Tenured & Tenure-Track Profs: Take the Summer Off from Teaching (guest post by Ted Shear)


In the following guest post*, Ted Shear, lecturer in philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, suggests a way that those with secure positions in academia can help out their more vulnerable colleagues during this time of increased economic insecurity.

[sand castle by Calvin Seibert]

How Can Permanent Faculty Help Protect Grad Students and Non-Permanent Faculty from Impending Budget Cuts? Take the Summer off from Teaching¹
by Ted Shear

Departments and Universities across the country are grappling with many deep uncertainties about the future. There is no doubt that decreased enrollment and further cuts in public funding will mean budget shortfalls. But the depth of these cuts and precisely what operational consequences will follow remains murky. This is partly because so many of their determinants are the domain of various administrative bureaucracies and, even with healthy shared governance, they are not readily visible to individual faculty members. I’ve heard many of my professor friends express their concern about how graduate students and non-permanent faculty will be affected. While I do not wish to push the idea that institutional problems should or can be wholly addressed by the choices of lone actors, there are still some things that individual faculty members with permanent positions can do to help avoid making the situation worse for more vulnerable members of their communities. The purpose of this post is to suggest one thing that they can do.

In short, my suggestion is that when you receive the annual e-mail asking whether you would like to teach this Summer, decline.

Don’t misunderstand, I am aware that for those that normally take on these assignments, this will mean a sizable drop in expected pay. This is not a trivial matter. Those who choose to teach in the Summer under normal circumstances often do so for good reasons: perhaps they are the sole breadwinner in the family with their spouse normally taking on caregiving responsibilities for children or other family members; perhaps they are working hard to repay left-over student debt; perhaps they are helping financially support members of their family. These are all personal matters which are well outside the purview of appropriate topics of discussion amongst their colleagues. There are good reasons why permanent faculty take these assignments and I certainly don’t wish to diminish them.

Assistant professors in philosophy make roughly $60,000 a year depending on location or whether their institution is public or private. This may sound like a lot of money to graduate students or those in non-permanent positions, but it’s really not—especially for those with circumstances like those mentioned above. Teaching a short Summer course can mean a considerable boost to this income. At my own institution, CU Boulder, T/TT faculty are subject to the “3/9ths Rule” permitting a maximum of 1/3rd of annual salary to be earned by teaching outside the normal academic year. This means, for example, that a professor making $60,000 stands to earn up to an additional $20,000 for Summer teaching. While a single Summer course doesn’t reach this maximum (I was unable to locate an exact number), that’s a big difference. It would be understandably hard for anyone to pass up such a bump in salary. So, I reiterate that I am not intending to understate the personal sacrifice required by my proposal. While I’m certain that there are permanent faculty members who genuinely cannot afford to give up this extra income, I suspect there are many more who really could make do without it this year. What I am asking is for those of you who can manage to consider the relative harm to your colleagues and students caused by not having the opportunity to teach during the Summer.

Graduate students are being rushed out the door as departments try to reduce their tuition burdens. In at least one case I’m aware of, a student (at another institution) was told by their department only this week that they are expected to finish within the year even though they previously agreed with their adviser that they would wait another year and, as such, had not yet begun preparing their job market materials. This sort of thing is unconscionable under normal circumstances, but it’s even worse in the present circumstances where the job market barely exists. When that student defends their dissertation later this year, it would be tragic if their department were not able to give them work during the Summer because a permanent faculty member chose to teach. There are also many international graduate students who may rely on Summer teaching to maintain their visas—a concern exacerbated by the current administration’s chaotic shifts in their policies regarding international student visas.

The expected declining enrollment will also inevitably harm non-permanent faculty (like myself). Even in the normal academic year, there will be fewer courses left over after permanent faculty have received their teaching assignments. Although we are the least costly members of the faculty to employ (I receive $4,500/course in my position as a Lecturer at CU Boulder), we are also the first to be passed over when there are not enough courses to go around. Indeed, T/TT faculty, graduate students, recent graduate students, and Instructors are all given priority. Along with my fellow Lecturers, I am at the bottom of the barrel and will probably not be able to teach this Summer regardless of whether any permanent faculty opt to teach. I am actually quite proud that the Philosophy Department at CU Boulder (and likewise at my alma mater, UC Davis) supports their recent graduates as they navigate the job market by providing them with teaching. Still, I am sure to face hardship ahead as the true depth of the required budget cuts becomes clear in the coming weeks and I can only hope that I will be able to maintain my normal teaching load during the academic year. Although I am able to support myself without acquiring Summer teaching, the same is likely not true for many in my position. Many would be significantly harmed by a failure to procure a teaching assignment during the Summer.

While reflecting on these issues before I sat down to write this piece, I had considered proposing the introduction of departmental policies that prioritize graduate students and non-permanent faculty in the assignment of Summer teaching. Such policies have merit, particularly in their potential to overcome coordination problems, and deserve discussion, too. But I don’t want a policy debate to distract readers from a choice they can make themselves, now, that can make a difference.

