Professors Work Harder Than You Do, David C. Levy

stack of booksOne wonders if David C. Levy came by his ignorance naturally, or whether it’s a state of mind that he has cultivated carefully over the years.  His piece in the Washington Post is so poorly informed that I suspect ignorance may simply be something with which nature has endowed him.  He claims that “Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000,” that faculty don’t work in the summers (according to him, we work only “the 30-week academic year, which leaves almost 22 weeks for vacation or additional employment”), and bases his ideas for expanding our workloads on the notion that we work roughly 40 hours a week.

All of these claims are false.  I recognize that this is an opinion piece, but shouldn’t the Washington Post provide some basic fact-checking?

1) Faculty salaries vary widely by discipline.  I don’t doubt that a senior faculty member in Business may earn between $80,000 to $150,000.  That’s very very rare for those of us in the Humanities.  I am a senior faculty member (tenured, full professor) in English at a state university, and that’s more than I make.

2) Faculty do work in the summers.  Some teach to supplement their income.  All of us devote some of that time to research and writing.  There are three components to the job: teaching (which includes grading, planning classes, teaching classes, meeting with students, writing recommendations, etc.), research (researching, writing and publishing articles and books), and service (serving on committees both within and beyond the university, reviewing manuscripts for presses and journals, leading programs/departments/professional organizations, etc.).  Some aspects of teaching (grading, class prep) begin and end with the school year – unless you teach summer courses.  But other aspects do not: designing new courses, revising the syllabus for a future term, reading new books so that you can improve the syllabus.  Still, it’s not unreasonable to assume that (unless a faculty member teaches in the summer) we’re doing less teaching work in the summer.

But research and service happen all year.  I do not stop reviewing manuscripts in the summer months, nor do I stop serving on committees for professional organizations.  I do not abandon my research.  Indeed, the summer months grant me precious time to work on books and articles – I’d be a fool if I didn’t take advantage of that.  At some point I need to do a version of “What Do Professors Do All Week?” for the summer months.  I guarantee you that, even during the months I am not paid (because I elect not to teach in the summer, Kansas State University does not pay me during the summer), I am working at least 40-hour weeks.  I would be willing to make this claim for my fellow faculty members, too.  YES, we do take holidays, when we can.  However, for me, at least, often those holidays are a day or two tacked on to the beginning or end of a trip to an academic conference.

3) We work far more than 40-hour weeks. During the school year, I typically work 60-hour weeks.  Indeed, I documented this fact in my “What Do Professors Do All Week?” series last spring, chronicling specifically how I spent each day of the week: Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

I’d write more about this subject, but I’m afraid I don’t have any more time right now.  And Mr. Levy, a word of advice: next time, write about what you know.

More posts on academia from Nine Kinds of Pie (this blog):


  1. Reply

    I have been at my institution since 1990, and have been a full professor since 2000. Last year at my post-tenure review, I was rated “exceeds expectations” (the highest rating) and this year I was rated as exceeding expectations on my annual evaluation. My annual salary exclusive of summer pay was $67.900 in 2008. That remains my annual salary this year and promises to be my annual salary next year, as faculty salaries are once again frozen. The employee cost for health insurance continue to rise. Employer contributions to my TIAA-CREF retirement account has declined percentage-wise. Our faculty senate just reported that for every two full-time faculty members hired in the period we have not gotten raises, one administrator/ managerial type has been hired. Faculty to student ratio has increased, and our classes have increased in size (from 35 to 51 for a single section, and from 80 to 125 for a large lecture section that counts for 2 courses in a standard 3 course per semester load. My last sabbatical was in the year 2000, because they were cancelled. (They are coming back but they can only be financed at the expense of increasing our departmental colleague’s teaching load.)

    This is clearly a luscious sinecure!

  2. Michelle Smith


    Great post, Phil, but I’m stuck on the most horrifying point here. You realy don’t get paid over the summer? As in most of the research your produce is not supported by a salary?

  3. Reply

    Thanks, all, for your comments!

    Michelle: one could put it that way, I suppose. The only way we get a raise is via merit, but only if there’s money for a merit raise. There’s been no such money for five years (which, as Richard notes, can be dispiriting when one annually ranks in the highest merit category). We get no cost-of-living raises. So, one might view research as lacking any monetary reward.

    However, as a person who enjoys imaginative literature, I prefer to view it as a 12-month salary that happens to be paid over a 9-month period.

