I am a tenured professor of chemistry, currently in my 14th year at a small public regional college. I enjoy teaching and mentoring students. I am underpaid, however, and increasingly feel that my passion for teaching is being exploited by the administrators who make salary decisions. In the past, I have been willing to take on many other less-appealing responsibilities (committee work, hosting visitation weekends for prospective students, endless pointless meetings) to advance the noble causes of higher education.
Given that I am not adequately compensated for my work, is it ethical for me to focus solely on the aspects of my job that I enjoy, like teaching, and to quit doing other onerous tasks? Early in my career, I resented more senior colleagues who were not sufficiently devoted to the institution and who did not volunteer for extra work. Now I am becoming them. Yet I am conflicted about doing less than 100 percent. What do you advise? — Name Withheld
From the Ethicist:
As I’ve observed before, colleges would cease to function if everyone did only what their contracts of employment required. And not just colleges: There’s a reason that “working to rule” — doing only what you’re contractually obliged to — is a potent form of union action. I don’t know how your college determines raises, and so I don’t know how prudent it would be to, as they say, “act your wage.” Could you barter for a better salary by withholding this labor? Or would doing so result in your being denied an otherwise-routine pay increase? These are no doubt questions you have already thought about.
I understand your concern that you would be letting down all those colleagues who aren’t working to rule. Your individual action wouldn’t be part of a collective one, and clearly you think people should do their fair share to sustain institutions from which everyone benefits. (Given that states don’t adequately fund colleges like yours, I would guess that your colleagues are themselves mostly underpaid.) But you deserve to be fairly treated, too. And at least you’re fully engaged with the most important part of your job: teaching and mentoring your students. You won’t be letting them down.
The previous column’s question was from a gay man wondering whether to cut ties with his fundamentalist Christian parents. For most of his life, his parents had rejected him because of his sexuality, but in recent years they had changed their behavior, even expressing their love for his husband. Then the letter writer’s mother and husband had a dispute. He wrote: “What began as civil correspondence escalated and ended with my mother telling my husband he would never be her son-in-law. My parents made it clear that, in their eyes, our marriage was illegitimate. … Do I have any obligations to make further attempts to bridge this yawning gap?”
In his response, the Ethicist noted: “I’m so sorry to hear about what you’ve had to endure. Whatever duties we have to our parents, they don’t require us to do all the work of reconciliation … And yet there’s something to be said for the implicit bargain that you previously reached — settling for love and esteem and not insisting that your parents ‘come into the light.’ I’m not convinced that the authentic connection you talk about requires that your parents fully accept marriage equality, any more than it requires you to accept your parents’ views about purity and holiness. Often maintaining a certain distance from our kinfolk can help keep us together.” (Reread the full question and answer here.)
The well-being of the writer’s husband is given short shrift in the response. The writer’s family are bigots and behave accordingly. Though it’s his choice whether to have contact with his family, whether or not to subject his husband to expressions of disrespect and hate seems like the primary issue here. — Angela
“Often maintaining a certain distance from our kinfolk can help keep us together.” This statement by the Ethicist rings so true for me that it made me cry when I read it. It’s really a lovely way to frame a complicated correction in family relations. Thank you. — Leslie
I think the Ethicist missed the mark on this one, giving way too much leeway to the writer’s parents. They have demanded that their son tolerate their intolerance in return for a lukewarm, conditional form of “acceptance.” Religion is no excuse for their behavior, and if they can only love someone who accepts their definition of “sin,” then they have closed their hearts and minds to the possibility of a positive relationship with their son. — Marie
The answer to the gay man whose parents refuse to recognize his marriage gets lost in the specifics. A simple question can have a simple answer; the answer to “Am I ethically obligated to repair a relationship with family members who reject me?” is a simple “No.” — Andrew
The circumstances described in the question seemed eerily similar to mine, although I came from a strong Catholic family. When I came out to my parents at age 35, they cut contact with me for seven years. Eventually a relationship “with distance,” as the Ethicist suggests, developed. I am now 70 and my parents passed away a decade ago. I am profoundly grateful I had that relationship until their deaths and urge the letter writer to seek ways not to close the door on that possibility. — Arthur
The post I’m an Underpaid Professor. Can I Do the Bare Minimum? appeared first on New York Times.