March Madness

This time of year in academia is usually the most hectic. Final exams are around the corner, final essays are handed in and graded, panicked emails float into inboxes attesting all sorts of dire fire, flood, and hurricane excuses for being behind in everything.

And professors who regularly blog fall behind in their blogging because of all of the things that need to be done which take priority at this time of the year. Last week a much discussed and poorly researched op-ed by David C. Levy in the Washington Post (see here) questioned whether professors work hard enough.

This article brings up the idea of having to quantify what we do as teachers and academics. For those of us who work in the humanities, this seems to be a common theme. Apparently what we "do" has to be tangible; at the end of the day what have you produced? Though this is the same sort of rhetoric that sometimes pops its head within the confines of the digital humanities (are you not doing it right if you are not creating something?), quantifying work feeds into this ridiculous sense of guilt (see here) that is almost inbred in the academic process.

In academia there is always this lingering sense of the need to spend your time producing something, or doing something that will lead to the production of something (read a book, an article, etc.). This guilt remains long after grad school (at least it has for me). You will be watching television (which you rarely do) and the voice appears ("Hey, shouldn't you be writing an article?" "Don't you have grading to do?"). This is all a manifestation of trying to quantify what we do as academics. 

Sitting and reading a research or pedagogically related book is definitely a quality way of using one's time, but in terms of quantity it is very low. Conversely, attacking that pile of grading and returning essays to students is definitely an easily quantifiable endeavor, but as it relates to your own research agenda, it may be a very low quality use of time.

What this boils down to is that many do not know what we "do" as academics. Even our partners and friends are mystified by the process. Most professions have a quantifiable deliverable, in teaching this quantifiable deliverable is ultimately how many of your students successfully graduate, or how many articles/books you have published. However, if you are an adjunct, this quantifiable is complicated by the fact that you simply do not have time for your own research because teaching and lesson prep becomes your priority.

The quantifiable promoted by the adjunct system is: the more you teach, the more you earn, the more you eat.  Those who attempt to offer suggestions on how Higher Ed should change, policies that should be implemented, should keep that scary quantifiable in mind before stereotyping all academics as lazy unproductive employees.

April 2nd is the day of Higher Ed. I encourage you all to use the hashtag #dayofhighered and tweet what you do that day. Let's demonstrate how all the things we do in a day become part of who we are as educators and researchers. It will be a time to shed some light on academia, to open a dialogue with those who constantly misrepresent us by representing ourselves.


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