The Happy Academic wants to ask Horowitz: how can I get in on that easy life?

I think a lot of folks have stumbled across my blog lately as the result of a “Ward Churchill Blog” Google search because I had a few posts earlier this month about that mess. Fair enough. I still don’t think Churchill ought to be fired over his infamous 9/11 essay, but the more I learn about him, the less crazy I am about “defending” Churchill. It’s like that bad feeling you get about defending the Klu Klux Klan’s right to march or Eminem to be Eminem: it seems to me that if you want to protect free speech, you’ve got to defend bad speech, too. This seems especially true in academia.

Anyway, that’s not really why I decided to write tonight. At least not entirely.

Churchill is still in the news in some interesting ways, including a deal where CU would offer him early retirement, and all this stuff about whether or not he is or isn’t Native American. But the piece that really caught my attention was the article “Faculty feels ‘beaten up'” in the Boulder, CO newspaper The Daily Camera (which, by the way, has one of the most annoying free registration procedures I’ve ever come across).

Basically, the article is about how the Churchill matter has been an enormous distraction for faculty at the University of Colorado, dragging folks into the mess who want nothing to do with this and to just get on with their teaching and scholarship and lives. And this is coming on top of budget problems, some other questionable administration decisions, and a bunch of controversy with the football team. I feel your pain, CU folk.

And just to add to it all, CU faculty had to deal with a “special speaker” earlier this month:

Nationally known conservative author David Horowitz told a crowd at CU that university professors work six to nine hours a week, eight months a year for $150,000. Horowitz’s comments came earlier this month, after Churchill’s essay comparing victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks to a Nazi bureaucrat ignited a political firestorm.


Well, I am indeed a Happy Academic, but I’m not that happy of an academic. Shockingly, I make considerably less than $150,000 a year, and I spend more than six to nine hours a week just answering emails from students, colleagues, and administrators. I’m only in the classroom teaching about nine hours a week, but, as anyone who has ever taught at any level can tell you, most of the work of teaching is “behind the scenes:” reading, research, planning, grading, etc. It varies from week to week and from semester to semester, but I easily spend an average of fifteen or twenty hours every week out of the classroom getting ready for those nine hours in it. Plus there’s office hours and meeting with graduate students, both of which are more or less “teaching” activities.

Plus there’s scholarly work, which is part of the job description for a university professor, especially one at a place like the University of Colorado. Giving presentations, writing articles, writing books, and doing other kinds of scholarly activities are things that most happy academics (especially those at “fancier” schools) want to do, but it’s a hell of a lot of work.

And plus there is a surprising amount of work that almost all college professors have to do that has nothing to do with either teaching or scholarship. This tends to be called “service,” and I suppose it is. But really, it’s more like “administration” in just making things within the institution… well, work.

Horowitz’s characterization of the money and the workload of a college professor is of course incredibly wrong. But I suspect his characterization jives with the perceptions most folks in the general public have on the work of a college professor, and perhaps that is really the source of all this outrage against Churchill. Not only does Churchill get paid an outrageous amount of money from tax dollars to say incredibly stupid things; he doesn’t even really work! The Daily Camera article just fuels the fire when it reports “Churchill, a tenured professor who has only a master’s degree, earns more than $94,000 a year, teaches five hours a week and charges a $3,500 guest speaking fee. Last year, he spoke at a dozen campuses.”

Anyway, other than a few unusual situations like Churchill’s, I’m not entirely sure where this perception of the highly paid non-working college professor comes from and how its sustained. Part of it is perhaps because college professors tend to work weird hours and in untraditional settings. Everyone I know in academia does most of their work away from their university office (at home, in coffee shops, etc.). Another part of it (maybe the main part of it?) is that most people in higher education are pretty happy, even the ones who complain once in a while. Academics really seem to enjoy their jobs, so it doesn’t even really seem like they are working at all, at least not working in the way that far too many people in this country “work.” Like what you see in the movie Office Space or something.

Anyway, I think the academic job I have is pretty typical and it’s a far cry from 9 hours a week at $150K/year. But I’d really like to know how I can cash in on one of these gigs Horowitz is talking about. Call me, David.

Oh, and judging by this web site, I think Horowitz does okay paycheck-wise too.

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