“What do professors do, anyway?”

I guess this is in the theme of professors being paid too much for doing too little:  from HuffPo a few days ago comes “What Do Professors Do, Anyway?” by Susan Herbst, who is the President to the University of Connecticut.  It’s a response by a widely condemned op-ed piece by David Levy in the Washington Post where he claims faculty 9-15 hours a week for 30 weeks a year.  Here’s a long quote from Herbst that I think sums it up pretty well:

So perhaps the best question isn’t, “Do college professors work hard enough?” Instead, it might be, “What do professors do, anyway?”

For professors, actual time spent teaching in the classroom is the tip of the iceberg that follows a great deal of preparation: sifting through mountains of books and articles to pick the texts for students to read; creating detailed course plans; producing voluminous notes and presentations for every class and writing a syllabus, among other things. Professors don’t just stroll into class and say what’s on their mind.

Professors can have 20, 30, 40 to 300 students in a class or lecture and they often require individual attention for myriad reasons: help understanding the course material, to discuss their approach to a paper or why they received a particular grade, among many others. This isn’t confined to the set office hours most faculty hold. The advent of e-mail changed the way many students and faculty interact, so many professors are always on duty in this respect.

Advising students and grading their work takes significant time, as does campus life — oh, the committees. Many professors devote a good deal of their time to various other assignments: search committees to hire colleagues or administrators, tenure review committees, curriculum committees, PhD. committees; and a host of task forces and working groups formed to address all the challenges your average college and university can encounter. This takes countless hours, but must be done and is often beneficial for the institution. They must also engage in professional development on a regular basis, to ensure they are at the forefront of their discipline.

By the way, speaking of university presidents supporting faculty:  a shout-out to EMU President Susan Martin for coming to the retirement party/honoring of four of my colleagues in the English department:  Shelia Most, Jeff Duncan, Russ Larson (who used to be the department head too) and Bob Holkeboer (who has done a ton of different things at EMU, including running the graduate college and starting the honors program).  Martin was the only administrator to make it to the event, and I know all of our retirees appreciated her being there.  And we’re losing about 160 years worth of EMU experience from my department this year too, which is kinda sad.



4 thoughts on ““What do professors do, anyway?”

  1. It was so nice to have President Martin attend our retirement celebration, and she came to the Corner Brewery afterward for our more casual party!


  2. What wonderful group of people! My mother taught in the English Dept. with Sheila during the late 1960s and 1970s. Sheila was recently recognized as having sponsored the most Undergrad Symposium students. Russ and Bob have had such distinguished careers in a variety of roles. And Jeff is such fun, and was involved in so many theater performances. Here’s a piece I wrote on his book on growing up as a rowdy kid in Tulsa, Oklahoma. http://www.emich.edu/focus_emu/011910/duncanbook.html


  3. I once had class with Professor Most, and she is probably one of the most passionate professors I ever had. Beyond that, she’s full of humor and wit. The class was very enjoyable, and insightful.

    I also had class with Professor Duncan. I’ll never forget the time we read a poem or short story about someone that attempted suicide, but then changed their mind. He told us if we wanted to commit suicide, we should jump in front of an oncoming train. As he put it, “There’s no coming back from that”.


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