So I have been thinking about workload issues. Actually, I’ve been thinking about them more than I have been thinking about any other aspect of my job. There are several reasons for this:
1. I have a new contract that, thanks to the toothlessness of my union, means I make less money per paycheck this year than I did last year. This is true despite having earned tenure and having been awarded a raise along with my promotion.*
2. The SUNY system in general – and SUNY Potsdam in particular – are working to increase faculty workloads, without compensation.**
3. The SUNY system in general – and SUNY Potsdam in particular – are increasing their reliance on non-tenure-stream faculty.
There are a few more, but those are sufficient for now, I think. The larger point is, over the past few years, I have become ever more interested in the details of faculty work loads, compensation, and ways we might balance the scales, so to speak. That is to say, it’s pretty disturbing how much money university administrators make compared to faculty. If you want to see, check out this webpage, which lists salaries for all state officials:
But this is not a post for outing how much money administrators make compared to faculty. Mostly, let’s face it, this is because I don’t want to get myself worked up right now.
No, this post is about what I hope to do next semester.
One reason I enjoy working in academia is that so much of our work schedules are – or at least can be – self-directed. I have to be on campus for the times I teach (times that, for the most part, I have some say in determining), as well as office hours (which I set at my discretion). I even have some flexibility when it comes to meeting times. But most importantly, I determine when I work on prep, grading, and research. I can get up early, stay up late, devote weekends, or not, as I see fit (or as makes the most sense for the particular task or project). I wasn’t cut out for a 9-5 job at a desk.
However, this same flexibility and seeming freedom allows for insane job creep. When there are no set working hours, it’s very difficult to identify non-working hours. This is only increased by the use of email (and other technologies) that encourage both students and administrators to feel entitled to expect that faculty are available 24/7. Members of both of those groups feel free to send messages to – and expect replies from – faculty at all hours.*** Some of my colleagues note that they won’t check email except for working hours. Others make it clear they are not available over weekends. Many faculty have developed some system that works for them, that allows them to carve out their non-working hours effectively. I have tried several times in the past to institute rules, all of which I abandoned at some point for reasons that, at the time, seemed perfectly justifiable.^
One of the most sinister problems of “job creep” is that, over time, one can believe that one must give all of one’s time to the job. Because all our of time can potentially be given to the job, we can come to feel that it must. Because there is no clearly identified leisure time in our lives, we slowly lose it.^^ Increasingly, we are expected to work over vacations, breaks, holidays, weekends, etc. This means that faculty are often expected – by both administrators and students – to not have days off, not have weekends, not have vacations.
Anyway, in response to my own increased feelings of “job creep,” I have decided to log my hours next semester. Going back to my days as a Teamster, I will go back to punching a clock.
My plan is simple: I’m going to log all the time I spend doing work. And I’m going to carve out personal time.
My first step will be to do something I have never once done in my entire academic career: I will not do any grading on the weekends. None. Not even a little bit. Most often, I do most of my grading on weekends. I lose entire weekends to grading. Not next semester. Next semester, my weekends are mine. Part of this is because, to be honest, I don’t get paid for weekends.^^^ That’s my time, and I will use it as I see fit. I may prep for class (an activity I generally enjoy), and I may work on research (which I love), but I will not grade. If this means it takes longer for students to get their work back, so be it. I am not going to sacrifice all of my personal time because I am expected to get work back immediately.
My second step will be to keep a log of all the time I spend working, and how I spend it. I’ll keep a weekly log, noting the time spent for the following:
This way, I will have a record of how much time I spend working, and exactly how that time is spent. In any given week, I can estimate those numbers. But I don’t want estimates; I want concrete data.
I was about to note that next semester is not one of my usual semesters, though that would suggest I have a “usual semester,” and I really don’t. Because I have been asked to cover for various faculty on sabbaticals or other leaves, and have even had a course get canceled midway through the summer, I can’t really define a typical semester, except in very broad terms. Usually, I teach multiple sections of Introduction to Literature, and next semester will be the first time in 4 years I have not. Usually, I do no teach in the graduate program, and next semester I will.*^ Also, next semester, I will be offering a new course on Walt Whitman and the Walt Whitman Online Archive. So with 2 new preps, I will likely be spending more time in prep than usual. I will also be teaching two sections of our Literary Analysis and Research course, which I use as an introduction to literary theory. That always involves serious prep time (which I also happen to love).
