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In the Name of Love
April 9, 2014 7:50 AM   Subscribe

How Professors Use Their Time: The Long, Lonely Job of Homo academicus
Combining workweek and weekend, our faculty subjects spent approximately 40 percent of their time on teaching-related activities, or about 24.5 hours. Interestingly, 24.5 hours per week is almost exactly 60 percent of a 40-hour workweek. So, what is happening? Are faculty shirking their teaching duties, or is workload policy geared for a time and place when success was defined largely by teaching? Research, it seems has to fit in outside normal working hours for our academicans. Only 17 percent of the workweek was focused on research and 27 percent of weekend time. However, it is research, and the external funding and recognition it brings, that makes a university a desirable destination for prospective students, particularly Ph.D. students. Our academicans definitely have an entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to exploit their free time for work.
posted by eviemath (27 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The post title comes from a quote included at the beginning of the results section of the article:
Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

— Miya Tokamitsu, In the Name of Love
posted by eviemath at 7:51 AM on April 9 [9 favorites]


I very much would have liked to have seen this research expanded and the stats broken down to include multiple universities/countries, multiple faculties, multiple types of staff (adjunct, early-year TT, tenured), etc.

As it is, it's the self-reported sample of 30 profs at unstated career levels in unknown faculties at Boise State University. I'm not sure how much it really tells us about the profession, or the divisions within it.
posted by modernnomad at 8:08 AM on April 9 [10 favorites]


I'm sure the author would have like that too. But you know, money.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:11 AM on April 9 [4 favorites]


Milem, Berger and Dey showed that professors are spending less and less time advising and counseling students

I stopped here, I imagine this was going to be the only good news.
posted by biffa at 8:19 AM on April 9


You mean they don't spend all their time sacrificing virgin undergrads to Satan and memorizing the entire works of Marx, while plotting America's destruction with their comrades? Fox News has misled me yet again!
posted by briank at 8:20 AM on April 9


I'm sure the author would have like that too. But you know, money.

Yeah, no doubt. But it's annoying when this gets spun as "how professors use their time", when really it shows nothing so general. It's "how 30 people at Boise said they use their time."
posted by modernnomad at 8:24 AM on April 9 [4 favorites]


If they are like me, most of that 40% is spent administering grants and dealing with endless and interminably complex compliance bureaucracy. And the rest is spent trying hopelessly to keep up with the email deluge.
posted by spitbull at 8:24 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


You mean they don't spend all their time sacrificing virgin undergrads to Satan and memorizing the entire works of Marx, while plotting America's destruction with their comrades? Fox News has misled me yet again!

No, no, no. The stereotype is that they indoctrinate for 10 hours a week and then have the rest of the time for leisure, not to mention the summer vacations and the winter vacations and the research budgets and total job security -- all off the back of the American taxpayer.
posted by shivohum at 8:48 AM on April 9 [6 favorites]


You mean they don't spend all their time sacrificing virgin undergrads to Satan and memorizing the entire works of Marx, while plotting America's destruction with their comrades?

That all goes under "weekend time."

I have sat through quite a few meetings where we talk about "work-life" balance, and it's a little unsettling -- there is a general consensus that faculty, especially new faculty work themselves into exhaustion, but it's also clear that the administration, broadly speaking, has no interest in changing a system that lets them colonize the faculty members' "free time." So the problem is well understood, but the (obvious) solution cannot be contemplated either....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:53 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


My state has a rule that we have to be on campus for at least 30 hours per week, so I can say that I KNOW I spend at least 30 hours a week (ok, maybe 25 if we take out Metafilter) on school things. I also know that I spend about 6 hours every Sunday doing the same. Beyond that, grading and lesson planning is very catch-as-catch-can, so I don't have a precise number there.

Oh, and I spend 0% of my time on research. Ugh.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:21 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]



I very much would have liked to have seen this research expanded and the stats broken down to include multiple universities/countries, multiple faculties, multiple types of staff (adjunct, early-year TT, tenured), etc.

As it is, it's the self-reported sample of 30 profs at unstated career levels in unknown faculties at Boise State University. I'm not sure how much it really tells us about the profession, or the divisions within it.


There are preliminary results from a multi-phase study, which is mentioned in the linked article, but I think comes across a little bit better in this Inside HigherEd piece. From reading both pieces, the ultimate goal of the research appears to be to develop a smartphone app to help faculty track their time. Given this, and the fact that the author is an anthropologist, the case study approach they are taking is entirely appropriate.

In addition, the comments on Inside HigherEd are generally reflecting consensus with the preliminary results, and they reflect my experience pretty well, too. I think the exact breakdowns might vary a little among different institution types, but that's not really as important for the kind of work they are ultimately trying to do.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:26 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


I'm not a professor but a lowly researcher, but I know precisely on what I spend my time - in fact, here I am!
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:55 AM on April 9


In the Fall I started tracking my time on one element of my departmental service as an experiment. I gave up in despair when I hit 120 hours sometime in early November. Every year more and more admin gets dumped on departments all in the name of efficiency, even as the number of tenured/tenured track people drops, radically cutting the pool you can tap for service. At some point the entire system is untenable, even with people who are willing to work 80 hours a week during term. And those people will be the 'lucky' ones as they will be the ones with tenure or in increasingly rare tenure track position.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:50 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


As refracted through Metafilter, being a professor looks like a job designed to take the people most likely to discover stuff and shake things up, and make sure they never have time to do that--somewhat the way an animal handler faced with a particularly persistent and undesirable behavior will train the animal to do it only on cue, and then never give the cue.
posted by jamjam at 11:56 AM on April 9 [14 favorites]


This seems like some sort of land of cockaigne. A fairy land where you can actually get some small ammount of research done during the semester! Tell me more of this magical place you call Boi-see!
posted by Perfectibilist at 12:17 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


We could simply chop off university administration above the department level. Just allow the academic departments that receive the tuition money to subcontract to the non-academic departments, like legal and IT. Yeah, we'd be spending so much more on faculty that finding enough to do the administration work should be no problem.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:49 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Hear hear. There are five totally useless bureaucrats for every overworked faculty member.