  4. Professor Byrd


    This David C. Levy reminds me a lot of first year undergrads that HAVE TO BE TOLD that teaching at a university consists of more than just arriving in the classroom and lecturing. Lecture prep alone can double or even triple (depending on if you are in the early stages of your career and are constantly teaching new courses) the number of hours spent in the classroom.

    First year undergraduates also rarely have a clue that their professors publish, edit, review and present research throughout the year – and especially during the summer term. When they learn that their professors’ jobs depend on a certain amount of annual academic contribution they are often shocked. They assume that professors are solely there for their benefit. While teaching and supporting students certainly is an important part of the job, from their self-centred perspectives, they cannot fathom work that must be done beyond what they directly witness.

    Yes, David C. Levy reminds me of my seventeen-year-old freshmen.

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  8. Reply

    Thanks for responding to Levy – unfortunately, it was my community college he singled out, but I think it’s important for all of us in higher ed to advocate for ourselves. You might also be interested in my rebuttal of Levy’s editorial at

  9. Reply

    Thanks, Jill! Good response there, too! And important that you respond since it is your college he’s misrepresenting. And thanks to Professor Byrd & to others who have linked here.

    It’s dispiriting that part of our job is defending its utility, but (on the other hand) at least we’re an articulate group!

  10. disgusted


    Most of you are educators defending your positions but –delusional to believe that there are not some rotten apples in your profession?? Sorry, but here goes us…the silly ‘ol (professional other profession) public:
    The Myth of the Lazy College Professor–OBSERVED. I must add a different slant. Recently a new professor at a major Ca. Bay Area University moved into our neighborhood. We would like to have the same work hours that we see. Every other professional in the neighborhood leaves before dawn and comes home after dark while this professor MAYBE works 10 hours week-MAYBE. A tenured professor. Not emeritus status. No tough life there while this person works in the garage, mows the lawn and has a nice day of R & R while normal hardworking people of the world work hard. While students are digging into their pockets for tuition or the professional parents that I work with everyday struggle to come up with tuition money for their kids this fool exemplifies what is really wrong with the picture. Whack down the salaries of waste-of-time professors like this one and maybe all universities would not be in trouble. Sorry—but this is what the neighborhood observes MOST weekdays which does not fare well for professors boasting they have a tough work life as compared to most people these days. No..we don’t sit home with binoculars watching this fool–at 5 am his house is dark while we all head into rush hour traffic.
    The neighborhood gardeners (who get cancelled by their boss in the rain) work harder than this fool. No doubt a tenured six-figured salary in a (waste of time) major he teaches. Try medicine—-or law—-where you have no time to barely breathe during a stressful and hectic day. We come home to watch this illustrious, tenured professor fooling around in the garage or mowing the lawn or using his skill saw in the back yard. We come home–his car is in the driveway. Tough day. Fraud. Dishonesty? Yes!
    Students/parents do NOT deserve to fund a salary for this self-centered fool. What a rip to the educational system.
    Universities begging alumni for money while we watch this waste of a salary. Parents digging into pockets for tuition! Shame on Universities for allowing this. Shame on this university for allowing

  11. Reply

    Ah, so many fallacies in disgusted’s comment. Where to begin? Perhaps with the assumption that one ought to judge all members of a profession by the “rotten apples”? Or should we begin with the assumption that work not observed or done within one’s home is not work? (I was up until 1 am last night reviewing grant applications; I suspect most of my neighbors were asleep at that hour.) Or should we address the fallacy that “public” universities are in fact publicly funded (conveyed in the comment that “Students/parents do not deserve to fund…”), when in fact only a small percentage of these formerly public institutions depends upon taxpayer money? I have to go to a meeting in ten minutes: Perhaps another reader of this blog would like to help enlighten disgusted? Given the number of false assumptions on which disgusted’s argument rests, such a task is of course quite daunting, I know. Any takers out there?

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  17. Ceceilia


    Although I have worked hard as a professor, let’s imagine some that might not. Even if they just show up in the classroom 15 hours a week, for only 3/5 or less of the year, are they really earning less than “executives” in industry? For some reason, this author thinks professors are like low level middle management. Executive VP of Legal at a large company can make over $400k base salary and over $3,000,000 a year in total compensation! So in comparison, the professor is still underpaid.

  18. Matt Jones


    Thank you for writing this. Mr. Levy needs to do his homework before writing such garbage. I If I indeed had a spare moment, I’d turn that tool across my knee and give him forty whacks. Idiot. –Matt Jones, very tired professor

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