America’s higher-education system is under increased scrutiny largely because of rising tuition costs and ballooning student debt; concerns about liberal indoctrination on college campuses, which are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, have also started to bubble up. People want to know where their tuition and tax money is going—are professors working hard for that money?
This week, academic-Twitter is bickering over the answer to that last question. Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at New York University, kickstarted the debate on Sunday when he wrote, “The average #professor works over 60 hours a week (from one university) and 30% of their time is spent on emails or meetings.”
Van Bavel provided a link to a 2014 Inside Higher Ed article on the research of John Ziker, an anthropologist at Boise State University. In that study, Ziker found that faculty at his university worked 61 hours per week and that senior faculty worked slightly longer hours than junior faculty. In addition to the 30 percent of time spent in meetings and going through email, faculty spent 40 percent of their time on teaching-related tasks.
These Boise State findings were only the first stage of a larger research project; the sample included only 30 faculty members, who self-reported their work hours during the busiest part of the spring semester. Ziker plans to follow up on this research using a new mobile app that he says will allow him to more accurately monitor work patterns among a larger sample size.
Responding to Van Bavel and others as the discussion went viral in the insular world of academic-Twitter, some professors confirmed that they worked 60 hours per week or more, while others said they worked fewer weekly hours, especially when summer hours were included in the overall total. Yehuda Ben-Shahar, a genetics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said, “Academics who say they work over 60 hours a week are dishonest or have very poor time management skills.”
The discussion became heated at times. Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, noted, “Man, academics just freak out when anyone makes a claim about workload.”
Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist at Yale, helped to stir up this week’s viral controversy by agreeing with Van Bavel that academics work long hours and adding, “I tell my graduate students and post-docs that if they’re working 60 hours per week, they’re working less than the full professors, and less than their peers.” His tweet generated over 500 comments. Some faculty took issue with the fact that he was reinforcing his workaholic lifestyle on the next generation of academics. Christakis felt that his graduate students should know the reality of the academic job market.
Robert Gooday, a geologist at Cardiff University in Wales, responded to Christakis, saying, “Fuck me, I must be getting left in the dust! I work (at most) 9.30 - 5 Monday to Friday, and the vast majority of that is spent having tea breaks. And I'm doing alright because, surprisingly, 'hours worked' does not define me as a person. Wanker.”