Friday, January 06, 2006

Time, Space, and Living a Professorial Life

I'd like to continue to think a bit more about this notion of "reassigned" time. First of all (as I suppose you might intuit from my choice of title for the blog) I greatly prefer this term to the terms "course reduction," "course release," "course relief," etc. As I've become acclimated to my particular institution, those other terms, which were the only one's I heard at my Fancy Graduate School, seem incredibly mystifying and, well, not to recognize teaching as a scholarly activity.

To talk about "course reduction" seems to indicate "reduction in workload," which of course is not ever going to be the case, not even at a Fancy Research Institution. It also perpetuates the idea that one's research is one's "own work" and thus preferable to teaching which is not one's "own work" but rather the price one has to pay in order to be allowed to do one's "own work," from which, of course, one would never want a break.

To talk about "course release" reminds me of release from prison or something.... kind of like being let out on "work release." (Wait a minute! Maybe this is an appropriate term! Only if one thinks of the classroom as a prison, though, which I choose not to do.)

"Course relief" has a similar tone to "course release," though it reminds me of "disaster relief" or "hurricane relief," so I suppose if we are to use this terminology the classroom is not a prison but it is a place where there is great loss of human life and/or massive destruction from which it will take years to recover. Again, this doesn't seem like a very positive view of what we do in the classroom.

So yes, reassigned time seems a much more apt term, to my mind, for what this semester-long reduction in my course load will actually mean. But before I continue on this meditative track, let me give a fuller explanation of "reassigned time" for those not in the know. (Note: this will be specific to my institution and department, and so there I'm sure are variations across other institutions.)
  • In a nutshell, "reassigned time" at my institution can be awarded to compensate one for administrative work (chair, asst. chair duties, for example), curricular development (though I've never seen it awarded for this), a specific research project (i.e., not just "I'd like to spend more time on my research" but rather "I am going to die under the weight of all of my commitments which are, specifically, the following"), or a major service project. Also, new tenure-track faculty are generally allowed one semester of reassigned time in their first year on the tenure-track. We try to do this for everybody, as I learned after I "negotiated" for it; there is no possibility of "negotiating" for more than that as part of one's hiring package.
  • If one is awarded reassigned time for an administrative position (like chair) this is figured into his/her compensation package for doing the job and so one does not need to apply for it; if one wants it for anything else, one must apply for it each and every semester. In other words, one cannot ask for reassigned time over the course of an academic year with one application; one must request it on a per semester basis.
  • In order to be awarded reassigned time you need three things: a specific and detailed agenda about what you will do with the massive amounts of time that you'll have if only you don't have to teach one course, the recommendation of your chair, and the approval of the dean. If one needs more reassigned time than one course, I believe the provost is also involved in the decision. And no, whether one has a grant from outside makes little-to-no difference in these determinations, as far as I can tell and from what I've heard around the water-cooler.
  • One can also be awarded reassigned time if one has accumulated 24-hours of independent study instruction. Yes, that means a minimum of 8 independent studies, for which there is no monetary compensation. I expect to receive reassigned time for this in 2027.
  • Finally, one has little control over what course is "reassigned" for the semester in which one is awarded reassigned time. While one can request one course or the other, what ultimately makes this decision are enrollment figures. Thus, if you imagine that one will have the productive interplay between your upper-division course and your research during that semester, don't count on it, because ultimately the bottom line is what will drive whether that course goes or not, regardless of the impact on the faculty member.

Lest you all get the wrong idea, though, I'm behind this idea of reassigned time. First, I think that it gives a reward to those who maintain an active research agenda in an institutional setting that can inspire one to let one's research agenda collapse. Second, I think that it offers a good way of thinking about how we organize our time as faculty members - it acknowledges that there are only so many hours in the day, and so we need to set goals and priorities for how we use those hours.

As I conceived my New Year's resolutions and as I looked back on 2005 after MLA, I realized that I need to reassign a lot of my time - not just those hours that I would have spent teaching and prepping for that one class.

