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by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One of my favorite websites to visit is Rate Your Students. The posts usually deal with the joy of teaching undergraduates and the vagaries of academic life.

Two recent posts recently caught my interest. The first referenced a post by Dick Morris where he writes:

If colleges required their faculty to work harder (approximating the work week the rest of us find normal), held down administrative spending, and reined in borrowing for capital improvements, that these institutions could charge half of what they now do in tuition and fees. That’s right…half!

In noting that York charges about $21,000 for tuition, board and other fees, Mr. Morris argues:

College costs are as high as they are because the institutions coddle their faculty letting them off with work weeks that we would find laughable while they increase their administrative costs and debt out of all proportion to reality.

It would be one thing if students and their parents had to scrimp and save and borrow and compromise to pay the necessary costs of college. But the plain fact is that they are doing so in order to let faculty members teach five classes a year, spending only 18-20 hours in the classroom per week!

Similarly, Margaret Wente, in The Globe and Mail:

“My colleagues do everything they can to get out of teaching,” says Rod Clifton, who works in the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba. “They'd rather not have the students around, because they'd rather do research and stand around and sip sherry.”

Canadian universities now have about 800,000 undergraduates. But as enrolment soared, teaching loads – with the help of strong faculty unions – went down. In Mr. Clifton's department, for example, the teaching load is six hours a week for one semester of 13 weeks, and nine hours a week for another 13 weeks. That adds up to 195 hours spread over just 26 weeks a year – less, if someone has administrative duties. Of course there's prep time and marking and so on. But it's still not much.

What exactly are people's perceptions of the work life of a professor? Would anyone argue that Jon Stewart works only 2 hours a week as he only appears a half-hour a day, Monday through Thursday, on the Daily Show? What do you think a professor actually does with his or her time?