Why Do Humanities Profs Complain?

Spend some time among humanities researchers and it won’t be long before you hear complaints about lack of support. They grumble that while the sciences have countless sources and billions of dollars pouring into their labs and clinics and field work, the humanities have NEH, a smattering of foundations giving fellowships, a handful of humanities centers on campuses around the country, some post-docs that give a year of salary . . . It’s a scramble to get a course reduction, pay for travel to archives, attend a conference to share recent findings, and just clear a few weeks to do nothing but read and write. The money just isn’t there, they say.

What they forget is that every tenured and tenure-track faculty member at a research university is paid every month out of regular salary and benefits to do the very research they claim is unsupported. At schools that emphasize teaching over research, or don’t count research at all, regular teachers have to manage three or four courses per semester. At schools that require research, the teaching duty drops to two courses per semester. Universities expect professors to fill the hours it takes to run those lost one or two courses precisely to research inquiries.

And they pay them accordingly. The customary formula for the humanities at research institutions is one-third, one-third, one-third. In an average week of 40 hours of labor, professors devote 13+ hours to teaching, 13+ hours to administrative service (committee work, writing letters of recommendation, reviewing job candidates, etc.), and 13+ hours to research. On that model, one-third of a professor’s salary and benefits support research. If a professor makes $60,000 a year in gross salary and another $15,000 in benefits, then the university pays $25,000 a year to subsidize research.

If we translate that into the research product, if that $60K-per-year professor spends four years researching and writing a book on the novel, the university paid $100,000 to see it through. This doesn’t include the cost of producing the book once it leaves the professor’s hands–a press editing, publishing, distributing, and marketing the book, plus academic libraries purchasing the book (library purchases make up around 70 percent of unit sales of books in literary studies).

That amounts to a pretty strong network of support for one branch of humanities scholarship.


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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