Another Reason I Hate Bill Bennett

February 26, 2009

I got really mad while watching the news this morning.  Bill Bennett was on — conservative commentator and cultural critic, Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan.  He was talking about Barack Obama’s educational initiatives and the high cost of college education and saying that colleges had to find ways to tighten their belts.  And along this line he made some snide comment about how college professors have have only six hours of work a week — “You hear them talk about six hours of teaching, and you think ‘well that’s a lot’, but you have to remember that’s six hours per week not per day.”  That’s a paraphrasing of his remarks, but it’s certainly close to his exact words.

My wife is a college professor.  She teaches biology, and while she has nine contact hours per week rather than six, I’m sure Bennett would have said that was a paltry amount, too.  And maybe it sounds that way.  It’s not.  Trust me on this.  Those nine contact hours — meaning nine hours of actual teaching time — are the tip of the iceberg.  They don’t take into account all the other work my wife does each week to support those nine hours in the classroom.  Like what?  Well, here’s an incomplete list:  writing lectures, preparing labs, grading papers, grading lab notebooks, writing exams, grading those exams, running an out-of-class research program so that aspiring scientists can get some hands-on training with real science experiments, keeping up with the scholarly literature in her field, writing papers on her research so that she can contribute to that scholarly dialogue, writing grants to fund her research, meeting with colleagues to plan team-taught elements of the curriculum, doing committee work to help keep the university functioning, holding office hours and running review sessions to help students who are having difficulty with material in her classes, meeting with her advisees to help them plot out their college careers, working with her freshman advisees to help them get oriented to their new academic surroundings.  There’s more, but I’m blocking on it, and I think you get the idea.

My wife goes to work at 8:00 in the morning and gets home at around 5:30 every day.  Usually she has another hour or two of work to do in the evenings, just to keep up.  She works as hard as anyone I know.  She works harder than I do.  And I’d bet every cent I have that she works way harder than Bill “Head-Up-His-Ass” Bennett, and for a lot less money.

And you know what else?  She’s not unique in that regard.  College professors make easy targets for social critics, particularly those on the right.  Because they’re intellectuals and our culture doesn’t value intelligence the way it does physical beauty or athletic prowess or any number of other attributes.  Because their jobs are misunderstood — people hear “nine contact hours” and “tenure” and they think college professors have it made.  They don’t.  They train for years and years, at great financial cost and at times under great emotional stress, to get their advanced degrees.  They spend 50 and 60 hours every week trying to give America’s future leaders the best education possible, and they get paid a fraction of what they deserve.

But what pissed me off the most about Bill Bennett’s ad hominem attack on professors is that he knows better.  The guy ran the Education Department.  He has colleagues who are academics.  He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy and spent time at an academic think tank.  He knows exactly how hard college professors work.  But he saw a way to score some cheap political points, and he exploited the opening.  It was cynical and self-serving, cowardly and disingenuous, and it denigrated people who have never done anything to him at all.  Including someone I love.

So if foul language disturbs you stop reading now.  If not…. 

Hey, Bill!  Fuck you!

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2 Responses to “Another Reason I Hate Bill Bennett”

  1. Graham W. Body said

    Aaah,

    Anger.

    I, however, pity Bill.

    You should too.

    Why?

    Because he runs the risk, if not attainment, of personifying the character in the fortune teller scene of “The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao”.

    I saw that when I was a kid, and, still remember the scene!

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