Saturday, August 1, 2009

Nothing to Do, and All Day to Do It

Cross-posted from Brainstorm

August is upon us, and we academics are nearing the end of our so-called "summer vacation.” My heart always sinks a little when I hear someone (usually a student) call it that, since I know the truth—it’s the busiest, most stressful time of the year. Those three months after grading ends and before the next term begins is when we try and finish every article, start several new ones, plan courses for the upcoming year, write grant proposals, and accomplish a million other small tasks that can supposedly be crammed in since, after all, we are not teaching (ok—some of us aren’t). These insane expectations, perhaps most often held by the untenured among us, lead to 80-hour weeks where we work frantically in fear that come September our to-do list won’t be any shorter. It’s hot, the pool calls, our kids are around to play, but we ignore all that and keep going.

Is life like this after tenure? I'm terribly afraid it is. I'm also sad to think (to realize) that this is likely the life of most Americans—especially those with no hope of eternal job security, whose hourly wage is so low as to demand these long hours? I’m betting yes. Will it ever change? Is there any hope of bringing a little sanity to our working lives, such that we can feel good about saying yes to questions like “will I take a vacation this year?” and “will I take one now?” Since I’m fairly sure that intermittent periods of relaxation are required for mental and physical health, I sure hope so. I’d love to see the Secretary of Health & Human Services get together with someone like the First Lady to take this on. This is a stressful time for so many reasons—and we (all of us) deserve a vacation. Or at least, an afternoon beer summit.

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