“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.”
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