To conclude, I know that nearly everyone’s financial situation will suffer from the economic decline caused by the pandemic and its impact on higher-education. As you think about what steps you might take to mitigate that personal cost, I hope that you will also think of the possible effects of your choices on other, more vulnerable members of your community.

¹ Thanks to Garrett Bredeson, Justin Caouette, Sophie Horowitz, Zak Kopkeien, Michaela McSweeney, Alastair Norcross, Abigail Pastore, Adam Sennet, Matt Shields, Colin Smith, Julia Staffel, and Alex Wolf-Root for their encouragement and feedback on this post.

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Martin Lenz
10 months ago

Great idea!
Not sure how this translates into the way things are organised outside the US, but whatever works.

Another idea (besides reallocating budgets, e.g. for travel) I had is: Why shouldn’t people with permanent positions stop applying for grants to relax the comeptition? Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Martin Lenz
10 months ago

At least in the UK, grant capture is a requirement for promotion. So unless you want to be stuck at 35,000GBP/year, you need to be applying for grants.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
10 months ago

I know, same in the Netherlands. – Following suggestions you’ve made elsewhere, this is something that should be communicated to all relevant stakeholders: So permanent people should bring this up with their deans and colleagues in the funding agencies, like: “Look, if we are short of money, this would be our contribution to amend the situation, IFF you relax the promotion criteria accordingly.” If people deny this out of hand, then they are not acting in good faith I’d take it.Report

Ted Shear
Reply to  Martin Lenz
10 months ago

I love this discussion. With scarce resources and high-stakes for some, we need to think carefully the status-quo ways of doing things and the sorts of harm that might result. If we’re lucky and do a good job as a profession of coordinating, there may be some hope that this chaos can prompt change that pushes back against some of the unfortunate incentive structures we’re subject to. Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Martin Lenz
10 months ago

100% behind this.Report

kristina
kristina
10 months ago

I think this is a great idea. For those of us on the tenure track who make significantly less, maybe we can let our better-paid colleagues take this on. (I’m on the tenure track, but I make around $20k less than the average the author indicates.) For others in similar positions (outside of urban areas; at schools without a significant graduate student and/or adjunct pool; at 2-year schools and/or community colleges), maybe there are other things we can do in the spirit of this post. Report

Ted Shear
Reply to  kristina
10 months ago

Thanks for this! I think this is a super important point to amplify. This is exactly the sort of thing that made me cagey about framing the post around a proposal for departmental policies. That said, as you point out, it sounds like the spirit of the post would be served by encouraging your better-paid colleagues to consider the impact of taking on Summer teaching on their underpaid colleagues.Report

Kathryn Lindeman
Kathryn Lindeman
Reply to  kristina
10 months ago

It’s probably also important to consider that some institutions have serious salary compression issues, so that TT faculty might actually be making considerably more money than many of their tenured colleagues. At many public universities salaries are publicly available, but this isn’t the case at most private universities, and it’s uncommon (in my experience) for people to discuss their salaries with colleagues.

Because of this, it’s probably a good idea for all non-contingent faculty to make these decisions based on whether they are in a position that makes it possible for them to forgo summer salary, rather than their assumptions about whether others are better placed to do so. Report

Gail
Gail
10 months ago

Thank you, Ted, for your critically important writing. As budget shortfalls and enrollment declines become painfully obvious, we must, all of us, discover creative ways to offer safety nets that governments and institutions neglect to provide .
The United States, and much of the world, have been afflicted for years by an appalling deficit of care, especially for the most vulnerable people.

We must summon the moral courage to care in ways that help to prevent people from “falling off a cliff” financially and emotionally. Your proposal is a good beginning.

“Let Love be the last word.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.Report

Ted Shear
Reply to  Gail
10 months ago

Thanks for your words of support! You’re absolutely right that we need to work together and collaborate to think about how we can support each other–especially the most vulnerable among us. Coming up with the sort of creative proposals you mention requires us to be having these conversations in public so that we have diverse perspectives offering input and considerations that may not be so obvious to everyone. I hope that people will use this comment section to brain-storm things that can be done to help each other out.Report

Matt
Matt
10 months ago

Hear, hear! I’ve seen some tenured and tenure-track faculty ask what they can do to help contingent members of their department during this crisis. This is a great suggestion and hopefully a starting point for those permanent faculty looking to get more involved in shaping their institutions’ working conditions.Report

Zak
Zak
10 months ago

I love this idea! Like Matt I have seen tenure and tenure-track faculty asking what they can do to support contingent faculty and graduate students. I think this suggestion is a concrete one that, if adopted, would be very helpful to both adjuncts and grad students!Report

Grad Student4
Grad Student4
10 months ago

Possibly annoying, but I think important, EA-type comment here:

I totally support being charitable, but I do not get how a population of people literally all of whom have college degrees (and plausibly well-paid alternative options in other sectors of the economy, as suggested by Jason Brennan in his ‘get a job at Geico’ argument) is the one to help. Permanent faculty could just donate the summer teaching money to help international populations in need of basic vaccines, or even domestic populations without tertiary education, etc.Report

