:30 and 1:30, hold an office hour between 1:30 and 2:30, then teach again from 2:30 to 3:30. The time from 3:30 to 6:00 is usually spent on teaching duties, meetings (such as our departmental meetings from 4:15 to 5:15 on most Mondays), or scholarly work.

All of the above does not count the grading, exam preparation, research, and so forth done on many weekday evenings, as well as parts of each weekend. It also does not take into account the fact that, as a new faculty member, I enjoy a one-course reduction for the fall quarter. For subsequent quarters, I can expect to work at least ten more hours per week than I am working now.

Time management is at an absolute premium here, and you are expected to handle the stress accordingly. The standard is set very high here, and people are expected to meet the standard daily.

With all of this having been said, it’s no wonder that Rose is, for the eighth consecutive year, the top undergraduate engineering school in the nation. Coming here from SIUC was like walking out of a dark room into brilliant sunlight – there is simply no comparison.

One could only hope that Southern, in time, would make the changes necessary to becoming a top-flight institution. When one thinks of the administration that is currently in place at SIUC, however, one also thinks of the phrase “throwing pearls before swine.”

Anonymous said...

Hi Don,

Glad to hear you are doing well at Rose. Do you really think people in our department are only putting in 20 hours per week? Maybe it is the floor you were on. I know MZ & DR don't publish, but HS is often here late at night. On my floor two people just got NSF grants. Now, people here do not work as hard as faculty at U of MD, U of TX, Northwestern, or UNT (places I have studied or worked). But, 20/week seems like a low estimate. It is true that whenever I visit another campus the change in atmosphere is palpable.

One thing Don mentions is worth emphasizing. Good students, undergrad or grad, push faculty to work harder. The better the college the more often students come in for extra help! When I was at NU a student complained that all my examples were from the textbook. He expected me to come up with different examples for my lectures since he can read the ones in the book. Ever since then I have put in the extra time to find or create examples that are not it the textbook.
There is no such pressure from students here and I know faculty members who only draw on examples from the text.

Its Sunday, I better get back to work. Don, stay in touch.

-MS aka anonymus

Don said...

Hi MS,

I agree with your assertion that there are some hard workers on the floors you mention, both your floor and the one on which I was located – including (and especially) HS, as the two of us saw each other on many evenings. Moreover, I should clarify that while there was no way for me to know exactly how many hours each person at Southern was putting in, the 20-hour figure in my prior post was put forward as an estimate of what one could get away with, if one were not interested in doing anything more than the minimum amount of teaching and service work required. There are some professors who, while not necessarily working only twenty hours per week, are definitely not putting in forty hours every week.

On the other hand, a lot of professors at SIUC are interested in doing more than the minimum, and so they’ll do their fair share of research, but it’s often done at home, and sometimes at odd hours, hence the barren parking lots to which Peter refers. I know of one person in particular, JY, who shows up only for his classes and office hours, along with some seminar presentations, and is nowhere to be found on campus otherwise, for he works at home almost exclusively. Yet, he has managed to publish several papers in the last couple of years, so he must be doing something right. JY is not alone, not even on the floor on which his office is located, in both his work habits and the number of papers he’s writing. Many such examples can be cited throughout campus, particularly in fields in which laboratory work is minimal or non-existent. So, while the number of cars in each parking lot can serve as some sort of barometer, it isn’t always a comprehensive measure of industriousness.

That being said, the above example simply serves to further highlight the underlying dysfunctional nature of the institution. Southern won’t move forward until the administration demonstrates an ongoing commitment to significantly improve the quality of its student base at all curriculum levels. Students drive an institution – they can either drive it to the top by demanding excellence from the faculty and administration, and expecting said groups to demand excellence of them in return, or they can bring the institution down with them by either having no expectations, or the wrong expectations. The former is happening at Rose because everyone who comes on board is expected to share the institution’s vision for success; the latter has happened at Southern because various groups (administration, faculty union, etc.) often have conflicting agendas, and each agenda is perceived by people from other groups to be self-serving, rather than one that benefits SIUC. As a result, a lot of tenured faculty members have chosen to retreat from the university to the greatest extent possible, preferring to work at home and coming in only when necessary.

