An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals. Yet they receive the same compensation.
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. The vacancies created by attrition would be filled by the existing faculty’s expanded teaching loads — from 12 to 15 hours a week to 20, and from 30 weeks to 48; increasing teachers’ overall classroom impact by 113 percent to 167 percent.
Critics may argue that teaching faculty members require long hours for preparation, grading and advising. Therefore they would have us believe that despite teaching only 12 to 15 hours a week, their workloads do approximate those of other upper-middle-class professionals. While time outside of class can vary substantially by discipline and by the academic cycle (for instance, more papers and tests to grade at the end of a semester), the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth. And whatever the weekly hours may be, there is still the 30-week academic year, which leaves almost 22 weeks for vacation or additional employment.
Regrettably, proposals for faculty workload reform have generally come from the political right and have been associated with anti-labor and anti-intellectual values. This has inhibited mainstream acknowledgment that while the abuse of low faculty pay has been removed, the accommodations originally put in place to compensate for it have themselves become an abuse.
Change in employment terms and conditions is never easy, but further avoiding this issue can only continue an out-of-scale escalation in the cost of higher education, with the demand, ad infinitum, for increased public funds to support it. America’s position in the global economy depends on widespread access to education across all demographics, and college enrollments must increase accordingly. In such an expansion, the current model is unsustainable. Therefore, a realistic and fair-minded revaluation of faculty employment policies in teaching institutions is imperative.
David C. Levy, president of the education group at Cambridge Information Group, was the president and director of the Corcoran Gallery and College of Art and Design from 1991 to 2005. He is also a former chancellor of the New School University. The views expressed here are his own.
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