We Are Better Off

So what it was like to be a professor of Spanish literature, say, back in the 1920s or 1930s?

For one, teaching loads were higher than they are now. Leading research universities had their famous research superstars teach more than we do right now at most of the teaching institutions with non-existent research requirements. Everybody taught lower-level language courses. In a semester, a professor might teach two advanced literature courses and two Spanish 101 courses. Language courses required more hours per week than they do now. Nobody expected to teach only or mostly in their area of specialization.

I’m starting to think that maybe we are spoiled to bitch about workloads like mine. By “we” I mean myself. Hmm.

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10 thoughts on “We Are Better Off”

  1. Well, secretaries typed for you then and made coffee, and there were no student evaluations, and syllabi were short, and students may have been better prepared, and humanities weren’t as under attack.

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    1. Of course, students were better prepared. College wasn’t for lower classes. Almost none of my students have a parent with a college degree. All of the things you mention except for the secretaries come from a different kind of people being admitted to college.

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      1. From everything I can find, it’s not that more people are now going to ‘college’ it’s that a number of factors have turned college into high school (and high school has largely been bleached of any content so that people who would have previously concluded their education with a high school diploma will have something to do for four years).
        What used to be called ‘college’ is still around but probably restricted to a subset of institutions and departments (or even tracks within departments). I’m sure the percentage of people in real college vs prolonged high school has not grown that much.

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  2. And high school, for that matter, although I guess it was pretty normal by the 20s and 30s to finish HS. But yes, I think the workload has always been about the same except for being less in the heyday of the 60s and 70s, even 80s to some extent. My worked a 40 hour week exactly, 2-2, lots of publications. He didn’t seem to have to deal with all the obstruction we have to struggle through now.

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  3. 20s or 30s? When I was an undergrad at Chicago in the early 70s, ALL of the faculty had undergrad class assignments, Nobel Prizes or not. Saul Bellow, Milton Friedman. I had a classmate who took a course with Bruno Bettleheim and would up as a research assistant with him for a couple of years. I learned stats from a fellow who was also president of the Amer. Statistics Assoc. that year. Now the workloads weren’t comparable to the 20s, I’m sure, but it was a pretty awesome environment.

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  4. I started at Berkeley in 1974. I had freshman history courses from Leon Litwack, Natalie Zemon Davis, and others. Latin with Peter Brown who was a MacArthur fellow. And on, and on. So, yes. BUT they weren’t on 4-4 loads, they had good office and TA support, a good library, etc. And the courses were interesting and imaginative, and were clearly not drudgery to teach.

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