How could a Forbes article that opened with "university professors have a lot less stress than most of us" go so wrong?
Unless [professors] teach summer school, they are off between May and September and they enjoy long breaks during the school year, including a month over Christmas and New Year's and another chunk of time in the spring. Even when school is in session they don't spend too many hours in the classroom. For tenure-track professors, there is some pressure to publish books and articles, but deadlines are few. Working conditions tend to be cozy and civilized and there are minimal travel demands, except perhaps a non-mandatory conference or two. As for compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for professors is $62,000, not a huge amount of money but enough to live on, especially in a university town.
Glossing over the depiction of departmental jockeying for position as "cozy and civilized," the most egregious part of the article is this:
Universities are expected to add 305,700 adjunct and tenure-track professors by 2020, according to the BLS.
There are a few differences between holding an adjunct and a tenure-track position: the American Federation of Teachers reports that as many as three-quarters of college faculty members are "part-time workers on limited term contracts" who can be fired without warning or cause. Adjunct professors are not employed full-time, like tenured professors are, nor are they eligible to be considered for tenure; they receive no health benefits, and are sometimes paid as little as $800 per course.
As you might imagine, plenty of college professors had a few thoughts on the matter. Since they have so much time on their hands, they took to Twitter.
— Phil Baty (@Phil_Baty) January 4, 2013
"I come for the chance to mold brilliant minds, but stay for the constant proposal and manuscript rejection" #realforbesprofessors
— Proflikesubstance (@ProfLikeSubst) January 4, 2013
"As an adjunct professor, I never worry about healthcare - the student health center has free bandaids and condoms." #RealForbesProfessors
— pseudoknot (@pseudoknot) January 4, 2013
— Bill Gleason (@wbgleason) January 5, 2013
"Stress" is a red herring. Core misunderstanding about what labor and human capital goes into making education work. #RealForbesProfessors
— Dan Ryan (@djjr) January 5, 2013
— Karen Zgoda (@karenzgoda) January 5, 2013
My Friday night leisure: revising syllabus's academic misconduct section due to entrepreneurial cheater. #RealForbesProfessors
— Philip Sewell (@other_shoe) January 5, 2013
#RealForbesProfessors have to list % of time using furniture bought with research funding. "The chair will be used 70% for NSF grant work"
— Marissa Mac (@StandardTuber) January 5, 2013
Susan Adams, the post's original author, has since posted a corrective addendum that reads, in part:
Since writing the above piece I have received more than 150 comments, many of them outraged, from professors who say their jobs are terribly stressful. While I characterize their lives as full of unrestricted time, few deadlines and frequent, extended breaks, the commenters insist that most professors work upwards of 60 hours a week preparing lectures, correcting papers and doing research for required publications in journals and books. Most everyone says they never take the summer off, barely get a single day's break for Christmas or New Year's and work almost every night into the wee hours.
Many of the comments are detailed, with time breakdowns laying out exactly how many hours the writers spend doing their jobs. One commenter, Jonathan Reynolds, sent me an itemized list of tasks he'd performed since Dec. 19 which included writing a 12,600-word book chapter and a 1,000-word book review, peer reviewing a manuscript for an editor, reviewing manuscripts for a professional journal and one for Oxford University Press. He also worked on an annotated bibliography and helped a struggling student. I agree that doesn't sound like a relaxing schedule.
You know what does sound like a relaxing schedule?
Since Forbes hired me in 1995 to write a legal column, I've taken advantage of the great freedom the magazine grants its staff, to pursue stories about everything from books to billionaires. I've chased South Africa's first black billionaire through a Cape Town shopping mall while admirers flocked around him, climbed inside the hidden chamber in the home of an antiquarian arms and armor dealer atop San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, and sipped Chateau Latour with one of Picasso's grandsons in the Venice art museum of French tycoon François Pinault.
Individual stress levels may vary, of course, depending on which of Picasso's grandsons one sips with and just how fast one has to run to keep up with that fleeing billionaire.
[Image via AP]