First, as I sat at an MLA panel on the first night that was put together by colleagues of mine from grad school (all of whom were on the market, two of the three having been on the market for at least three years), I realized that I have fallen out of the habit of thinking in sophisticated and theoretical ways. Not that I don't use theory in my work, but I tend to pay attention only to that theory that's jammed in front of me at the moment, and I've lost a lot of the theory that I acquired in grad school. As I sat there listening to their highly theoretical papers (and cursing myself for the teaching paper that I would give in two days' time) I made a promise to myself that I would get back into the theoretical swing of things with the next conference paper that I propose, and that I would "reassign" some time for reading theoretical stuff every week this semester.

Second, I decided that it's important for me to "reassign" some time for working out. This one's easy, in that if one adds up all of the time that I used to spend smoking, I'm sure that it would add up to at least 30 minutes. Also, since I'm reassigning the smoking funds for a gym membership, I do believe that I can make time to work out most days. So far, so good: I've been to the gym twice, and though I was planning to take today off I'm kind of itching to go.... Hmmmm...

Third, I need to reassign time for cooking, in large part because it really does relax me. Also, I love to eat delicious things, and I often feel that my food is more delicious than the garbage I would otherwise eat. Here's an example. Last night, dying for starchy pasta but knowing that it is against my dieting agenda, I invented the following awesome dish. It's compatible with Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet and probably any other diet as well, as it's basically just healthy. It doesn't have a name, so I will call it....

"Yummy Thing That Stopped Me From Eating a Pound of Pasta"
  1. Ingredients: 2 tbsp olive oil, 4 slices turkey bacon, 2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, 1 head cauliflower, 1 bag pre-washed baby spinach, 2 cloves garlic, grated parmagiano-reggiano cheese to taste, salt and pepper to taste.
  2. prep cauliflower to steam or boil, and get it on the stove.
  3. get big pot of water on the stove for boiling spinach.
  4. put olive oil in skillet and start heating the pan.
  5. Slice garlic (or chop it or whatever you prefer, but I tend to slice garlic because it's easy and then non-garlic people can choose not to eat it if they wish); cut bacon and spinach into bite-sized pieces.
  6. Dump items from 5 into skillet. Throw in a pinch of salt and a few grates of fresh pepper.
  7. Dumdedum.... food's cooking.... hmmm.... perhaps I'll grate the parm.... oh, better flip the chicken over.... is the cauliflower done? nah... it can go for a couple more minutes.... ooh! the spinach water is boiling!
  8. Salt the water in the spinach pot; dump the spinach into the pot; let cook for one minute.
  9. Strain spinach. (It holds a lot of water, so be sure to do a good job with the straining. I kind of forgot about this, and so last night's feast, while delicious, was a little more liquidy than I'd have liked.)
  10. Oh look! The cauliflower is done! And so is the chicken/garlic/turkey-bacon concoction! Let's throw all of the veggies in with that and stir it around and then add some parm/reg and salt and pepper to taste at the last minute! (I liked it all mixed together because it made it more pasta-like for me and also because then the bacon/chicken/garlic flavor got to hang out with the veggies, though I suppose one could make all of this separately, too, but I don't think it would be the same.)
  11. Voila! Dinner is served! Serves four, depending on the size of the ingredients involved, of course.
Ok, apparently I reassigned the time that I was going to spend blogging about reassigned time toward blogging about food. Maybe this will become a food blog? Nah. I need to be broader in my scope. What I do know for sure is this. I'm done with this post. How can I follow the invented recipe with anything else?

1 comment:

Dr. Virago said...

First, as I sat at an MLA panel on the first night that was put together by colleagues of mine from grad school...I realized that I have fallen out of the habit of thinking in sophisticated and theoretical ways.

God, do I know what you're saying here. I feel the same way and I have a lighter teaching load and a little more pre-tenure reassigned time. It makes me realize how material conditions of our own work affect even the content and ideas of what we produce, something that I talk about all the freakin' time when teaching literature, but sometimes forget in terms of my own and others' scholarly output. And I think the profession as a whole forgets this. I agree that we, ourselves, have to "reassign time" to prevent this from happening permanently, and we have to talk about it more -- on our blogs, to start -- to point up the inequalities in the system. It's not just that you have less *time* for research because of your teaching (and I, too, but to a lesser extent) but it also effect *how* a person thinks because of that reduced time for reading/thinking/writing.

Oops, didn't meant to hijack the comments! OK, then, guess I have a blog post in the making!