Friday, March 05, 2010

News flash from the Chronicle: most people would prefer to work fewer hours, be paid the same salary

From The Chronicle: "Younger Professors Say a Successful Career Should Not Require Long Hours":
In conversations with a dozen faculty members, researchers with a project on work-life issues run by Harvard University have found that "Generation X" professors value efficiency over "face time" and believe that quality is more important than quantity in academic work.
Where to start?

Note the implicit oppositions being set up here:

Gen X faculty like efficiency whereas senior faculty don't know how to be efficient, not being digital natives, and prefer schmoozing (face time).

Gen X faculty prefer "quality" in publications whereas senior faculty wouldn't know quality if it bit them in the face and are forced to count "quantity" instead.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. But it seems to me that this kind of study (or article) based on a sample size of 12 (twelve!), does a disservice to both Gen X faculty and senior faculty.

First of all, it uses the language of science to reinforce false generational cliches: Gen X is lazy and entitled, and senior professors are too old and stodgy to learn to work smarter. At least it recognizes that senior professors do work and are not simply (as they are over at some sites) deadwood lumps stuck in the middle of the road of academic progress.

Second, it presents as a radical new idea the concept that faculty members in Gen X would like to work fewer hours and not be in the office as much. Well, who wouldn't like to work fewer hours and be paid the same amount, especially in an era of furloughs in which we're being paid less and asked to work more hours? It's right up there on my personal to-do list along with achieving world peace and seeing a unicorn before I die. The point is that the real world has a way of correcting one's expectations. That doesn't mean that you're a bad person for having an ideal; it just means that you work as hard as you need to, and you learn pretty quickly how many hours that takes.

Third, the survey and the article buy into a syndrome of pitting generations of scholars against each other through cliches like this, giving a focus, and an incorrect focus at that, to the free-floating anxiety and resentment that's rampant in the academy today. In Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, Marlowe is about to be beaten up by a couple of detectives who are at odds with each other. He says to one, "Let's you and him fight. I'll catch him when he drops." By using generational labels, universities are saying "let's you and him fight"--except that they're not going to catch either generation when it drops.


ArticulateDad said...

Indeed! I found it interesting to hear the news report this afternoon about the young student rebels in California and elsewhere, who had the audacity to demand a tuition freeze AND reductions in the salaries for senior administrators! Of course, the news made them out to sound like violent protestors. I wasn't there. I can't judge if that's accurate. But it is clear that too much pitting of generations against one another is not much of a good thing!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a really lame study, honestly, and as you point out, aside from sample size there seem to be glaring flaws in the way the groups are defined, the questions asked, and assumptions were left unexamined.
On the upside, unicorn bosses really do let you work fewer hours and get paid more. Too bad California's Unicorn Universities aren't hiring.

Ink said...

The comments afterwards were fascinating...

undine said...

ArticulateDad, I agree. It sounds like a classic divide-and-conquer strategy to me, and the only ones who win are those who are racing to the bottom in terms of supporting the university.

naptimewriting, the Unicorn Universities keep their addresses a closer secret than Amazon's phone number.

Ink, I'll have to check out those comments--thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have no real input, I'd just like to say that The Long Goodbye is approximately the best book ever. At least there was definitely a time when I thought so, probably shortly after I first read it, and that conviction has been hard to shake.

Christopher Vilmar said...

Well, I know I would. Prefer to work fewer hours and be paid the same salary, that is. And I'm Gen X, just for the record, but I'm pretty sure I would feel the same if I was a boomer.

undine said...

tenthmedieval, we are a club of at least two members on _The Long Goodbye_. I used to prefer _The Lady in the Lake_, but LG took over a few years back.

Christopher Vilmar, I agree--so why is the Chronicle so eager to publicize generational disputes? In the forums, there are real issues being discussed, such as instructors trying to get some support when they're threatened by students--as in threatened with physical harm--but they can't get any support because the powers that be are more worried about liability lawsuits and student access to class. Why doesn't the Chronicle write about those, or about solutions for the gutting of liberal arts education? They'd rather talk about generational differences, the laziest kind of reporting ever, as if faculty are involved in a dodgeball game.