How to avoid the 70-hour work week.

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

Warning: what follows is another rant.

So here I am working at a new job.

I really like the institution (for the most part).

I really like the faculty (for the most part).

I really like the job (for the most part).

BUT (there’s always one of those when a post starts off like this)….

I have been at it for 2 months now and I am becoming more and more (and MORE) frustrated. Wanna know why? If you do, keep reading.

The big problem is that I have NO TIME.

I no longer watch TV, I no longer spend time with my animals, and, I no longer spend time with my husband and children. I am at school approximately 35 hours a week, I spend 10 hours a week commuting, and I spend another 20 or so hours at home marking, doing prep. work and other course development for my classes. Add it up – it comes to nearly 10 hours a day – seven days a week.

On work days, I commute 2 hours per day. Aside from the extreme waste of time that represents, it is also not very green. Granted, I live out of town and am not willing to move into the city in order to be closer to my work. But then again I shouldn’t have to. While there is a certain give-and-take involved in negotiating a work arrangement, one of the issues I am encountering is a nagging suspicion that many things where I work are organized expressly to keep faculty on campus. This made good sense 20 years ago when adequate student contact required physical “collocation”. In the 21st century, it no longer makes sense.

Learner-Centered means more than being physically in front of the student.

I have been told over and over again by various people that my institution that the institution places a very high premium on the attention it gives to its students. Now, I absolutely agree that this is a good and worthy thing. I also think that there are more ways to accomplish this than through in-person contact with students alone. Get with the 21st century. I mean, really. The new “brand” for the college-soon-to-be-a-university is “Face to Face”. My big fear is that people will take this too literally. If we want to prepare people for the 21st century, we ABSOLUTELY MUST start using more modern approaches to teaching and learning. It is not enough to inject a few “interesting” assignments into an otherwise traditional course design. Things need to change.

There is gathering evidence to indicate that the only real way to bring about change in an institution is to change its governance and structure (see Disrupting Class, 2008, by Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn). Well, praise be, MRC is going through just EXACTLY that and this may be the PERFECT (and ONLY) time that fundamental change to incorporate innovation in teaching, learning, and research models will be possible.

So here are a few suggestions:

  1. Allow faculty to teach the same course several years in a row (unless they don’t want to). Developing a new course is a great deal of work (ratio: 10 hours prep / 1 hour in-class).
  2. Assign only one new course per academic year. This may not be possible when a new degree is rolled out, but it should be an ideal that units strive to achieve.
  3. Schedule classes so it is possible for faculty to be assigned teaching loads that do not require them to be on campus 5 days per week. This includes meetings and other administrative responsibilities. Thus is absolutely ESSENTIAL for getting any research done.
  4. Don’t make faculty do their own administrative work. Faculty members could surely put their education and expertise to better use than to spend 2-3 hours filling out a form.
  5. Don’t make faulty do their own PR – that’s what External Relations are for (besides many faculty are uncomfortable about blowing their own horns and won’t give you good copy). Make sure you make it easy for faculty to tell the institution what they are doing and then get the PR people to promote them.
  6. While I think the openness that goes with wanting to consult faculty on decisions is very important, it must also be recognized that too many meetings interfere with one’s ability to get anything done (Not counting meetings with students) I currently average 5-10 meetings per week. Each one takes about an hour. That adds up to a whole day! Make meetings COUNT, or don’t have them. Allow for alternate formats (online, web-based,…). Have clear agendas and leave the socializing to the end.
  7. Be open to having faculty working from home. (AND make doing so unencumbered).
  8. Be open to alternate methods for providing students with access to professors.
  9. Tech Support must either HELP or GET OUT OF THE WAY. Controlling access to and use of technology is ultimately a great way to keep IT jobs straight-forward (the main goal of IT) , but it DOES NOT facilitate innovation or modern research (the main purpose of the institution). It also does NOT, after all is said and done, make anything more secure, as tech-savvy students (and faculty) will find more and more ways around the blocks. I have had occasions where I have had to type in my username and password 4 or 5 times to accomplish a single task (the application I am trying to access is accessible only fro very specific locations). Here’s one very simple way that keeping everything behind password-protected walls makes things LESS secure: I typically do NOT keep passwords on my system, but in a situation where every second time I go to a new window or app, I have to re-enter my password, I will have the system save it. It ends up saving me several minutes per day not having to type in my user name and password all the time.

There’s more, which I’ll add as I find the time ;>

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