April 23, 2014

A response to the opinion piece in the Washington Post questioning whether we work hard enough

The following response represents the views of the AAUP executive committee. A special thank you to Tammy Peery (English-G) for her excellent job incorporating the input of the members of this committee and composing this article. We will be editing this to meet the Washington Post publication requirements and submitting a version as a letter to the editor. I would also like to thank the numerous other faculty who have provided well reasoned rebuttals to nearly every point Mr. Levy made in his article. With the authors’ permissions, we will share some of these in the comments section under this posting.

The recent opinion piece written by David C. Levy for the Washington Post makes a number of assertions about the role and cost of community college faculty, targeting our high salaries and low workload as a critical problem in higher education. This position is not accurate and is damaging not only to Montgomery College but to all community colleges. In making his claim, Mr. Levy inflates salary data, misrepresents the workload of faculty, and completely de-values the educational mission of institutions of higher learning.
First, Mr. Levy misrepresents faculty salaries to better support his agenda. He notes, “Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks.” In this instance he presents salary data for only the highest ranking faculty at a community college in one of the highest cost of living jurisdictions in the country, people who all have advanced degrees and an average of 18 years experience at this institution (not counting whatever experience was earned prior to coming here), then is outraged by how high it is. In contrast, the starting salary for some currently advertised full time faculty positions at Montgomery College is $46,521 – $67,971 – a base salary that is significantly less than what Mr. Levy publishes and one that is certainly lower than those requiring comparable degrees to start in the private sector.
Mr. Levy then contends that faculty work significantly fewer hours in their profession than workers in other professions: “they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers,” even going so far as to refer to full time faculty as “sinecures.” This assertion that faculty work only 15 hours per week in the classroom over just 30 weeks is not only inaccurate, it is insulting. First, most faculty members spend significantly more time working outside of the classroom than in it. Grading, preparing for classes, keeping currency within our disciplines and with pedagogical techniques, counseling students, writing letters of recommendation –responsibilities directly related to teaching those 15 classroom hours – are typically an additional 30 hours per week or more, though Mr. Levy inexplicably calls the time it takes to accomplish these tasks “unlikely.” One wonders if Mr. Levy has ever met a community college faculty member, his picture of the teaching workload is so thoroughly inaccurate. His calculations also minimize the other requirements of a full time faculty member’s job. We do key work on curriculum design and governance. We participate in outcomes assessment so that our classroom results are not anecdotal, but measurable. We participate in securing grants and donations to expand opportunities for our students. We mentor new faculty and students. We serve our community, including partnering with community agencies and sitting on county and state committees and commissions. Many of our faculty teach in professional areas where they must not only keep currency in their field, they must also put in professional training hours; therefore, faculty like those in the nursing program are required to do double service in their fields. With Winter and Summer sessions in addition to traditional semesters, they are doing this work year round, not just for 30 weeks. All told, the number of hours community college faculty put into their jobs beyond their 15 hours in the classroom is staggering.
Perhaps the most denigrating portion of Mr. Levy’s article is his assertion that community college faculty don’t contribute to research and his implication that research is the most valuable function of all institutions of higher learning. Certainly, we are not compensated for our research as those at elite universities are; however, many faculty participate in research nonetheless, publishing and contributing to scholarship, while at the same time teaching significantly more students for distinctly lower salaries. Further, that a man who calls himself an “educator” places so little value on actual teaching is stunning. Educating students is a paramount goal of all institutions of higher learning. Making a quality education available to as many people as possible and training the workforce are at least as beneficial to society as contributions made by elite researchers.
Contrary to Mr. Levy’s assertions, community college faculty are the best value in education. We spend countless hours not only teaching in the classroom, but also innovating, planning, learning, and reaching out to our students and communities. We take on these tasks with salary and benefits packages that are often below those of public school teachers, below those of university faculty members, and below those of professionals with similar degrees who are in the private sector. In exchange for these lower salaries and substantial work hours, we provide educational access not just for the best students, but also for students from all levels of academic, economic, professional, and cultural backgrounds. These students, in turn, will make a difference in their communities and society as a whole. These students deserve competent, innovative, engaged faculty who do so much more than spend 15 hours per week in a classroom. Providing students the skills and opportunities to change their lives is our mission and our passion. There is no greater value in education today than that provided by community college faculty.

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