Musings about academe in haphazard fashion.
So, a day before grades were due my blood pressure went over 170/90 and I couldn’t get my pulse under 98bpm. Not good, huh?!? It’s four days later and I am down to 124/88 and 85bpm. Conclusion? My job is hazardous to my health and either I’m going to give myself a heart attack, I need to be a Valium poster child, or something’s gotta give. Hmmm, not the usual start to one of my posts, but it’s something for me to think about, to share with others who may have the same issues, to inform other colleagues who are superhuman and the occasional representative of administration who might be unaware, and to enlighten some students who may not even consider that their professors are human.
While a Ph.D. candidate at Texas Christian University some 10 years ago, I took a required course called “Teaching as an Academic Profession.” The professor was excellent, truly, and I learned so much from that class. We had hands on instruction on the creation of syllabi, letter writing to solicit book reviews, and even mock lectures on topics other than our own field in front of our peers to see what it was like in front of the classroom. I’ll never forget my dismay at being handed the topic of 1960’s Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., given that all my background had been in Latin American History, Geography, and U.S. Native American studies and Foreign Relations. I thought I would throw up before the lecture, sat in the student bathroom for quite a while prior to my turn, thought I nailed it when it was my time, until it turned out my Arkansas-born Professor could not understand some of my Boston accent. As I waited for him to applaud my awesomeness, his first response was, “What was that you kept saying? Idear? Ideal? What?” Anyway, I digress.
What I was not taught at Texas Christian University, though somewhat understandable given that it is primarily a teaching institution, was how to balance the three requirements of most universities and colleges: teaching, service, and research. They did wonderfully with the teaching and the research was certainly hammered into my head by my mentor, Dr. R. Lee Woodward, Jr., but service really was not mentioned.
What I have come to find over the years is that Service is usually deemphasized, but tends to dominate over the arguably more important areas of Teaching the students who are the reason and the funding for the college/university, and over the Research that continues to make a faculty member a viable member of the academic community. Not only are there the day to day administrative tasks of checking email, office mailboxes, missives from Chair/Dean, requests from colleagues, office hours for drop-in questions, but there are also the semesterly service requirements of advising and registration hours, orientation, graduation, department meetings, college-wide faculty meetings, assigned department-level and college-level committee meetings, etc. The multitude of these tasks and more intrude on the required time-consuming tasks of class preparation, teaching, and grading, and sometimes leave no time left for actual research and writing. In fact, sometimes the grading takes a hit as well and students can and do openly complain about professors, like myself, who cannot return assignments in a timely fashion throughout the semester. Then we have to read about the popularity contest votes in the written evaluations and on ratemyprofessors.com online.
I never imagined, in the midst of my Ph.D. program, that I would become primarily a virtual and actual paper pusher and a by-default teacher. My entire preparation from Tulane to TCU had been with the intent of spending part of every year in Central America, researching, and publishing, with the other part in a faculty position that emphasized those strengths. While I have found that I can be thorough and timely with paperwork, to the point where routinely other colleagues ask for my help with missing emails, overdue documents, and the like, I find paperwork, online or otherwise, to be an unnecessary distraction. And, though I have greatly enjoyed teaching in the last twelve years, think I have done a more than adequate job at it, and have had some wonderful experiences as a result of knowing certain of the students who have crossed my path, I left teaching high school to get my Ph.D. so that I would not be doing this exact main purpose of my job. The catch twenty-two of my current position is that to advance to full professor is to have a book published and significant research completed, however I am only allotted 10% of my contractual position to research, yet 80% is to be for Teaching. And, somehow, 10% is only allotted for Service, yet Service is dominating more than 40% of my duties.So what is the solution? The immediate solution is to be more selfish with my time as my health demands. I will be blocking off two hours every other day in Spring semester to do exercise classes at the YMCA. I will no longer be responding to work emails from Friday afternoon to 8:30am when I return to the office. I will no longer be available to students on Facebook IM, maintain separate Facebook pages for my classes, allow students to Skype me, and otherwise allow abuse of my position by students. I will learn to say “No” to administration asking more of me through university service than I can realistically and successfully complete. I will assign less assessments in each of my courses, but make those that remain more comprehensive. I resolve not to slave weekends where I am grading until midnight and getting up at 4am to prepare for the next day’s class. In short, I am learning from past mistakes and will no longer be able to duplicate the lifestyle of my own students and existing on the bare minimum of sleep and in a caffeinated miasma.