It is lovely when elite academics speak for all academics, isn't it?
Today in the Chronicle's blog section, Mark Bauerlein writes about the idea (quoted from a Wall Street Journal piece) that academics work 60+ hours a week. Titling his post "Stop Pushing Yourself," Bauerlein questions whether the 60+ hour work week is remotely necessary, or if it's just something academics do to themselves.
Can this be true, 60+ hours?
Maybe for some segments, such as teachers with a 4-4 load that includes heavy writing assignments on the syllabus. And maybe for assistant professors struggling to get the book finished before tenure time, or researchers in the sciences working on a timetable because of funding.
But if we look at tenured professors in the humanities and in many other disciplines, it seems to me that much of the work they do is entirely self-generated. The conference papers that have to be written, the scholarly articles they want to complete, the book projects that hang over them . . . these are not required. They are elective. Yes, they can enhance a career, extend a CV, or even contribute to the historical record—sometimes. But the fact is that the degree to which the vast majority of conference papers and articles in the humanities effectively change the working conditions of professors doesn’t come close to justifying the number of hours they spend on the projects. These projects fill their afternoons and evenings, and in my experience inside academia and out I have never heard any groups speak as loudly about how “busy” they are as professors do. Plainly, the situation makes many of them unhappy. So why do they do it? Is it really worth sweating all those months getting that manuscript in order—which upon publication will sell only a few hundred copies—just to boost your annual raise a few hundred dollars?
Now, Bauerlein may not have meant to do this, but it reads to me as though he's throwing everyone who doesn't work at an R1 on a 2-2 load under the bus. It doesn't sound like he's saying, "The 60+ hour work week may be true for many, but there is a small group of faculty who, if they work that much, are creating that work for themselves." It sounds like he's saying, "There may be some people who have to work that much. But most of us only do so because we choose." I think there's a big difference in these two statements.
I'd also question his use of the word "elective." Publishing is elective, huh? That's news to me, when from every other corner you hear complaints about "deadwood" faculty who don't do what they're supposed to, which is often described as teaching well, but is also clearly understood as doing research and publishing it. How many of you know tenured faculty who have not published a page since they got tenure (at institutions with research expectations, that is)? And how many of them are celebrated for that? How many of them are considered to have flourishing careers?
I have more to say, but the first comment over at the Chronicle, by Julie Brannon, says pretty much everything I'd want to say, so I'll just quote her:
It might be useful to remember that many, many professors work at smaller schools with a heavy service requirement in addition to 4-4 teaching loads and scholarship requirements for advancement in their careers. It seems to me that a disproportionate number of those faculty are in the kind of programs where they are teaching lower division courses for the majority of their teaching loads, and that they get to teach maybe one or two upper division courses in their fields per year. In addition, the heavy service requirements generate their own intrusions into the time needed for grading during the day, and therefore much of our work is taken home to be done well into the night. Couple that with the need to participate even minimally in the kind of “self generated” work Bauerlain describes in order to be considered for that “few hundred dollars” (which is a substantial issue if one isn’t pulling in the big bucks offered to professors at larger institutions), and we get an overworked and undervalued professoriate. I won’t even include family demands outside of the job that many (primarily female) professors juggle. So that 60+ workweek seems about right to me. In discussions about the workload of professors, it appears that too many hasty generalizations are made on both sides of the issue, and that any kind of meaningful dialogue would include consideration for those thousands of us who work at smaller institutions with radically different expectations for faculty than the 2-2 fantasy life Bauerlain describes.