Thursday, June 10, 2010


Did you folks see the article on faculty burnout in The Chronicle of Higher Education today? Timely, eh? (Here's a link to the article: "Faculty Burnout Has Both External and Internal Sources.")

The article's an interview of Janie Crosmer by Audrey Williams June. Here's a short excerpt:
Q. What are the key things that contribute to faculty burnout?

A. Lack of time, poorly prepared students, cumbersome bureaucratic rules, high self expectations, unclear institutional expectations, and low salary. Research shows that the sources of stress have remained unchanged for 25 years. We know about the problem, but we're not doing anything about it.
And then it goes on to suggest that we faculty folks should build better community:
Q. What one thing do you think would do the most to help reduce faculty burnout?

A. If departments would adopt collectivistic values. It's sometimes hard for professors to feel like they're in a community, a community where they can share the workload. If one faculty member is really busy working on getting a grant, for instance, maybe a colleague could step up and teach their classes. If faculty members didn't feel like they had to do it all, that they had someone within their community to turn to, I think that would help.
Here's the problem: You see the causes she cites? Do you see anywhere in those causes a lack of community or colleagiality? No. I don't either. That conclusion has nothing to do with the findings she's discussed earlier. This is BAD scholarship or bad interviewing or something.

It's also sort of obvious (reading over notes: "sort of obvious" has to be the stupidest thing I've written in at least 15 minutes.) that the author hasn't actually worked long in academics. Who exactly is going to step in and pick up my upper level whatever class? One of the adjuncts who's got an MA but never actually taken a whatever class? And I've got a PhD, but I sure as heck am not going to whiz on in and pick up a colleague's class on modern film movements.

I'm pretty down about my state and all levels of our administration right now. I looked at the small claims court information, and it would cost me more to file than I'd see even if I won. So, one up for the administration, one down for me.

It's not like I'm going to do anything about it, either. I mean, I've fantasized about selling my property and moving, but for what there? (Though the idea of not turning in my letter of resignation until the day the contract period begins is juicy, I have to admit.) But, though it would cause a moment of glee for someone thinking about the MLA JIL, in reality, my department would just shrug and hire an adjunct for an extra section to teach my comp class and let the other classes go. We're already short four lines (if I recall correctly), so missing me wouldn't be more than a blip on the schedule radar. It would cause a bit of hassle to my chair, who's a decent enough person and tries hard to make things work for our department folks. Higher up, tt's not like the university is really all that worried about students in the humanities anyway. Yes, a few colleagues would miss me, but mostly my biking and dining buddies.

And the other, well, I can't see myself (or any of my colleagues) taking it out on anyone else. I mean, if I could kick the administrator in the 'nads and not get punished or thrown in jail, I probably still wouldn't, because I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer type, and not someone who advocates or threatens violence. And I'm sure as heck not going to take it out on a colleague or student, because being unethical and a jerk isn't how I want to be.

So I'm sitting here, thinking about Dorothy Parker's "Resume," and being all bummed. I have 24 minutes to rush out and buy a bottle of bourbon, but I know it wouldn't help, and I'd feel crappy in the morning. But I do have sugar. Thank dog for sugar. It's slow, but sure to work. Alas, it probably works in slow and excruciatingly painful ways that have to do with diabetes, gangrene, lost toes and such.

Back in the heady days of the early tech boom, one of my college pals was making a good salary, a really good salary. But he complained about the difficulty of never having time and working long, long hours. And he acknowledged that he really couldn't leave because of the golden handcuffs. I don't feel like mine are golden, but even brass is pretty much enough to hold me here.

I shouldn't feel as defeated and helpless as I do about all this, given that I have the proverbial good education and a job and I'm white and middle-class with all the advantages those bring. And yet, there it is. I'm sitting here feeling defeated and wishing I were just not.


  1. human6:57 PM

    You need a union!

  2. You, I, we, need a summer vacation. You do sound defeated, and that makes me sad, Bardiac.

    Your analysis of that article is truly sound, and I felt myself saying "You go girl" with each line. But at the end of a term, at the start of a summer "break" where our "to do list" is probably longer than it was in February, I feel as demoralized as you do. The solutions the article offers are ludicrous, yes. But having gone through this cycle for now 20 years, I'm thinking it's part of the gig, the academic gig. In fall we are optimistic, winter a bit down, spring is manic, and in June we crash.

    I hope you have a good bike ride planned this weekend?

  3. Bardiac, you sound so down -- I'm so sorry to hear it! I think Annie Em's assessment is probably spot-on, which doesn't mean also that your state system and your university don't suck these days. Here's to some much-needed R&R this summer!

  4. I feel you. Work just...always sucks.

  5. Thanks for the kind words, folks. A good night's sleep helped a lot.

    It's raining nastily, so no bike ride for me. I wonder how I'd feel trying to run in the rain?

    I don't think work always sucks. Seriously, I love much of what I do and I think it's meaningful and rewarding.

    Speaking of rewarding, here's some news from the upper midwest: (quick recap: the regents got a report back that academic faculty at the U of Wisconsin system are paid as much as 20% less than faculty in peer institutions; they're discussing why this might be a problem for the system goals. The report suggests the regents adopt a plan to close the salary gaps by 2017.

  6. I'm sorry. I think we've all gone through burnout, and it's rough.

    Are you doing anything FUN for yourself? I'm talking frivolous stuff...a vacation, a cooking class, a wine tasting...whatever it is that makes you smile. Sometimes the best way to deal with burnout is to "play" more. (At least, that helped me a lot earlier this year.) Just a thought.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  7. I don't think there is anything to say but I'm sorry, and that was a singularly stupid interview. Nothing about better pay, or less bureaucracy....

    I hope your next plan for teaching abroad works -- that would be a little break from the local crazies. As for the state raising salaries, that would be nice, though in the case of CA, they have just put the whole salary equalization process on hold.

    Thank goodness for sugar, and probably chocolate.

  8. Sorry sis, hopefully it gets a whole lot better for you. Chocolate does sound incredible right now... and sleep. Thanks for sharing though, it's refreshing to see honesty on that side of things.

    One thing a Historian shared with me when I went through some burnout was to rank what's urgent verses what's important, with the important things always winning. I was whining about my novel, and he came along and said "procrastinate your laundry, your facebook, your blog, even your email until you get that 1500 words in. Then, when what's important's done, do what's urgent."

    Of course the downside was too much procrastination of laundry made me naked, and nakedness made it important all of the sudden.

    much love.