Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Faculty Happiness

By Richard Vedder

Scott Jaschik has a nice article in INSIDE HIGHER ED that shows that on average professors are more satisfied with their jobs than non-academic workers in the same fields --the overall average satisfaction for professors was 3.58, above the 3.44 for non-academic professionals. The authors of the study, two sociologists, apparently felt rising budgetary pressures and the increased "corporatization" of universities had reduced their relative job appeal --but the evidence does not show that.

And why shouldn't professors be more satisfied? They are reasonably well paid, they have great job security after obtaining tenure, they work when they want to on projects largely of their own choosing, and they can basically ignore their bosses when they want to. They have no worries about downsizing, outsourcing, or other factors that the discipline of the market forces on mere mortals outside of academe.

When people claim that university people are mistreated or poorly paid, they seldom consider the value of all of these fringe benefits along with other traditional ones, such as great retirement and health care plans. I "retired" a few years ago, started teaching part-time instead of full-time --and my paycheck rose significantly. That is common in higher education, but in few other places in the economy. Some Department of Education data, self reported by professors, claims professors typically work 50 or so hours a week. I know some that do (yours truly among them) --but I know more who likely average 35 hours of work a week for maybe 45 weeks a year, a total of less than 1,600 hours --less than most professionals work by a good deal. I know some who work far less than even that --and get away with it. No wonder the faculty tends to be more satisfied --they are insulated from the economic realities of the real world.


right-wing prof said...

Very true. I have a former colleague who hadn't done any reasearch in 10+ years but still only had to teach two courses. His courses were at MWF 11 and 1 with office hour in between. Sp this guy was in the office 3 days a week from 11-2. These were courses he had taught many times before so I doubt there was much preparation. What a life!

capeman said...

What does right-wing prof teach, economics or political science or some such? I'll tell you, it's not like this in the sciences and engineering, not where I work. (I don't claim to have knowledgte of what it's really like in other fields.)

And contra the Doc, surveys show that academic scientists work somewhat longer hours than scientists in industry. I'm not saying there aren't often rewards to go with the longer hours and lower pay -- why else would scientists go into academia? -- but it's not the cakewalk that Doc portrays for his buddies in econ. Maybe these guys live in a different world, but it sure isn't the one I recognize.

right-wing prof said...

I teach mathematics capeman. A standard teaching load at a research university is two courses per semester, which works out to 6-7 hours in the classroom. I generally think of my job as about half research and half teaching, which includes things like office hours, preparation, etc.. If you are tenured and quit doing research you have a pretty easy life, ignoring the scorn you might face from some colleagues. At some schools your teaching load would go up, but at my previous institution this was not the case.

capeman said...

OK, right-wing math prof. It sounds like you worked at a pretty lax place. Where I work, 10 years with no research would get you a pretty full teaching load along with a very lagging salary. We are pretty careful about giving tenure in my department and most people keep doing research if they can. As I said, I am in a science department, not math. (I consider my math buddies to be kindred spirits, but I wish they would try harder to maintain their standards, they have gradually watered down their courses so I have to teach students the math they either never learned or never saw. I don't blame the math people when the students don't learn stuff they've been taught, but I do blame them for not teaching stuff they used to teach in the intro courses.)

What in the hell was wrong with your colleagues and department head in the math department you say you used to be in? Why didn't you stick it to the guy you say was slacking off?

You didn't mention "service". Don't you do any administrative work, campus committees, etc.?

Melissa said...

I must say that this is VERY refreshing; a civil and thoughtful exchange of views.

Thank you RWP and Capeman for starting to make this blog more interesting and informative. I have actually learned something from your comments.

right-wing prof said...


Very interesting that you ask about the colleagues. Actually the chair was very proud that he had resisted the obvious solution of having differential teaching loads for those with less research productivity. He considered this an achievement that he had resisted pressure from the administration by arguing these faculty could contribute in other ways. For some this was true, they made very meaningful contributions. For others not so much.

This professor's salary had suffered somewhat, he was making about the same as the new hires and clearly was never going to be promoted to full. The faculty union made sure that most raises were across the board, very little merit, so it takes many years for one's salary to suffer. In a typical year with a 3% raise the range in the dept. would be from 2.7 to 3.3 after the merit evaluations.

I am no longer at this department, I recently traded up to a much better dept. I think most math depts though, except for perhaps the very elite, have some of these professors who quit doing research a long time ago.

capeman said...

RWP - Sounds like you left for a better department, as you say. I work at a place that is not unionized and I hope it stays that way. In my department, the faculty would actually be more insistent than the administration that the slackers be given more work, or suffer financially. Our pay is much more merit-based than what you described.

Most departments, as you say, will have a certain number of people who have stopped doing research (often against their will, if they can no longer get grant funding, in the sciences). (It happens at the elite places, too.) At a well run place, there won't be too many, and ways will be found to get them to be productive in other ways, or to ease them out if nothing is working.

I realize that I am probably, no, undoubtedly am working at a better place than most, and the way things work around here may not be typical. I, too, "traded up" a long time ago, and there has been a big difference.

this charming man said...

sorry, but exceptions do not prove the rule. a minority of college faculty are shielded from economic reality - those people are full profs at well-resourced private institutions.

for the great many, that is, community college profs, comprehensive pubic profs, untenured profs's lots of work and diminishing resources, field notwithstanding. then there's the examples already posted, about science/tech profs who keep labs running because they want to still work.

it's sad that this kind of broad-brush faculty-bashing has become your stock-and-trade, because it obscures the fact that you do have some interesting things to say now and then.