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What Are the Downsides of Being a Professor?

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This question originally appeared on Quora.

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By Ian T. Durham, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Physics at Saint Anselm College

I've been a full-time professor for 11 years now (four years as a department chair and program director).  I teach at a liberal arts college and so in addition to teaching, I am expected to publish, present at conferences, and bring in grant money (though not to the extent that people at research universities are expected to).  In addition, I am expected to serve on committees and support the school in a variety of endeavors (e.g. giving a presentation to accepted high school seniors who come to visit the college).  None of this bothers me all that much.  I am of the belief, incidentally, that teaching and research should feed each other.  Teaching helps you hone your knowledge in a given area and research helps keep your teaching fresh.

Here's what bothers me (and note that I am not one of these people that wants to see a return to the 1950s -- I do think there is room for reform on the part of the faculty):
  1. The increasing marginalization of the faculty by bloated (and yet still growing!) administrations.  Incidentally, this is why college costs so much.  My college, which is average (but could be better), is populated by what Ben Ginsberg at Johns Hopkins has called "deanlets" (these are people who have "Dean" attached to their names for sometimes mysterious reasons).  In addition, there has been a huge increase in the amount of paperwork we have to do, largely in the name of "accountability."  But the accountability seems to be aimed only at the faculty.  Meanwhile, inept administrators can seemingly do whatever they like without any consequences.  In addition, people with nary a clue as to how a classroom can be effectively run are telling us we're doing it all wrong.

  2. The increased amount of pandering to parents and students (this is, perhaps, related to 1. in many ways).  There's a lot of pressure to do whatever students and parents want ("Johnny deserves an A for showing up to class" regardless of whether or not Johnny did anything else).  This has become frustrating for a number of reasons.  In my field, I simply do not feel comfortable (and thus flat-out refuse) handing out grades without merit -- I teach physics and engineering and, as ridiculous as it sounds, people's lives depend on the stuff I teach my students.  In addition, at the college level, there are laws that prevent me from discussing certain matters with parents since their kids are legal adults, but the parents make a stink nevertheless.

  3. The short-sightedness of some of my fellow faculty.  Rather than unite in some way to fight the administration, they're more interested in short-term gain for themselves than doing what might be best for the profession in the long-run. 

  4. The short-sightedness of people in general these days.  Everyone wants a tailor-made education these days with as little beyond requirements as possible.  I firmly believe in the concept of a broad, liberal education (and note that I went to a huge state university but still was expected to take a diverse range of classes).  I believe it helps train people for being engaged and active citizens of a democracy.  This used to be highly valued, particularly in the US where the concept of a "liberal arts college" was born (to this day, most other countries do not have such institutions).

  5. Don't believe the hype spouted by the likes of Joe Biden: professors do not make a lot of money.  The top-tier ones do, but they are a small minority.  Most of us scrape by and have to work other jobs (consulting is popular in my field) in order to make ends meet.
So, that's what I see are the drawbacks to being a professor.  I love my job, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to do it well -- or even to do it at all (paperwork and meetings have started to eat into my preparation and grading time).More questions on college & university faculty: