THE Scholarly Web - 1 May 2014

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

May 1, 2014

“OK, I shall tell this as it is,” promises Robert Gordon University vice-chancellor Ferdinand von Prondzynski in the opening lines of a post on his University Blog titled “Recognising hard work in higher education” – and he is certainly true to his word.

“One of the most galling experiences of any university leader (or at least of this one) is to be told that academics lead an easy life and are under no pressure to work hard. It is a miserably resilient piece of horse shit, that is spread around society like manure, but of the kind that clogs the system rather than [nourishes] it.”

“It is a job in which you will find yourself working at any hour of the day or night,” Professor von Prondzynski continues. “In what other profession would you find anyone reading their work mail after midnight? How many people in other jobs accept assignments and tasks that they know when they accept them they will only be able to perform at weekends or at night or during their annual leave? And how many professionals elsewhere have to take on the chin ‘witty’ suggestions that they have five months annual holidays when they know that, if they are lucky, they’ll take three weeks?”

In January last year, Times Higher Education reported on a survey that claimed that university professors have the least stressful career in the US – narrowly beating tailors and seamstresses into second place.

“Some years ago, in another university for which I then worked as a Dean, I recruited a young woman who had decided she would leave a very busy legal practice to become an academic, so she would have a fighting chance of seeing more of her children,” Professor von Prondzynski writes. “Two years later she returned to the legal practice.”

There are “many documented accounts” of how the pressures of academic work affect people’s lives and sometimes even their health, he continues, linking to a post on the Music for Deckchairs blog by Kate Bowles, a senior lecturer in communication and media studies at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

“The question of why we [work so many hours] is important to me because I’m wondering how come I spent 12 months not finding time for a health check that would have significantly changed the situation I’m now in,” she writes. “It’s three weeks since I discovered I have breast cancer.”

“This is the story academics tell ourselves as we flip open the laptop on Sunday mornings: we tell ourselves that the boundarylessness of our time and service is a privilege and even a practice of freedom,” she continues. “Over and over I have heard academics say that they couldn’t bear to punch the electronic time clock as our professional colleagues do. But the alternative is the culture of deemed time: by flattering us with what looks like trust in the disposal of our modest obligations, the university displaces all responsibility onto us for the decisions we make about how much to give.”

“Perhaps a good start would be for society to acknowledge that we have created a higher education world in which people fulfil what others might regard as unreasonable expectations, and that they deserve some recognition,” concludes Professor von Prondzynski. “That would not be everything, but it would be a good start.”

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest