Posts Tagged ‘Work-Life Balance’

For the past few years I have been requiring students to answer discussion questions about the readings before coming to class. The purpose of these discussion questions is to make sure that students do the reading (obviously) but also to ensure that students think about the readings and their connections to other course topics. After a trial run in one course I have adopted the practice in nearly every course with small variations (in lower-level courses, for example, I provide the discussion questions while in upper-level courses I combine my own questions with those written by students). When preparing my syllabi for the fall, I again included discussion questions even though I wasn’t entirely sure what students at my new institution would be like. In the days after completing my syllabi, though, I began to feel uneasy.

Using discussion questions in a course I’ve taught a number of times does not contribute much to my workload outside of class. Since I know what lass discussions have focused on in the past I can be sure to include questions on those elements of the readings. For a new prep, however, writing discussion questions involves reading a week or more ahead to anticipate the direction of class discussions while allowing my students enough time to use the discussion questions to complete the readings. The more I thought about it, the less I looked forward to writing discussion questions in addition to preparing for one new course and one course with substantially-revised readings. Higher publication expectations were also a factor, since reading ahead to write questions, preparing for class, reviewing readings before class, and grading would have left me with little time for writing.

In the end, although my syllabi had already been posted to Blackboard, I decided in the interest of my sanity and productivity to delete the discussion question requirements before handing them out on the first day of class. This will also give me a chance to see how I might use discussion questions most effectively with my new students. My decision isn’t particularly groundbreaking since my students likely won’t even know what they’re missing, but ten years into teaching it is important to remember why I was advised not to try too much in my first semester of teaching: it is easy to get overwhelmed when starting something new.

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A post at Tenured Radical yesterday brought up the issue of increasing faculty responsibilities and decreasing salaries (in constant, and sometimes absolute, dollars).  The comments on yesterday’s post are particularly interesting given the wide range of salaries at various institution types.  This is something that most people are aware of in the abstract but is still sobering when contextualized.  A post today continues this discussion and responds to Historiann’s discussion of TR’s changing opinion on salary freezes over the past few years (thankfully, academics are able to change their minds based on new information, unlike politicians).

The issues of salary and workloads are connected to current discussions of work-life balance.  At one such discussion on my own campus at which the administration reiterated its support for the health and well-being of the faculty one brave soul brought up the fact that despite these messages, the only way for faculty members to increase their salaries is to increase their workload.  He then asked whether the administration had ever considered rewarding faculty for leading balanced lives rather than simply working more.  The answer, unsurprisingly, was no.

Faculty members, then, appear to be faced with a choice between working less for less money or working more for less money.

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There is an interesting article on Inside Higher Ed about the desire of graduate students to find employment at “family friendly” institutions, which they typically define to exclude research universities.  The article itself summarizes the findings of a report available on Academe.  “Family friendly” institutions are said to offer a better work-life balance, though Tina at scatterplot has an insightful post about why balance is probably the wrong metaphor in the face of ever-increasing obligations on both fronts.

The ability to have more time for family was one of many factors that led me to seek employment at a liberal arts school.  I have also watched a number of junior faculty members go through the tenure process in my graduate program and have had enough experience with the publication process to know that I do not want my future to rest solely on how many journal articles I can publish in the next six years.

While the Acadme authors take an extreme position by stating that “If this sentiment is broadly shared among current and future student cohorts, the future life-blood of academia may be at stake, as promising young scholars seek alternative career paths with better work-life balance,” anybody who has recently been on the sociology job market knows that this is not the case.  Despite the ASA’s recent conclusion that the job market is good, the current state of the market (i.e., it sucks) is such that candidates are told to apply for all types of jobs and encouraged to take whatever they can get.  While some candidates will have multiple offers, many will not, ensuring that “the future life-blood of academia” will be squeezed from those working long hours under the regime of publish or perish.

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