My Year Away. And Back.

The Joys of Getting Back into Academic Life after a Year-Long Sabbatical.


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Are Professors Lazy?

I’m a professor, so, of course, I’m going to answer this question with an unequivocal  “NO!”

Oh, okay, I’ll acquiesce; yes, some are lazy.  Years ago, at a previous university, I asked a colleague why Professor X wouldn’t retire.  In my mind, he was adding nothing to the school—and he was sucking down a humongous endowed professorship salary.  My colleague’s answer:  “Oh, he has retired.  He just didn’t bother to tell anyone.” I’m sure you can add all sorts of your own stories to the fodder.

Politicians love to pile it on about the cushy jobs we professors enjoy.  They like to point out that, after all, we are only working about nine hours a week.  (Here’s how they calculate the work week: a professor only works during the time she is teaching, typically three hours per class.)  They are apoplectic with the thought that research-extensive universities require even fewer than nine teaching hours.   Lots of people have written about this issue.  Here’s a particularly well-written post from The Accidental Mathematician that you might find helpful.  http://ilaba.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/teaching-load-itemized-part-1/

I’ve read a lot of commentary bemoaning how we lazy professors make the plight of contingent faculty (adjuncts) even worse.   What’s happening with adjuncts is certainly worth discussing, but for this post, I want to bring up a topic that is not discussed as much as it should be.

With the numbers of tenure-track/tenured faculty diminishing on campuses across the country, who will take up the burden of faculty governance and other service obligations?  Here is just a smattering of things that tenure-track faculty do:

1.     Sit on committees.  In the school I lead our committees include curriculum, technology, diversity, policies and procedures, petitions and other ad hoc assignments.  Faculty governance takes time (and tons of meetings) and I am constantly amazed at the professors who do the work happily.  Most of my faculty are on more than one committee at the school level.  Many are on several committees at the university level.

2.     Serve on search committees.  Sure, you get to take the faculty candidate out for a nice dinner, but you also have to slog through untold numbers of application packets, call references, set up meetings.  In our school, over the past six years, we have had searches every year.   This year, for example, we are searching for three new assistant professors.  That means we’re bringing in at least nine candidates.  You do the math.

3.     Review tenure and promotion dossiers for faculty around the country.  Once you get tenure, you, start getting asked to do this and, if you’re any good, it doesn’t stop.  I review several each year and believe me, it takes hours.

4.     Review manuscripts for journals.  Again, this takes hours.  Manuscripts have to be blind reviewed if they are going to be considered quality and to do that, it takes faculty who are willing to help out.

In addition to these service requirements (the above is just a beginning list of all the tasks faculty perform), we spend inordinate amounts of time working on our own research.  We have to think about research, look at previous research, collect data, analyze data, write up the results, submit research, revise research, resubmit research, and then wait (sometimes for more than a year!), before we finally learn the fate of our manuscripts.

A lot of work that professors do takes place “off camera.”  We’re in the library, or in the basement of an archive, or out on the road conducting focus groups, or at home crunching data.  We’re in coffee shops grading mountains of papers, we’re in other cities networking and presenting papers (often on our own dimes), we’re behind closed doors reading books we might use in our classes.

One of the aspects of the academy that I love most is the flexibility the job provides.  But people should not equate flexibility with laziness.  Just because I don’t want to punch in at 9 and punch out at 5 (or 6 or 7 or 8) doesn’t mean I’m lazy.

Of course, not all professors work as hard as they should.  If this happens early in their careers, they might not get tenure.  If it happens post tenure, they might not get promoted.  Some professors don’t care one way or the other.

But, many of them do care.  As I prepare for My Year Away, I want to make sure that I remain a diligent professor.  While I am planning to relax some during my sabbatical (for example, I’m contemplating a one-month road trip from SC to New York to Montreal to Mackinac Island to Spooner, WI, to Chicago to Murray, KY to home), I’m mostly planning to read, think, and write—and prepare for the years ahead.

I’m going to take the time to make the transition from administrator to regular faculty member.  A regular, hard-working, productive faculty member.  Bring it on!