Ten Reflections on What We Do with Our Time

I have been thinking a great deal about John Ziker and his coleagues’ detailed study of the work that we, as faculty members, do, and I think that their study supports, directly or at least conceptually, most of the following observations:

1. We work very hard—much harder than most people realize and, in most cases, than even we ourselves realize.

2. More than most Americans, we truly enjoy our work. Indeed, our obvious enjoyment of our work may contribute a great deal to the perception that we are not working very hard.

3. More than most Americans, we are rewarded for what we do. Sometimes these rewards are formal recognitions, but more often they are informal acknowledgements of the significance of our contributions. These kinds of reinforcements are a very important factor in our remaining productive or becoming increasingly productive over the course of our long careers.

4. More than the work that most Americans do, our work is very multi-faceted and has an impact well beyond us. That impact often then reflectively re-enters our awareness— often in a surprisingly broad variety of ways—and informs what we do. The scope of the ways in which the impact our work is potentially framed and re-framed permits us to see our successes and failures in a somewhat broader context, beyond their being just parts of our individual professional and personal development.

5. Likewise, more than most Americans, we, as well as others, can see the immediate and the longer-term impact of our work. This adjustable temporal perspective enriches what we do, both for others and for ourselves.

6. That we enjoy our work does not, however, mean that there is not a point of diminishing returns. We may be the prototypical multi-taskers, but we may be reaching a point—if we have not already passed it—at which we are trying to do too much at once, the point at which “doing more with less” or “doing more in less time” becomes unsustainable.

7. Becoming a tenured full professor is an admirable, a very challenging, and, increasingly, a very remote goal. It is a reward for a great deal of hard work and achievement. We should not allow others to diminish it. Sometimes, of course, it seems as if there is as much good luck involved as hard work, but although being in the proverbial right place at the right time is certainly fortuitous, it is never all just luck. (Tenured full professors who are “full of themselves” seem to get the most attention, but most tenured full professors whom I know feel more blessed and contented than anointed and superior.)

8. Our awareness of the scope and the length of the impact of our work should foster within us a sense that we are part of a profession and that we have an inherent obligation to sustain that profession. We need to balance personal advancement with a commitment to the profession—an acknowledgement that individual achievements are meaningful only if there is a broad access to opportunity. We need to acknowledge that the profession is being undermined by the deepening inequality in our ranks and that, however much we may or may not have contributed to the exploitation of adjunct faculty, that exploitation is not only an injustice to our colleagues but a challenge to our integrity and a threat to the core principles on which the profession depends.

9. We keep focusing on “educating” the public about what we do. But I suspect that very often those broad explanations and assertions about how hard we are working have a counterproductive effect: that is, they come off as defensive, as our trying to make the case that what seems to be a pretty cushy gig is actually very hard work– that our assertions may, in fact, actually undermine an inherent respect for what we do. Documenting what we do, as this study by John Ziker and his colleagues has done, and publicizing what we do is very important, but what we do may speak for itself more effectively than we end up speaking for it.

10. We need to hold to greater account the people who are forever trying to hold us to greater account. We need to start asking very pointed questions about what administrators are doing with the resources of our institutions and what legislators and governors are doing with the resources of our states. We should hold them pointedly to the same standards to which we hold ourselves. This should not be done defensively. It should, instead, be viewed as the only way to insure that they do not wreck our institutions and our profession under the delusion that they are saving them from us.



4 thoughts on “Ten Reflections on What We Do with Our Time

  1. Thank you for these thoughts. I’ve been thinking about the Ziker study, too. I’m particularly concerned about #6–just wrote a blog post in defense of small sabbaticals and stepping away from multitasking when possible.

    And thank you, especially, for #9 and #10.

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