Yes, College Professors Can Work Harder

David C. Levy’s Washington Post article, “Do college professors work hard enough?” set off quite the firestorm. His basic point was that we currently “pay for teaching time of nine to fifteen hours per week for 30 weeks,” but that

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…

I’d like to add two thoughts to the ongoing commentary.

First, in spite of criticism he’s received, Levy got the big picture correct. Many of his critics seemed to assume that their own personal experience, which always involved working long hours, shows that Levy was wrong. The problem with arguing from anecdote is that there is always an anecdote showing the opposite. Here’s one from Sherman E. Silverman

[W]hy do I agree with David C. Levy’s opinion…? With my reputation established, in the last few years of my tenure (with the exception of Wednesday afternoons when I conducted my two-hour lab), I was home by 1 p.m. And I wasn’t alone. A number of other faculty members did not work an eight-hour day…

With anecdotes on both sides, it’s best to rely on the data, and the data support Levy. The figure below shows mean teaching loads for tenured and tenure track faculty per term by type of college in 1988 and 2004 (data from DAS).

professors should teach more.png

Teaching loads have fallen across the board. Tenured and
tenure track faculty at comprehensive and liberal arts colleges taught about 1
course less per term in 2004 than in 1988, and faculty at community colleges
taught almost half a course less.

Since higher education somehow managed to function back in
1988, this means that Levy is correct in asserting that teaching loads can be
increased without wrecking higher education, and that doing so would save
money. (Whether they can be increased by as much as he recommends, to 5, is
debatable but not dismissible out of hand.)

This brings up my second point, that the response to Levy
from college professors was inappropriate. To be clear, some faculty managed to
disagree in a respectful and reasoned manner (e.g.
Marybeth Gasman)

But others did not. These are a few of the responses from
tenured faculty that are supposedly trained to think critically, approach
issues with an open mind, and argue with evidence and logic:


wonders if David C. Levy came by his ignorance naturally, or whether it’s a
state of mind that he has cultivated carefully over the years…


allow it’s possible that the man is either a moron, or is ignorant of the basic
structure of the profession. The other (more likely) possibility is that he’s
simply lying…


on speculation and cherry-picked support but taps into ignorance and prejudice…

call Levy’s argument what it is: bullshit.

When they aren’t attacking his intelligence and integrity,
or otherwise using juvenile arguments, the critics raise objections that make
one wonder whether they even read the piece. For instance, the critics like to
point out that many teachers are now low-cost adjuncts. I’m not sure how this
is supposed to counter Levy’s argument that full time professors should teach

The bottom line is that Levy made a reasonable argument that
is supported by the limited data that is available. That he was then subjected
to such vitriol is shameful.

Andrew Gillen is the Senior
Researcher for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a higher
education non-profit dedicated to academic excellence.


2 thoughts on “Yes, College Professors Can Work Harder

  1. I’m pretty intrigued by your ideas on U2.0. I am surprised however, that you seem to have overlooked one group that might be very interested in facilitating the change: the students themselves. I see two arguments why the students role might be marginal or non-existent. First, the students in the aggregate probably won’t get too involved, owing either to apathy, pessimism, or more pressing issues. Second, the real impetus for change in the institution of the western university, it could be argued, comes from the provision of a service (the evolved teaching methods of U2.0), which is in turn perceived on the demand side as a service which is superior to the current pedagogical structure. Since current students have already made their commitment and bought into the status quo, their influence is limited.To the first retort, I would argue that it only requires a small minority of students to bring substantial change. For instance, the living wage campaign at Mary Washington was successful thanks to the efforts of an insignificant number of students, who were in turn tacitly supported by the vast majority of the student body (and, it could be argued, the tacit support of the faculty and administration underlings). The administration agreed to make substantial changes in the face of the pressures exerted by the factions involved (the core of the LWC, the Bullet editorial staff, attention of the local media, and the aforementioned tacit support). I think a campaign with the ambition of producing a more interactive learning atmosphere, especially one led by students, would be so positive in the eyes of every observer, it would be impossible for the administration to refuse to actively pursue such changes. Can you imagine the bad press a school would get for saying “No we won’t allow the students to learn as much as they want to?” To the second retort, I would say what is vital is that the current students create such a group as I described in the previous paragraph. A student bloc (call it a student union, perhaps) that is actively engaged in making substantive changes in the pedagogy gives current students a stake in their education and also provides an additional incentive for prospective students who are interested in an active learning process to apply to this particular school.In sum, I think that an important first step is convincing students with the time, drive, and resources to engage actively in the conversation you discuss in this entry. Additionally, I think that if and when faculty observe this active interest amongst their students, they too will be more interested in joining the conversation and facilitating the necessary changes.

  2. Thank you for referencing my rebuttal of David C. Levy’s editorial. Hopefully your readers will take the time to read my entire response (at rather than only your excerpts, since I do in fact document the inaccuracy of Levy’s claim that faculty at my institution work less than 40 hours a week, and I believe the other blogs you link do so as well. I am disappointed that you would mislead your readers.

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