Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is GirlProf in control of her schedule?

Interesting question - am I in control of my schedule? As a professor, I do have the option to schedule certain meetings and tasks; I am also subject to the schedules and availability of others. University and Faculty level committees are usually scheduled far in advance and without consulting every member affected -- so, no control. If a PhD committee needs to meet, the chair needs to coordinate three professor's and the student's schedules - therefore, I have some control, but not unlimited control. My classes are scheduled by others, as are division meetings. So, when I look over my daytimer, I have some discretion over the times not affected by University, Faculty and Division level committees and meetings, centrally scheduled courses, and "found" times for group meetings. In reality, that doesn't leave too many discretionary time slots.

When I do have unscheduled time, I have to schedule my other tasks:
1. Editing an academic journal
2. Writing papers, chapters, articles, my blog
3. Conducting research
4. Writing reference letters, external evaluations, peer reviews
5. Reading scholarly literature
6. Meeting with research team
7. Presenting at conferences
8. Updating my website
9. Responding to email, phone calls, mail
10. Finding and acquiring good sources
11. Planning for teaching
12. Grading student assignments
13. Responding to student work
14. Watering the plants in my office
15. Sharing the odd coffee or lunch with colleagues

Most days it just feels Busy, Busy, Busy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hammer time

Unfortunately, "U Can't Touch This!", isn't heard much around my faculty lately.

So wave your hands in the air
Bust a few moves
Run your fingers through your hair

Our dean just shared the bad budget news via email; not that much of it was a surprise. Cuts to this and increases to that. Cuts to administration, cuts to teaching releases. Double the cost for research-funded course releases and higher teaching workloads.

This is it, for a winner
Dance to this and you're gonna get thinner
Move, slide your rump
Just for a minute let's all do the bump, bump, bump

To be fair, the bad budget news said something like, "maybe, perhaps, I hope, crossed fingers, with the stars in alignment, there will be no increase in course loads", but I think we all know what that really means... If faculty "step up" and volunteer to have their graduate courses chopped, or "step up" to volunteer for the crushing workload courses elsewhere in the faculty, to take one "for the team" -- we will all be just fine. The euphemism is "differentiated workloads".

I think we are all ready to be unsurprised when our teaching loads do, in fact, increase this Fall.

Give me a song or a rhythm
Make 'em sweat, that's what I'm given 'em
Now they know
You talkin' about the Hammer, you talkin' about a show

As I have argued elsewhere, there are going to be unexpected implications for teaching quality, research productivity, and student satisfaction when all of the cut, cut, cuts and increased workloads begin to make their way though the Faculty. If the faculty workload in "good times" is already killing the workhorses, what is it going to be like around here in "uncertain times"?

NOTE: Thanks to Stanley Kirk Burrell (aka MC Hammer) for one of the best dance songs ever, "U Can't Touch This" -- I jived with you in high school, and my kids dance to you now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What GirlProf did at work on Two Tuesdays, a Monday and a Wednesday

One Tuesday
9 - 10:30 Meeting, PhD student's supervisory committee
11 - 1:00 Oral exam, PhD student's candidacy
1 - 2:15 Meeting, research group and PhD student
2:30 - 4:30 Meeting, a university steering committee
4:30 - 7:20 Teaching graduate course
Instead of "where is the beef?" you might ask, when do you have lunch? Or take a bio break?
If I got paid by the hour, I would have clocked 10.5 this day (12 hours if you include travel).

Another Tuesday
9 - 11:30 School based research
12:00 - 4:00 Faculty admissions meeting
4:30 - 7:20 Teaching graduate course
Another 10.5 - 12 hour leisurely day for the girlprof, not that I am complaining...

Here is a Moderate Monday earlier in the year:
9 - 11 Post webpages for two courses
11 - 12:00 Meeting, PhD student
12 - 1:00 Meeting, research colleague
1 - 2:00 Meeting, research team
2 - 3:00 Meeting, PhD student
3 - 4:30 Research seminar across campus
Evening shift: Drive children to two different sporting activities, again, Not complaining.