As someone who’s worked in the “real world”, I can see why someone with a business background would get fed up with the counterproductive (or just outright unproductive) activities observed in many corners of the SIUC universe. There is no overarching team concept at Southern, the idea that “Hey, we’re all in this together, let’s set aside our differences to build something that really works.” Academicians tend to be more individualistic than most, but will still come together in the pursuit of excellence, a notion that has been reinforced to me in my short time at Rose. Until SIUC enjoys leadership that embraces excellence, in the classroom first and foremost, and moves the institution forward in a competent direction, it will continue to wallow in the mire of its own making, playing a far less important role on academia’s stage than it has any business doing.

Good to hear from you, MS. I will indeed stay in touch.

David M. Johnson said...

I was delighted to stumble on to this blog today, when doing a quick search for "top 75 research universities" in order to come up with some peers to make an argument before the administration. Carbondale desparately needs this sort of thing. I liked Peter's arguments about the misguided Southern at 150 stuff; I may weigh in on that front later.

But Peter's comments on the faculty work ethic strike me as ill-informed. Certainly the idea that we don't work at home is inane. Many faculty I know get most of the work that counts (i.e., research) done at home. Yes, I can close my office door, but I don't like to. And when a student knocks, I answer. My office is the size of a shoe-box, is fitted out with the original 1979 desk, chair, and (holds nose) carpet, hovers around 60 Fahrenheit during the fall and 85 during the spring, and can't hold the books and files I use for research (unless I put the materials I use for teaching at home). At least mine, unlike those of many of my colleagues, doesn't sport a leak. So, yeah, I prefer to work at home in my $95 chair from Office Max, where the thermostat works. Measuring work by face-time just won't do for most faculty, whose research is essentially solo work. When we're chatting with students and colleagues we may be doing service or teaching, but we're not researching.

All we have is anecdotal evidence, apparently, as Peter has thrown out the study showing that faculty work over 50 hours a week. Try this for what people in my field like to call the argument from probability. To get a job teaching classics (we do speak of a kind of probability in classics!), you've got to spend eight years on average getting a doctorate, during which time, if you are lucky, you don't amass much debt. Then there's usually a couple of years bouncing around the country on one-year jobs where you are paid little to teach lots, before you finally get a six-year run at tenure. So you have to work your butt off for, say, 12 years at a minimum before having the chance to show your true slacker colors.

I'm on my first post-tenure year at 40. Yes, I could slack off now without real consequences save to my self-esteem and my relations with my colleagues. My pay would stagnate, but it'll do that anyway, at least until I get my one remaining promotion to full professor after at least six more years (after which it will stagnate again). Merit pay makes the difference between getting raises of 1% more than inflation and raises 2% below inflation. Hooray. The most noticeable factor on my salary will be salary compression. Many full professors make less than new hires, despite having received the two promotions they are eligible for having done fine in the merit pay sweepstakes. There are no private sector jobs in my field, so if at any point I decided to throw in the towel, or had my towel thrown in by denial of tenure or the like, I have to start from scratch, off at law school or whatever with my former students. Aren't their easier ways to slack off?

Are there faculty deadwood here at SIU? Of course. In my department of 16 I'd probably put one in that category: we shouldn't have given that individual tenure. More deadwood, and less brilliance, here than at Harvard, or the U of I? Yes, of course. They also teach fewer students. And easier ones. Few at those elites schools are interested in and capable of teaching our brand of undergraduate: first generation college students, ill-prepared by poor secondary educations, and often with nearly full-time work or family needs in addition to their supposedly full-time academic careers.

Do most of my colleagues work 50 hours or more a week? I doubt it. But we are also grossly undercompensated for our education and skills, and have chosen a higher quality of life--including more time with family for most of us--over the rat race. We in the humanities couldn't afford nannies even if we wanted them. A good ol' faculty wives are in short supply today.

I happen to think that if you're working over 50 hours a week you're working too damn much. Aristotle, when of those old Greek guys I study, argued that intellectual activity requires leisure. Part of what our society needs to think about these days is what 'work' means, or rather how many different sorts of activity should count as work, and how much work is too much.

Getting faculty to work harder isn't the answer. Helping faculty to work better, by providing at least as many carrots as sticks, and by honoring those who make teaching our undergraduates a central part of their work, would be a start. Or do the undergraduates only count in enrollment figures? Okay, that's another topic . . .

Anonymous said...

Bravo, David. Exactly correct.