Ted Shear
Reply to  Grad Student4
10 months ago

To my eye there are two separate issues that may be very useful to pull apart here:
(1) the much larger moral questions related to effective altruism and the allocation of resources, and
(2) what sorts of patches are feasible/likely to help in the near term without excessively burdening the various parties involved.
Attending to (2), as I have in this post, is not to detract from the observation that there is so much wrong with the social institutions at play. But, we’re facing imminent catastrophe for many people (e.g. for grad students who will be forced out the door this year with the veritable guarantee of unemployment). In this context, I think the more important conversation to have involves what tourniquets are available rather than solutions for the deeper problems that put us here. Proposals for what we can do will only be useful in the short-term if they’re likely to convince lots of people quickly. As such, it’s certainly a relevant factor that people are far more likely to help people in their immediate communities and that’s who stands to benefit from widespread adoption of this proposal. Basically, it’s far more likely that a tenured faculty member could be convinced to give up a class to help their graduate student pay the bills than to do the work of teaching and then give up that income to help distant people who may be in much greater need.

In general, I think preoccupation with ideal theory can lead to pretty disastrous inaction. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t spend *any* time considering what is ideal. Rather, in a time of crisis, I think it shouldn’t come at the cost of proposing immediate steps that we are likely to be able to actually implement relatively quickly. Sure, there may be many other things that permanent faculty could do with their Summer teaching money that would be morally better, but there’s next to no chance that we’d actually be able to convince them of that (and get them to actually follow through!) even with concrete proposals like the ones you mention.Report

Ted Shear
10 months ago

Those who are sympathetic and thinking about how they might be able to convince their colleagues should note that it’s typically far more cost efficient to employ grad students and contingent faculty to teach Summer classes than have them taught by tenured faculty! Of course, this is to be lamented. But everyone is scrambling to make budget cuts and this can alleviate other pressures on departmental budgets in the short-term while, in the long-term, we keep fighting for better pay for non-TT faculty.Report

David
David
10 months ago

Dude: we used to have a 1/9 deal, then that went to 10% of 9 month salary, then that got capped at $10,000 maximum. And then that got downgraded to $2,000 per SCH. I’m not teaching next summer because it’s not economically logical anymore. Report

Mark Ondrake
Mark Ondrake
10 months ago

Solution:. Create fewer professors. There’s a surplus of academics, so you need to decrease the supply of phd’s.Report

Jonathan Spelman
Jonathan Spelman
10 months ago

Why not this title: “Tenured Faculty: Take the Summer Off Completely”? If faculty are on 9 month contracts, like they are at my university, it seems like there’s something problematic about them doing any work during the summer.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with Ted’s argument. In fact, I think he’s right. Instead, I’m suggesting that he could (should?) go even further.Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
10 months ago

I want to preface what I say with deep empathy. I struggled quite a bit over the summer (Pandemic didn’t help with employment elsewhere) and am really frustrated with academia’s infastructure in handling of summer employment.

However, I have some concerns with Ted’s suggestion that I’d like to voice. I am also super happy to be wrong about my concern (obviously, becase I’m poor and would love more work). Our undergraduates, at least in the United States, pay a tremendous amount for their undergraduate degrees. The amount due to the university has substantially increased over the last two decades, leaving students with tremendous student loan debts burdens (it’s also very difficult to discharge via bankruptcy). Given the job market and economic cost of living, they too face economic vulnerability and insecurity. Ideally their investment (especially given the economic risks) in to the educational system is just that-and investment. Part of that investment is having access to the top researchers in whatever field or class they are working in as part of networking opportunities. Importantly, they are not paying just to take the class. Otherwise, I see no reason why students shouldn’t just go on YouTube (other than degree requirements that I am concerned is losing value over cost). It’s not that graduate students or junior faculty are not qualified or even talented at teaching these courses. But having easy access to researchers, being able to ask questions that were given subtle and incredibly informative answers, and the networking opportunities to other researchers was tremendously valuable for me.

Again, the economic insecurity and vulnerability of graduate students and junior faculty and lecturers is tremendous. I am not insensitive to these issues. I myself struggled quite a this summer (Pandemic really didn’t make it fun to look for work elsewhere). However, I was also an undergraduate that took on tremendous loans. They wound up being worth it to me though, because I could talk to faculty-especially during the summer-and talk to people with deeply developed intuitions.

I worry that this solution is short sighted. Long term, if we place the most obvious solution here for graduate/lecturer/junior faculty, we ignore a deeper structural issue that would increase the infrastructural desire to increase tuition price for the students while paying out the least they can to their faculty/staff/and graduate students overall. Long term, I worry this devalues an undergraduate degree. Longer term, I worry this in part will dismantle many faculty humanities or social science jobs because schools won’t see the value in keeping expensive faculty around.

Again, happy to be told I’m thinking incorrectly. But I do worry about this. Report