Do professors live the slacker life?

So it appears yet another blowhard has written yet another ill-informed article about the easy-peasy, carefree life of the college professor. (h/t Melissa at Confused at a Higher Level for the link) Go on over and read the article if you’d like, but for those of you who are college professors, you’ve probably heard it all before a zillion times, so maybe you just want to skip it and keep your blood pressure down. (You’re welcome.)

The article contains the obligatory statements—professors only work when they’re in front of the classroom, professors have a month off at Christmas and all summer off, etc. It also contains gems like this:

Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals. Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research.

and (emphasis mine):

An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals.

I could spend another several blog posts unpacking all that is problematic and plain wrong with these statements, but this got me thinking. Most of my friends, family, and neighbors, while they may not understand exactly what I do, at least get that I spend long hours working. And yet I still hear the comments about how nice it will be to have my summer off or, in the case of the parental leave I just had, how nice it was to just spend time with my son. The reality, of course, is that I don’t get summers off, and leaves are not really leaves. So there’s still a lot of mystery behind what professors do all day, and that leads to articles like the one above.

I’m also interested in quantifying just how many hours a week I do spend on my job. I have a general idea, but I’ve never sat down and calculated how many hours a week I work, or where those hours go. How much time do I spend on class prep vs. research vs. student contact hours? How much of a time suck is email? How many night and weekend hours does my family lose to my job? And so on.

So this week, I’ll be accounting the time I spend on my job. Every 15 minutes (when feasible—I won’t do this in the middle of class, obviously), I’ll jot down what I’m doing, and at the end of each day and at the end of the week I’ll tally everything up. And I’ll share what I learn with you. Probably in pretty charts and graphs.

There are a few caveats: This week is the first week of spring term, so you could argue that it’s not a “typical” week, but it will still be busy and somewhat representative. This is also my “light” term, in that I’m only teaching one course, and since I’m coming off of leave my service responsibilities are a bit light (although I did just take on a new service task). I’m also single parenting this week, so my family hours will necessarily be higher and my schedule a bit wonkier. But this exercise should still give the general idea of where my time goes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dust off my tweed jacket*—classes start tomorrow!

* actually, I do own a tweed jacket, but it’s definitely more “ladies who lunch” than “old guard professor”. And it contains pink. And no elbow patches.

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