However, because of the way enrollments are working out, there will be far less grading to do. Currently, there are only 3 students registered for my Batman class, and only 5 for my Whitman class. Both sections of my theory class are nearly full and, based on past semesters will fill by the start of the semester. At most, my graduate enrollment will double (but it’s not likely). And there’s a chance that my Whitman class could double, but I doubt it. Even still, next semester will involve far less grading, because my upper-division enrollments will be low.**^^
So I am going to call it a wash, and in reality, it probably doesn’t matter. One of the characteristics of “job creep” is that one’s workload will always increase to fill the available time. The goal for next semester is to set hard limits, and calculate just how much I am allowing my work to take over my life.
I have no idea what the results will be, so I am very curious. I may post regular updates, but more likely, I won’t post about this until the end of the semester, when I give the full results. (However, if people are interested in regular updates, I’m happy to provide them.) Other than my “no grading on weekends” rule, I don’t have any plans to change my work schedule. I will be teaching 3 classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and the grad class meets Tuesday evening. As has been true thus far, I will not be on campus on Thursdays, though I am available on that day for meetings, advising, or other non-student-related duties. I often try to use that day for grading and prep, though sometimes I take that day off and push that work to the weekend. I’m going to try to stop this.***^^^
I am sure I’m not the first person to have done this, so if anyone knows of other examples, please point me in the right direction. Also, if others want to join in, I’d love to see the results. I’m convinced that one reason students and administrators encourage “job creep” is because they have little idea just how much time we spend working. (I’m assuming good intentions on everyone’s part, but I know that simply isn’t true.) The more we make visible the amount of work we do, the better prepared we will be to fight against institutionally-mandated “job creep.”
*Seriously, think on this for a minute: I was promoted and given a raise, and I still bring home less money this year than I did last year. I still cannot comprehend the absurdity of this.
**Actually, they are increasing our workloads while paying us less. It’s fucking crazy.
***My former department chair once emailed me at 1:00 in the morning, and when I got to work later that morning at 10:00, he asked me why I did not yet reply to his message. I once had a student email me the same question 3 times between midnight and 1:00 am, and the next day in class was shocked to learn I had not yet read his emails. More often, however, I will have students come to class and ask if I saw the email they had just sent, just a few minutes before class, and seem confused to learn that I do not access email continuously and automatically.
^Some of these rules:
-Not doing any university-related work after 10:00 pm.
-Not taking any university-related work with me on vacations.
-Limit my presence on campus to my specific student-related obligations.
-Close my office door when not in posted office hours.
^^This was made explicitly clear to SUNY teaching faculty over Thanksgiving Break. Since I was hired in 2007, faculty (along with students and staff) were not expected to work over Thanksgiving Break. In fact, the university is closed. This year, as part of our new contract, teaching faculty were instructed to take two “deficit reduction days,” days we would “take off” and not get paid for. These days were supposed to come from our working days (so, for instance, not weekends). The university president decided that our deficit reduction days were to fall on the days immediately before and after Thanksgiving. Or, in other words, the university president made it clear that even over break, even when the university is closed, faculty have been expected to work. So now, we are not being paid for those days, and were told this year to make sure we didn’t do any work. On our scheduled break.
^^^Every month, I have to fill out a digital timesheet, noting all my days off. The timesheet makes very clear that I am not expected to work on weekends. So I won’t.
*^A new graduate course on Batman. You are allowed to be jealous.
**^^There are so few students in my department’s graduate program that our graduate courses never fill. The Whitman course carries a pre-req that may explain the low enrollments; it’s possible that some students are completing the pre-req this semester, and so are waiting to register. I don’t know. This has never happened to me in the past.
***^^^However, I always use Thursdays as my days for making various appointments (medical, etc.) that often cannot be made on weekends. I won’t change this, but I will try to limit how often I push that work aside. If I’m going to insist that weekends are my time, I should equally insist that weekdays should be spent working. Or, at the very least, that some work get done those days. If I find myself working all day on weekdays just to have weekends off, I will be very disappointed.