BY AARON BARLOW
In a column for Inside Higher Ed this week, Philip Nel of Kansas State University creates a list of the reasons so many academics work so much. It’s an essay worth reading, not only because it flies in the face of the myth that professors lead lives of ease but because of its conclusion:
we need to encourage people to become less productive. Make time to not work. Make time to think. Make time simply to be.
He’s right, but that is not, by itself, going to change our professional ethos so increasingly based on flattering ourselves for overwork. It’s an ethos I, for one, have bought into and, right now, see no way to change—for myself or anyone else.
Nel divides his answer about academic work into six reasons for our overwork: habit, economics, the academic structure, perception of the work as fun instead of onerous, the development of technological aids that have opened so many new possibilities, and the very nature of a profession that is also a passion. I might add a seventh, success: The next rung always seems just out of reach; if we work just a little harder, stretch that tiniest bit more, we can reach it—and then relax. Of course, there’s a rung after that one, and beyond, keeping us striving forever.
Richard Farina, in “Mainline Prosperity Blues,” wrote:
They say I could be productive
But I think I’ll just recline right here instead.
Perhaps we in academia should listen.
The irony, of course, is that Farina got up, wrote the song and recorded it.