The Chronicle of Higher Education's Tenured Radical spells out the false economies of downsizing in the university.  Read past the following false start for the substance.
[Mid-career academics face] personal responsibilities that can make sustained work on a book difficult for both men and women. Children are born or require a different kind of attention; spousal careers take unexpected turns that create logistical problems; parents age out and require care; sometimes the scholar herself becomes ill. These difficulties reverberate into scholarship: the complexities of the middle decades make sustained writing difficult. Travel to archives becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile with domestic, child-care and dual work schedules.
That's probably as true of middle managers or surgeons or hedge fund managers or other professionals who would like to have a home life of some sort, and the Say Aggregation Principle bites on dual-career families no matter their circumstances.

Now, history's current promotion metric is probably too restrictive, and Professor Potter recognizes that historians might have something to learn from (gasp) economists.
But why must the exercise of continued engagement result in a book? Don’t other aspects of a faculty member scholarly production demonstrate continued engagement and intellectual growth? Any of the things I suggested above might plausibly demonstrate this engagement, as they often do in fields like economics, political science and media studies — to name a few fields.
Yes, and mid-career economists and political scientists might want to have a life, too. (Sticking the single people with additional responsibilities might work, as long as that's where the pay raises and promotions go. But we're talking about higher education.)

The cause of faculty burnout, however, is a rise in scut-work accompanying a shrinking of the faculty.  Regular readers know about this phenomenon.  Read the comments that accompany Professor Potter's post, though, and consider how widespread the disaffection must be.
Being promoted to Associate Professor makes a scholar eligible for endless institutional labor.
That might be manageable with sufficient Associate Professors and Professors to share the work.  Ain't happening.
The “raising of standards” for those on tenure lines has been accompanied by accelerated adjunctification: thus, there are fewer full-time faculty at all ranks and they do more institutional work than they ever have done.
Yes, and the proliferation of computer-based data handling achieves a false economy.
You can add this to the fact that online university systems now substitute for the pink and white collar workers who used to do a great deal of the administrative work and paper pushing of the university. Using the software provided by my university, it can take me up to an hour to process the charges for a research trip; using course platforms or online reserve systems to organize a class can now take up to three or four days; using “student success” software can be a time-suck of gargantuan proportions. This isn’t just true at the level of the university: applying for grants on line is a huge headache because each foundation has its own system, requires its own passwords, and has slightly different requirements (personal statement no longer than four pages/three pages/ 1000 words that is double-spaced/single-spaced/fits in the box below.)

No one has done the research, but I would stand by this assertion: associate profs are being asked to do more scholarship in less aggregate time because, in addition to everything else, they are now doing all their own secretarial and administrative work. Promotion standards need to take into account not just the lack of time, but what this does to the ability to sustain the continuing labor of writing a book – as opposed to articles.

What our current system does by raising expectations, raising the bar for promotion, and keeping pay flat, is to create a high level of burnout at the level of associate professor.
I'd add to that list the introduction of password-protected submission management systems by the journals.  It's probably more convenient for authors who can compose on the keyboard, convert their Scientific Word to a PDF, and upload the works.  But when an unsolicited request to do refereeing comes in, with some peremptory request to register someplace and go through all the password rigamarole, I tend to ignore it, and reserve the right to advise the editor that I'm calling it a career shortly.

On the other hand, it is the duty of the tenured faculty to say no to administrative requests that are not essential.  Hell, it's probably a good idea to ask the maker of any such request to justify it, and to propose a compensatory reduction of duties elsewhere if the most recent request is justifiable.

1 comment:

David Foster said...

"online university systems now substitute for the pink and white collar workers who used to do a great deal of the administrative work and paper pushing of the university"

Several years ago, the CEO of a software company remarked that "The primary thing we've accomplished with the computer revolution so far is to turn highly-paid executives into incompetent clerk-typists"