This past weekend, The Washington Post was dumb enough to published an article by the former New School University chancellor David C. Levy titled “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?” It was in their Outlook/Close to Home section. The editors there didn’t do any due diligence to fact check Levy’s biased and grossly incorrect article on a topic in which a high school student could have found accurate facts in five or ten minutes.
This article is incredibly disingenuous, as if university professors are living the lives of the Top 1%, and all without having to work a full-time gig. Most folks in the college teaching profession (somewhere in the 60-70% range) — yours truly included — are part-time professors (known as adjuncts) or are graduate students. The idea that there are legions of tenured faculty members making high-five figure and six-figure incomes and that they represent today’s standard teaching faculty is ridiculous. It’s as absurd as thinking that folks who believe President Obama wasn’t born in the US don’t use this irrationality as a proxy for their racial bias.
The fact is, most of the dwindling tenured faculty who are lucky enough to earn these salaries have two things going for them. One, they teach at places where their job may be teaching, but their career is based on their research and publishing their research. Period. Until those in leadership (like this article’s writer) decide that the publish-or-perish system of granting tenure runs contrary to the mission of the professorship — to be teachers first, in other words — we can count on tenured faculty not spending 40 hours or more per week in their role as teachers.
Two, those most successful faculty often make their own money beyond the classroom. These folks usually draw additional money to their universities through research grants, fellowships and private donations. Some of these highly paid professors have enough panache to draw more students to their universities, a pretty good justification for a higher salary.
Finally, the biggest single reason for the rise in costs at universities isn’t faculty — adjunct or tenured. It’s administration. The size and salaries of administration has grown in concert with the increases in tuition over the past 30 or so years. Some of these costs are justified, as universities have needed more staff to handle recruitment, admission, academic support and services, the need to build a diverse student body and to provide supports to retain students so that they will be successful in college and graduate. But between billion-dollar capital campaigns, the building out of universities to gargantuan proportions, the bringing in of business executives as chief academic officers, university administration really is the largest non-student related cost here.
David C. Levy should know better, and probably does. He obviously has an ax to grind, for whatever reason, against faculty, and picked a completely wrong approach to reducing costs. Levy should ask himself the question, “Did I as a former university president work hard enough on my Washington Post article?,” and then answer the question, “Heck, no!” And as a former university president and chancellor, he should look himself in the mirror, as people like him are most responsible for the high-cost system we have now.