In response to the "Professors need to come down from their Ivory Towers," opinion piece, I recalled this Crampicle Commentary from last week about how professors are judged too narrowly by the public and others who don't understand what, exactly, it is professors do to stay busy.
"Just Because We're not Publishing Doesn't Mean We're Not Working"
By Bruce B. Henderson
The public is on to us. They now know our six to 12 hours in the classroom is for a week, not a day. And we teach for only 30 weeks a year if we can afford to avoid summer work. What was once just a running joke is now a serious question raised in op-eds, spread in viral e-mails, and brought before legislatures.
Everywhere, it seems, unproductive faculty members are blamed for the rising cost of higher education.
The general public does not understand our workloads, and we have not done a good job educating them about what we do. We often haven't made a convincing case even to ourselves. A common academic's response to questions about our work focuses on our time spent in generating new knowledge, usually in the form of publications. Indeed, faculty productivity is often measured by numbers of publications.
But that defense won't stand up to scrutiny for many of us who don't work at research universities. Critics might be surprised by how much some faculty members at regional universities and liberal-arts colleges do write; however, compared with faculty members at major research universities, we typically spend more time with students, teach more courses and more different courses, and provide more direct service to local and regional communities. Yet for many of us, the number of hours we spend teaching and performing service doesn't account for a large proportion of our time.
We have no concise term to describe what we spend much of our time doing. Our colleges are focused on scholarly products that can be peer-reviewed and published, but the reality is that many of us spend much of our time on being scholarly, not on producing scholarship. We are, and should be, consuming the scholarship of others. Consuming scholarship includes preparatory time for teaching but is much broader. We need a name for this ubiquitous activity. I offer "consumatory scholarship."
Effective teachers (and researchers) develop expertise by reading and studying deeply and broadly. Professors take this activity for granted. Our students, our supporters and detractors on boards and in legislatures, and the general public do not.