“Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

30 04 2012

Did you catch Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s dust up from a few weeks ago? Apparently, in today’s America, this is controversial:

“I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids,” Sandberg said in a new video for Makers.com. ”I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn’t lie, but I wasn’t running around giving speeches on it.”

I was originally going to steal the title of the Mashable link I got that from, “Sheryl Sandberg Leaves Work at 5:30 Every Day — And You Should Too.” But, of course, she never really leaves work. Instead, it follows her everywhere:

“I was showing everyone I worked for that I worked just as hard. I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late.”

I’m guessing that most of you reading this blog a) Don’t get paid nearly as much as Sheryl Sandberg does and b) Do the same thing anyways. Well stop it! You and I have the same right to a work/life balance that any Facebook executive does, yet I know from experience that too few of us take advantage of that fact.

This brilliant post at Field Noise (via Zunguzungu) reminded me that most academics need to get a life from the first stages of their career:

If you think higher education and/or teaching is your life’s true work, then you’re doomed to 5-10+ years of serious disappointment and bitterness. But when you stop romanticizing self-loathing, and stop worrying about whether or not all of your “good deeds” will pay off “in the end” (on graduation day, with a tenure-track job, perhaps?), then you can actually start getting things done. What kinds of things? Almost anything—including truly original and exciting academic work. But the structure of grad school also allows you to engage, seriously, with things that are supplementary, tangential, or even wholly unrelated to your fields. Some of the best—indeed my favorite—grad students are activists, artists, and tinkerers. People with big, crazy ideas on a whole range of topics. People who run small literary presses, DJ nights, and marathons. People who raise families. People who work to redefine “the family.” These people are grad students. But if they weren’t grad students, they would be working just as hard somewhere else, probably on something similar. And when they stop being grad students, they’ll be good at that too, whatever the hell “that” is.

I have this theory that academics often marry other academics because they’re the only ones who are willing to put up with each other’s work habits. Start obsessing about that extra article on your cv early in your career and it gets very hard to stop. Well, if you’re tenured, you’ve won the war. Now get out of that cage!

Of course, your employers are trying to get you to think otherwise. Online courses are designed in part to chain you to your computer (preferably your home computer) all day so that you can’t cause trouble. It’s also easier to pile work on you electronically under the guise of the budget crisis that way with the goal of increasing your productivity. Of course, they measure productivity by their standards, not your’s.

More importantly, as I’ve explained before in this space, when total full-time employment in academia drops that also means there’s more scut work left for the surviving few. Refusing to do all of it is the first step to making that situation better for everyone. After all, if you’re going to work hard, don’t you want that work to be the kind of work you love?

Wish we were there.

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3 responses

30 04 2012
VanessaVaile

This applies equally (if not more so) to aspirants and hopefuls. Offering to take on that extra task, to pitch in when your chair or the department is in a bind, should but, alas, does not identify you as a good soldier worthy of extra consideration whether for promotion, rehiring, scheduling, better appointments or tenure. It’s more like donning that schmiel tee with the kick me I’m a mug notice on the back.

Now if we, tenured, GTAs and adjuncts alike, could coordinate efforts to say no, refuse in harmony. Not a strike, just a Great Refusal.

30 04 2012
RAB

I know a number of part-timers who take on committee and other non-teaching work without pay, to be “professional,” or to be “collegial,” or to enhance their “chances” for full-time work. I keep saying that doing free what full-time faculty get paid to do (at least this is the argument against pro rata salaries) is NOT professional, and actually undermines full-time lines as well as constituting voluntary sucker status. Full-time faculty should continue to insist on their governance and student-support roles, but they should also refuse to do more than would constitute an actually professional amount of it. Then the institution would have to choose among a number of interesting options: letting the school go to hell, hiring more full-time faculty, or creating genuine pro-rata positions for current part-timers, with pro-rata pay. So I’m with you, Jonathan: time for a Great Refusal.

30 04 2012
RAB

I meant to say “or at least creating.”

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