Or a wacky Wednesday:
8 - 10:00 Prepare & submit ethics proposal
10 - 11:00 Meeting, masters thesis student
11 - 12:00 Writing an editorial
12 - 1:30 Meeting, faculty associate dean
2 - 4:30 Research proposal and refine instruments
4:30 - 6 Grab dinner and drive to off-campus meeting
6 - 8:30 Meeting, school board
This was a 12 hour day, plus 1.5 hours of driving.
Not complaining; this is just my life.

Why do I share a few glimpses into my "female faculty member's daytimer"? Public perception of the academic faculty member's workload is usually characterized by "student-faculty contact hours" - so, if I teach 9 hours a week, three courses, what the heck am I complaining about, right?

My goal in offering these glimpses of what surrounds teaching three seminars is to provide context for the claim that an academic career is rarely a 9 - 5 job - perhaps few non-union jobs achieve this mythological ideal. Further, what is left out of my daily description is more important that what is left in. For example, two to three nights a week, and every weekend, my husband and I chauffeur our children to various skating, club and hockey activities. I tend to read and respond to dozens of emails a day in my "free hour" before the kids wake up in the morning (usually from 5:30 - 6:30 am) and after they go to bed at night (post - 9 pm).

In the current "hiring freeze" and uncertain economy, issues to do with faculty workload and organizational stress aren't visible on the radar; however, I argue that workload, organizational stress, and aiming for career / family balance should be key issues that get discussed alongside the important issue of bringing expenses and revenue in line.

Administrators in higher education, like our own President Harvey Weingarten, are concerned about the budget. Higher education leaders who are looking for ways to "trim the fat" tend to direct their gaze at the highest "expense line" -- which happens to be faculty & staff salaries and benefits (85% of budget in some faculties). It seems economically promising to increase class sizes, increase teaching loads, offer fewer courses, slim down academic programs, reduce faculty sabbaticals, offer no course releases and many other attempts to "balance the books".

Each of these "budget" decisions has major implications and a range of potentially unforseen impacts on the quality of student's experiences and for faculty workload and stress. Consider, if we burn out the faculty members who do the research, teach the courses and participate in collegial governance, then what kind of higher education legacy are we going to leave for the next generation, let alone this one? What kind of research will be conducted by faculty who are already working 10 - 12 hours a day in "good times" when they have to work 12 - 14 in "uncertain times"? Any guesses about the quality of undergraduate student experiences, and the attentiveness of graduate supervision if the numbers that each faculty have "contact time" with Double?

I believe Faculties of Education are under a particular kind of stress -- in Alberta, we are currently facing a dire teacher shortage and a greying population of teachers. Yet, the Faculty of Education flies under the radar for plum funding and extra resources. I have talked about the problems with creating an Education McFaculty elsewhere, which is a related issue, but I am worried that our current economic crisis and the top-down decisions that are being made to deal with a shortfall in funding, are going to damage and change the Faculty of Education and the University as we know it.

At the same time that higher education is lurching from this economic crisis to the next, we are beginning to understand that even in good times, EVEN IN GOOD TIMES, the academic life is a tough haul. Graduate students learn first hand about faculty workload and stress levels, and choose to opt out of research intensive careers and reject the academic fast track. So,

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Great book about the jerks at work...

Robert Sutton, author of Work Matters blog, has written a great book about broken organizational cultures and how we might begin to fix them or at least survive them. The book has a provocative title, "The No Asshole Rule", which has garnered as much attention as the content. Mind you, I am the mother of two small boys who enjoy endless giggles and find much amusement in the words "poo" and "fart", so I can understand how some types might pay more attention when a "body opening" word is used in the title of a book.

However, if you can get beyond the title, or if the title is the ONLY reason you picked up the book, the purpose and message of the book is great. "The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't" is well worth a read because Bob Sutton offers some strategies and solutions for building a culture of civility within an organization. One rule is, No Assholes Allowed - Be careful who you hire.

Those who know me are aware that I am a champion of free speech, so one part of the story of this book that I find REALLY interesting is the attempt to censor or silence people who use the word "asshole". You can read about this uproar on Sutton's Work Matters blog: Weird Censorship Part 1 and Part 2.