On managing your workload

Tenured Radical has an excellent piece on the need to say no (or yes) to service work, as a departmental colleague (h/t Radio Free Newport).

She notes, as a child-less academic, that,

if you have a child and I don’t, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you? I didn’t have children because I wanted the time: instead, I got no child and I got no time. You get someone to help you navigate the nursing home, I’ll end up with a big bottle of Klonopin mixed in a bowl of ice cream.

Most of the post is devoted to offering techniques by which an academic doing an over-load of service work can determine just when to “say no”. For example, about teaching:

Meet with your chair to establish a reasonable cap for your class that also bears some reasonable relationship to average enrollments in the department.

And advising:

Ask your department’s administrative assistant how many majors there are in the department, or in your field within the department, then divide by the number of faculty available to serve them that semester.

Committee loads are slightly harder, since TR notes,

Demonstrating one’s supposed incompetence is a strategy masked as involuntary helplessness: the incompetent establish their potentially Kryptonite contributions to any enterprise by being late, by missing meetings without explanation, by failing to do what they said they would and generally by demonstrating in word and deed that they are not to be trusted. However purposeful this behavior is, being incompetent assumes the kind of naturalness as a category that Foucault so eloquently introduced us to way back in the twentieth century.

Since the incompetent are both gaining the advantage of having you do their share of committee work, and the advantage of having more time on the research “that really matters,” she offers an entirely reasonable solution:

A special effort might be made to teach tenured faculty who are doing their jobs poorly to do them better, perhaps by assigning a peer to work with them who would convey by example and instruction the standard that needs to be met over time. People who resist raising their standard might be asked to undergo career counseling to help them transition to another line of work that would encourage them to — well, come to work and do work when they are there.

This involves a training course during a first year semester in which the teaching demands are less, and a skilling-up course after tenure, to prepare scholars for the next order of contribution. A good set of ideas to address an evergreen problem.



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5 responses to “On managing your workload

  1. if you have a child and I don’t, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your [service] work for you?

    Frankly, the most parsimonious explanation is that it’s because I’m better at my job than you.

  2. Or, more constructively, what Tedra says in the comments to the original thread: “the problem isn’t the parents as such. It’s that (1) we don’t, as a society, really have a solution to the kids/work conflict yet; and (2) given that most parents do manage to juggle without dumping work on others, parenting/kids aren’t the issue–they are an excuse. The issue, then, is slacker colleagues, no matter *what* their excuse is. So yeah, as you expected, the “working parents who dump their work on their childless colleagues” thing does annoy me (as a parent), to the detriment of the rest of what you’re saying, because it’s buying into a worn (and sexist) cliche about the inadequacy of mommies as workers rather than focusing on what, by your own admission, the real problem is, which is colleagues who take advantage of the flexibility of academia to do less than their fair share–period.”

  3. Jenn Lena

    Tedra makes a good point.

    It should also be said that childless academics are not required to work on weekends or evenings, are not prevented from taking vacations, or scheduling their meetings during regular work hours. The obvious appeal of spending time with family may make it (psychologically, emotionally, socially) easier to say no to these things, but no less possible, as such.

    All that said, I still hate slackers and their self-indulgent, selfish, rotten natures. Shame on their mothers.

  4. No one likes a slacker.

  5. Jenn Lena

    By the way, I know that parallel construction got away from me. I’m obviously trying to say that we can all avoid intrusions into “private time” (be it with family, or not).

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