Friday, August 08, 2008

School's Out for Summer

Any time this issue comes up - the idea that academics get "summers off" - my knee immediately jerks and productive conversation almost immediately becomes impossible with the person (or people) who've raised the issue. I think this reaction is not unlike the common one that academics have when they're told that they work only during the time that they clock in the classroom, but, ultimately, this "summers off" thing actually pisses me off more. See, I get where the average person thinks the only work we do during the average academic year is to pontificate in front of students, but with a little explanation, most people see where that is a false assumption. Sure, they might not get the profession in its entirety, but they do kind of get that there are many parts to teaching that take time (grading, prep, etc.) and they're willing to accept the idea that we professors may actually work full time when we're teaching.

The summer thing, however, totally mystifies most average people (and even some administrators and/or staff at universities). Which is odd to me, as if they were to take a gander at my contract, they'd see that I'm not paid to work in the summer. In other words, legally, I could very well assert that I do not have to do work in the summertime because I don't technically have paid employment. And that wouldn't mean I'm a slacker: it would just mean that I'm following my contract to the letter. Of course, were I to take that radical step, I would likely lose my job. And so there is the rub.

So much of the work that we do as academics is difficult to account for or to quantify, and this problem is exacerbated in the summer, when we're not actually compensated for the work that we do and not required to be on campus for meetings or classes. And yet, even with these two things being the case, I have always "worked" in the summer, regardless of the fact that I typically do not teach in the summer.

For example, let's take my summer teaching that I did this year off the table and consider the work that I have done.
  • Journal article written and submitted.
  • Proofs for book.
  • Correspondence related to the book (some of which was done in Lebanon).
  • Correspondence related to a conference that was not to be, ultimately.
  • Correspondence related to an executive position in a scholarly organization.
  • Preparation for my four fall classes (some of which was done in Lebanon).
  • Correspondence with students, including my senior thesis student as well as some advisees.
  • Service work for the graduate program that we are starting.
  • Service work for another graduate program with which I am affiliated.
  • Prep for an upper-level class I will teach in the spring (done in Lebanon).
And all told, this has been a somewhat "light" summer work-wise, as I've had no conferences and the book is nearly done. And none of this work has been compensated with, you know, actual money. I'm not clocking hours in an office, and I'm not being paid as if I am. In theory, I could do none of the above, and it would be within the terms of my contract, but if I did, I would be s-c-r-e-w-e-d come the academic year and come tenure time.

Now, I am not arguing that I'd rather have a year-round contract, because I think, ultimately, the summer that is unscheduled and uncompensated is, for me and for many of us, a welcome reprieve from an academic calendar in which we are compensated but in which we are over-scheduled and we don't have the intellectual space to do much of the work that is required for us to get tenured (particularly for those of us at teaching-intensive universities that nevertheless require research). But - and this is an important but - what I would wish is that people wouldn't regard this unscheduled time as the equivalent of summer vacation when one is in elementary school. Because it's not. And I would like it if people would note that I pay for this time by not having "vacation time" or "personal time" to take at my leisure throughout the year, as do my friends with year-round employment. Family function in October? Sorry, I've got to pass. Death in the family? I may or may not be able to show up and grieve, depending on the time of the year and whether I can get a colleague to sub for me. Friend's wedding in the last week of April? You'll get a card and a check, but you won't get me at the ceremony.

The reality is that they can't bring in a temp to cover my desk during the academic year, if I'd like to take some time off. So yes, my time is flexible in the summer, because I'm not being paid, but that's not really a "perk" so much as it is compensation for the inflexibility of my schedule at other times. And while it's true that I have time during the year when other people might wish they'd have more time, I also don't have flexibility at Thanksgiving or Christmas, when I'm hustling to grade or to attend last-minute meetings or my discipline's convention, etc.

I hope that this post comes off as explanatory rather than as bitching and moaning. Ultimately, I really like the schedule that this profession offers me, and the level of autonomy it gives me in determining how I use my time. I just get angry when people act as if I should be grateful for these things, or that I should feel guilty because I'm not clocking hours in an office. The fact is, without the summer to rejuvenate, I couldn't do this job effectively.*** Partly because in order to be "on" for 9 months, I really need 3 to recharge, even if part of that recharging includes a fuck of a lot of real work.

***And this is where I think the adjunctification of higher ed is fucked up, because how can adjuncts possibly manage, on the market every year, teaching far more than is reasonable, with less than what I've got? How is that possibly good for them, as workers, or for students? So I'm not meaning this post to come off as failing to recognize the plight of adjuncts - or overburdened grad students. In fact, I'd say that this post actually is more about the fact that what I've got really feels like the bare minimum of compensation for the jobs that higher education expects us to do.


Belle said...

Ain't it the truth. IB is - or was - a teacher, and always took the summers off, thereby leading both children to believe that teachers don't have to work during the summers. Now, based on that false assumption (and refusing to believe those that argue against it) they both want to be teachers so that _they_ can have summers off.

How I wish. Of course, now I'm totally into the bizarre life of an academic, and would be totally bored if I didn't do academic/research stuff during the summer.


Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Nice post. I actually just had a lot of this conversation with friends back home.

I started to keep notes about how many meetings I've had to go to this summer and about how much time is spent in correspondence and such. Add to that the research time, and...well, you know how it goes.

What's funny though is that I had occasion earlier this summer to remind the administration of this when they sent me a nasty, threatening e-mail about my being required to attend some training or other, prompting me to reply that my contact ended in May, and we could certainly negotiate my consulting fee.

Of course, now, I'd really better get a job someplace else.

Auto Ethnographer said...

I'm printing this post and taping it on my office door (credit to Dr. Crazy, of course!) because it is all SO frustratingly true. Here's my favorite passage:

"In other words, legally, I could very well assert that I do not have to do work in the summertime because I don't technically have paid employment. And that wouldn't mean I'm a slacker: it would just mean that I'm following my contract to the letter. Of course, were I to take that radical step, I would likely lose my job. And so there is the rub."


On Monday, I'm going to post a photo of my office door with it's new Dr. Crazy decor.

David said...

Don't forget moving, which academics seem to do an ungodly amount.

(not) just another girl said...

Thanks! I recently had to remind myself that it was OKAY if I didn't work all day, every damn day, and this did NOT mean I am lazy, because I am NOT BEING PAID and therefore can occasionally just sit on the porch all afternoon, drink coffee, and read fiction.

Stupid work ethic.

Of course, the syllabi for my fall courses and the article I want to get out still need to get done, but, well, all work and no play...

Oh, yah, and I also need to find a "real" job, because adjuncting 3 classes just doesn't pay the bills.

But, as you say, I am NOT lazy or slacking, and one of these days I might just kick some poor jackass who makes a "real work" or "real job" comment!

Second Line said...

I teach a 7/8 load; that's 15 per year. And when all is said and done, I make enough that I actually do get the Summer off. Well, mostly. I'll teach one class, or perhaps two during the first Summer session. But honestly, that's a pretty easy load. So for me, Summer rocks!