Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What faculty spend their time on

A popular complaint by faculty is that they do not have enough time for research and spend too much time on teaching and administrativa. A common complaint of the general public is that faculty do not spend enough time teaching. While it is difficult to say what the optimal time allocations are, one can study what they currently are.

Albert Link, Christopher Swann and Barry Bozeman do this for science and engineering faculty using a survey a US research universities. The survey has a drawback that it uses recall, asking how much time the surveyed faculty member spent on various tasks over a typical week of the last term. There is plenty of evidence that such questions elicit inaccurate and, especially, biased responses, which is why I will not report on the number of hours.

Rather, I want to discuss on how the time allocation evolves over an academic career. First, the number of hours per week is remarkably stable over a career. The allocation varies significantly, though. Take teaching (including preparation time and student advising), which starts very high for the two first years. Given that new faculty typically have a lower teaching load, it is surprising to see how it still does not compensate for the additional prepping for new classes. Teaching time then steadily declines, presumably because prepping time decreases with experience, but then increases for associate professors who where not promoted to full professors. As they did not make it to higher level in terms of research, they are presumably asked to take more teaching responsibilities. Or they lie about the time spend on prepping. Or they are simply less efficient.

For time devoted to research, again there is a peak in the two first years, then an almost steady decline for those staying on as associate professors. Full professors, however, maintain research time steady from the point of promotion. Grant writing time, important in the sciences and engineering, does not fluctuate much over the career. However, time dedicated to "service" (committees, consulting) increases steadily, without much difference between titles. Other remarkable findings: non-tenured faculty works 2.5 more hours a week, women 1.2 more.

Would these results pertain to Economics faculty? I can only relate to my anecdotal evidence (and that of a few others I called about this). It seems that the research hours actually decline over their career. They get plenty of opportunities in consulting, especially for full professors, or they just stop doing research, especially long-term associate professors. For the latter, I have not noticed any additional time devoted to teaching, so I conclude their total hours must be declining. Readers may correct me if my observations are truly anecdotal.

PS: Thanks to the Geary Behaviour Centre blog for alerting me about this article.

1 comment:

Vilfredo said...

Many universities are currently facing severe budget issues. While they may have resisted so far to increase the teaching load of "long-term" associate professors that are not productive in research, they will certainly consider now increasing it. The results of this study will be stronger in the future.