What do proffies do all day ? Why aren’t they here?

Rate Your Students has a student editorial posted from a University of Wisconsin student in forestry. In it, the writer says:

Well, please allow me to sound off:

I have seen faculty parking lots clear out at 2 p.m., office doors closed and locked for days at a time, and professors who seemingly care more about referring to their useless research and countless petty awards than they do about teaching. Until the impracticality of their knowledge is realized, I will challenge their salaries, seeing as I contribute to them, because some have yet to show me that they have earned them.

Ah, I feel better.

And the comments. Good Lord. Such abuse for everybody, from this writer to universities as “ponzi” scheme.

First, I wonder about how familiar this writer is with salaried labor anyway. Most of us in the salaried world do have to leave our offices during the day–that’s why employers do not bother with time clocks on us, though I am surprised sometimes we don’t have personal monitors attached to our legs by now. Anyway. Lawyers have to go to court, doctors go between hospitals and clinics, engineers, architects, etc go to project sites, etc. Professors are no different from these groups; we don’t have a “teachers’ lounge” for a reason, as a lot of our work–even the ones about teaching–does not take place in an office.

So I can be pretty sure that when my colleague Richard Green, who directs the Lusk Center for Real Estate, leaves the building, he is doing so because he has to go meet with potential donors or the press or consulting with politicos working on housing issues. The same is true of all of my other colleagues in various ilks: we have off-campus meetings and those meetings may be directly related to the mission of the university and for teaching–such as when my colleague Chris Redfearn, the director of the MRED program here, missed a meeting with me recently: he was meeting with the City of Los Angeles to give his MRED students greater learning opportunities. All that stuff takes time, and it’s not all necessarily related to our silly research and petty awards.

Second, if an office is closed or locked for days at a time, it probably means that they have either taken on a visiting role somewhere or they are at a meeting. Again, my colleague Richard Green is an excellent example. He recently spent a month in India: does that do nothing for our students? He’s building up a partnership that, yes, yields research gains to him but also might open international learning opportunities.

Professor work isn’t like other work. Higher education is an industry but it is not like other industries with traditional customer service constraints. When higher education starts to become ostensibly customer oriented, it undermines itself and those customers a lot. Does a program succeed by making 19 year-olds happy at Scantron evaluation time, or does it succeed after they have graduated with much higher human capital than when they came in? Are they better judges of that, or their employers? Some 19 year-olds are capable of recognizing their own gains in human capital and others aren’t: but the labor market, though flawed, is excellent at discriminating who has learned and who hasn’t. And if you think programs and universities don’t pay attention to where they place their grads, you aren’t paying attention.

So he says he pays our salaries. When he graduates, chances are very good that he will work either in an industry that receives substantial taxpayers subsidy (like mine and a lot of others) or a governmental employee outright. That means I’ll pay his salary, a miniscule part, in the same way he pays a small part of mine. I’ll cut him a deal: I’ll let people who are actually qualified to judge his performance as a forester judge his performance if he does the same for me as a professor.