I had made reference previously to Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber's The Slow Professor, which appears to suggest that faculty work more deliberately and mindfully, to use a buzzword in a different context. At the recommendation of a colleague, I read the work. The subtitle is Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, and the authors suggest that this culture of speed is an alien intrusion, introduced from elsewhere by the Babbitts who have hijacked the administration.
The book jacket opens, "If there is one sector of society that should be cultivating deep thought in itself and others, it is academia. Yet the corporatization of the contemporary university has sped up the clock, demanding increased speed and efficiency regardless of the consequences of for education and scholarship. The authors expand in their preface. "We have been influenced by the literature on the corporatization of higher education, empirical studies which document the harmful effects of stress and loneliness on physiological and psychological health, popular self-help discourse which emphasizes the importance of work-life balance, and, of course, the key texts of the Slow movement."
I'm tempted to let it all go with a suggestion that some literature students buy their advisor a train set. Yes, even -- especially -- if the advisors are female! The gender bending! The subversion of the dominant paradigm! Or to suggest that stressed or slow professors alike are underemployed compared to their forebears.
But let me devote Book Review No. 17, at least briefly, to explaining my choice of a title.
I'll break it down by chapter. First comes "Time Management and Timelessness." At page 17, the authors note, "Academic work is never done; while flexibility of hours is one of the privileges of our work; it can easily translate into working all the time or feeling that one should." Yes, when that idea is rattling around in your brain, best to sketch some ideas on paper or noodle around with Maple or run a regression, and one of the risks of becoming involved with an academic is precisely that those ideas take over way more disruptively than a hobby or a mistress ever can.
But that has always been the case. Canadian higher education policy (which plays a major part in Slow Professor's narrative) or corporatization or neo-liberalism are late to the game: there's Archimedes in the sand or Beethoven walking in the country or Einstein riding that light beam or you, dear colleague, awake late at night mulling the idea.
Next comes "Pedagogy and Pleasure." And yes, there is much to be dissatisfied about the intrusion of business software and information technology into teaching, which fits into the corporate hell model. Nowhere, though, does the chapter address the stresses faculty face when headquarters, whether out of a misplaced sense of social justice or out of an understandable desire for revenue, fills classes with disengaged and unprepared students, then tacks on a support bureaucracy to keep the Distressed Material around.
"Research and Understanding" opens with the epigraph, "Not everything that counts can be counted." The gripe, summarized in one sentence on page 54, is "The changes to academic labour have increased the expectations of what it means to be a productive scholar, while simultaneously increasing class sizes and expanding our job descriptions." Yes, and turning us into our own tech support. But there's Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, which might be a parody of the Prestige Quest, and it long predates Total Quality Management and all the other management fads.
I'd note, further, that the quest for public funding, or for sponsored research more generally, is unlikely to end well for universities that follow the market too slavishly. A few years ago, I didn't make myself popular with a dean for suggesting that I could do better consulting than seeking grants. The best he could do was note that summer money on grants counted toward retirement. Well, here I am retired relatively young. You do the math. And the opportunities in finance, in engineering, in biochemistry, in parts of physics have to be more remunerative than they are in energy economics. For that matter, why should talented people in the humanities grub for grants from MacArthur or the Canada Council or the national endowments, when they might be able to become the next Tom Clancy?
That brings us to the breakdown of "Collegiality and Community." In which, I suggest, there's still nothing new, as a quick reading of any of the academic novels will suggest (why, dear reader, are the psychos always in the English Department?)
(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)