COMMENTARY | “So I heard on the radio that college professors have it easy,” said a woman on our trivia team in the local bar and grill, before the questions began. I rolled my eyes. Over the past few days, I’ve had a number of colleagues email me this article by Forbes Magazine . Others posted angry rants on their Facebook pages. Professors even wrote several sharply worded rebuttals in Forbes .
What could have enraged these otherwise mild-mannered academics? The article doesn’t attack professors, or technically say anything mean about them. But what made professors fume was that Susan Adams said they had the least stressful job of 2013.
Adams cites the long summer break, the long breaks during the school year (including Christmas Break and Spring Break), as well as the need to work only a few hours during the day. Adams claims that there’s little pressure to publish, colleagues are generally collegial, few travel demands outside of a paid non-mandatory conference, and a Bureau of Labor Statistics median salary of $62,000, quite livable for a university town.
So what’s the anger? Some of it is because of some minor details (with grading, the “holiday” begins in June and with earlier “back to school” it ends in mid-August, Christmas Break is never a month). Others are more fundamental, as publish or perish, as well as the demand to present, are emerging even at colleges where teaching the primary focus, like liberal arts schools and region-focused universities. Even those from community colleges are now expected to do non-teaching work. The median figures are skewed, as many earn less than $62,000, while the majority who do live in cities where you can’t buy a house with that salary. A colleague of mine in California earns twice my salary, and has to live in the basement of an older, retired professor to make ends meet.
Another trivia teammate, a prominent attorney and probate judge, used to tease me about the cushy life I had. He then taught an evening class on law, and told me “John, being a college professor is a lot harder than it looks.” He did enjoy the experience, though. Perhaps one should try the job, before assuming it is easy or stress-free.
Adams defends herself by citing CareerCast’s methodology of stress, including “travel, growth potential, competitiveness, physical demands, hazards, environmental conditions, and risk to one’s own life or to others.” And I would agree. We have a lot less stress than firefighters.
But even then, that’s not why professors are really angry. It’s that those in political power will see such headlines, prominently featured in publications and now on the airwaves, and figure out more ways to cut our salaries, and dump more demands on our desk, or lay us off in favor of cheaper but less effective video courses. In other words, we’ll get a lot more stress headed our way.
In her profile, Adams writes, “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.”
Now that sounds like a stress-free job.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.