They invent work for everyone in order to make themselves important.

To paraphrase Reagan, the scariest words in my universe are "I'm from Research Administration and I'm here to help. Have you completed form 32-B-1809?"
posted by spitbull at 1:59 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Hear hear. There are five totally useless bureaucrats for every overworked faculty member.

Honestly, it's more complicated than this. Just this week, I've spent time in two separate offices, dealing with students who are having problems not entirely of their own making. The administrators in those offices were very helpful in figuring out a plan that will get those students to successfully complete my course. I dealt with two more people trying to sort out a vexing funding issue, making sure that I will actually get reimbursed for a professional trip that is, annoyingly, going to cross the fiscal year end. Several additional people elsewhere on campus are making sure the payment system works and money is transferred. If I have time tomorrow, I am drafting an email to our diversity office to discuss some issues that I hope they can help with. None of this would be possible without those administrators.

Now, I would be happier if the administration was weakened, more faculty were hired, and more faculty did service that took on some of that administrative work. On the other hand, I am not silly enough to see that there would be problems with faculty governance as well.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:38 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


There are five totally useless bureaucrats for every overworked faculty member.

Now make the strongest argument you can for having those admin staff on the payroll.

I'm told academics have critical thinking skills; I'd like to see some. Dazzle me.
posted by jpe at 3:27 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


making sure that I will actually get reimbursed for a professional trip that is, annoyingly, going to cross the fiscal year end.

THIS IS THE WORST!!!!!!




There would totally be problems if we got rid of too many administrators, and I totally appreciate my admin support. But a lot of problems they help me sort out are problems that were caused by . . . more bureaucrats.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:39 PM on April 9


There would totally be problems if we got rid of too many administrators, and I totally appreciate my admin support. But a lot of problems they help me sort out are problems that were caused by . . . more bureaucrats.

True, although some of those bureaucrats are not at the university -- they are at state, federal, and accrediting levels. Now, universities should be accountable -- education is too important for them not to be -- but delivering similar reports to different agencies in different formats increases the bureaucracy without meaningfully increasing the accountability.

(And yes, traveling across the end of the fiscal year is the worst. You think professional societies would avoid it, but you would be wrong. You would also think that bureaucracies would come up with ways to deal with this sensibly, but you would also be wrong. So something simple becomes insane. Or you just don't get reimbursed.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:17 PM on April 9


I thought "30 dudes in Boise" was the n for every bit of social science research ever (barring Zimbardo and that one ... you know, the one with people shocking each other?)!

Well, back to undergrad sacrifice....
posted by allthinky at 5:53 PM on April 9


I have a lot of sympathy for academics, partly because I seriously considered a career in academia, but also because I realize that academic research is important.

That said, a lot of what I see here (amount of time spent on administrative work, reporting requirements, applying for grants) seems really, really common for white-collar professional workers once you get to a certain point in your career, especially in the public/nonprofit sectors. I mean, pretty much everyone I know has to do a lot of work like this that supports the actual program work of their organization or department.
posted by lunasol at 7:04 PM on April 9


That said, a lot of what I see here (amount of time spent on administrative work, reporting requirements, applying for grants) seems really, really common for white-collar professional workers once you get to a certain point in your career, especially in the public/nonprofit sectors. I mean, pretty much everyone I know has to do a lot of work like this that supports the actual program work of their organization or department.

That's true lunasol, but the difference is that it's an acknowledged and rewarded part of your average white collar job, where in academia it's supposed to be just a little thing you do on the side, and generally doesn't get rewarded or factored into promotion and hiring decisions.
posted by eviemath at 8:28 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


a lot of what I see here (amount of time spent on administrative work, reporting requirements, applying for grants) seems really, really common for white-collar professional workers once you get to a certain point in your career, especially in the public/nonprofit sectors.

That's quite true, but eviemath is right on target in saying that all of this very necessary and important work is neither acknowledged nor rewarded.

The article says that this university expected 60% of faculty time to be spent on teaching and the remaining 40% on research and service.

They are right on target with the 60% of full-time equivalent (FTE) spent on teaching but totally underestimate the time these employees need to spend to keep the entire system working in a somewhat functional and healthy way (nearly 90% of FTE). And of course they vastly overestimate the time faculty will have left over to do any kind of research given all the other unstated expectations.

It reminds me a lot of this interesting TED talk about how we have very unrealistic expectations about how charities should spend their time and money, that very much hobble how effective charities can be.

Another similar line of thinking is this article about how nonprofit funders and nonprofits themselves undervalue overhead and investment in the business, and as a result limit their overall effectiveness.

Everyone wants to label overhead as useless bureaucratic waste. But you can't run a university--or on the larger level, the entire academic, teaching, and research system of which universities and colleges are a part--without those who work within the system spending a considerable amount of their time and resources making the system work as well as possible.

Maybe we should try acknowledging this type of work as a valuable contribution rather than trying pretend it doesn't exist at all.
posted by flug at 10:05 AM on April 10 [2 favorites]


making sure that I will actually get reimbursed for a professional trip that is, annoyingly, going to cross the fiscal year end

What alternate universe do you live in? Not possible. Just plain not possible. I don't even try.
posted by Gotanda at 2:31 AM on April 11


And yes, traveling across the end of the fiscal year is the worst. You think professional societies would avoid it, but you would be wrong.

I'm not sure how associations could avoid it given that universities have different fiscal years.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:45 AM on April 11


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