Is Toilet Paper More Valuable Than Professor Research?

Last Updated Jun 27, 2011 2:27 PM EDT

Should professors work as hard as lawyers, physicians, accountants and other highly educated professionals?

Evidence from workload data from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that the professorial ranks include many loafers.

After analyzing the preliminary numbers, The Center for College Productivity and Affordability, a higher-ed think tank, argued that if professors were made to work as hard as many other Americans, college costs could shrink dramatically. In fact, according to the center's calculations, tuition at the University of Texas could be slashed by 50% if the 80% of professors with the lightest teaching loads had to teach a mere 150 to 160 students a year. That doesn't sound too tough.

What's More Valuable Research or Charmin?

Apologists for professors counter that academics need copious amounts of free time to conduct research. At universities, there is a widespread belief that research is far more valuable than teaching Biology 101 to a lecture hall stuffed with hundreds of freshmen.

This is actually the mindset of academia. Professors are evaluated by what kind of research grants they get and how many research papers they can crank out. Research leads to tenure. In contrast, teaching undergrads, much less being an excellent teacher, doesn't get professors anywhere. In this sort of environment, professors spend more time avoiding undergrads than teaching them.

Disposable Research?

Much of this hallowed research, however, is less essential than the toilet paper in your own bathroom. All of us use toilet paper everyday, but very few people ever read, much less benefit from the busy-work research that many professors are generating.

The Ivory Tower is drowning in research papers that nobody needs. You can learn more about this sad phenomenon by reading this article written by leading academics in The Chronicle of Higher Education: We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low-Quality Research. And here's another one that focuses on academia's shortsighted worship of research: Diminishing Returns in Humanities Research.

Would research, whether it's mediocre or brilliant, be threatened if profs had to spend time in classrooms? Hardly. According to the Center for College Productivity and Affordability's report, 99.8% of the research grant money at the University of Texas was brought in by a mere 20% of the faculty.

Are you wondering, as I am, what professors, who aren't doing much research or teaching, are doing with their time after they've finished the daily New York Times' puzzle?

Profs Should Work Like the Rest of Us

Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University and an author of the center's report, suggests that professors should start working like many other professionals and put in at least eight-hours days with three-week vacations.

"Most faculty offices are empty most of the time," Vedder observes, "but especially on Friday, summer months, etc. Why not ask faculty to work in a manner like the rest of the population?"

Millions of families, who are working long hours to pay the high cost of college, would like to know the answer.

Read More on CBS MoneyWatch:

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Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
Professor research image by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget. CC 2.0.