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Friday, May 24, 2013

Is Preparing for Class Before the Semester Begins "Unpaid Labor"??

I guess it is, if you have a certain conception of your job.

A tenure-track scholar should not think that way, though. You are hired because of your competence in teaching certain classes. This competence is based on your scholarly expertise and training. You should have classes you already know how to teach, and then the intellectual wherewithal to develop new courses. If you feel the compulsion to prepare every single aspect of the course (each lecture, each assignment) before the semester starts, then you will free up an enormous amount of time during the semester. All you will have to do is show up and do the grading, with the rest of your time free for research or service, or for developing next semester's courses. If you just want to do a basic syllabus and prepare every week, then you will have less time during the semester for other things, but you won't have to spend as much time before. If you've been teaching for a while, you will have a combination of updating existing courses and developing new ones.

You probably won your first t-t job in competition with other people. One thing that got you the job was the idea that you had a certain number of courses "in you" already. A survey in your own field; a composition class, etc... You might have to present a sample syllabus or two.


Anonymous said...

It is not a question of how you conceive of your job, it is a question of how your institution conceives of it. We, for instance, don't find out for sure what our teaching assignment is until the week before classes start, for instance; many of the classes we teach, we don't get to just design, we *apply* to teach them; after applying and being accepted by a committee, you may or not be able to actually give them for real, because they may decide at the last minute that they need you more for something else. It's wasteful of our time, for sure, but there is not really any way out of it, so much effort is wasted, really.

With accountability, one must account for hours. Some things are allowed to count and others are not. We are assigned 60 hours and I wanted to include writing letters of recommendation - I write quite a few - as an aspect of teaching; this was not allowed. I tried to put it in service, where it was not allowed either. The reason given was that since these were for graduate school, postgraduate fellowships, etc., they were for things the students would do when they were no longer students, so it was not work for us. That is to say: free labor.

Jonathan said...

Who decides all this? Someone at the department level? You are not being treated as a professional, in other words. I guess if you don't get to know until a week before, then you won't be spending all summer preparing classes.

Spanish prof said...

When they cancel the upper level class you were told the previous March you'd be teaching, only two weeks before class started because you didn't make the numbers, yes, it is unpaid labor. And yes, I could have waited until the end to do the syllabus, but since I was a TT, I wanted to do a better job than that. Who decided? The Dean's office, under the orders of the Provost office. Numbers? I had 8 students instead of 10. Reason? There was a budget shortfall (they didn't meet enrollment targets in what it is a tuition driven institution).

Thomas said...

I run into a version of this problem when people tell me that they're having a hard time writing their papers because their research project isn't finished yet. I.e., they haven't finished analyzing their data. "Well, obviously, wait until you've got your conclusions worked out," I tell them. "We can't do that because by then we're working on a new project," they say. They feel like they're stealing time they should be spending on the new project if they're writing up their results for the last one.

This is all about how they conceive of their relationship to their funders. Does the funding agency buy their labor for a specific period, or does it give them a certain amount of hours to distribute as they choose. (Another way to imagine it is to "borrow" time from a project to write up the last project and then pay it back--or "forward", if you will--on the next project.)

I think Jonathan is right about professionalism in the comment above. Researchers (many of them, anyway) have come to see themselves as wage laborers, not professionals. They too easily submit to the ritual of accounting for hours.

Leslie B. said...

"not being treated as a professional"

Right, and this makes work difficult on a lot of levels. But it is a reality for many faculty.

Also, note that the general public is shocked that one works and is not paid for it in summer. I have to explain it all the time. And many new faculty are not prepared for that first fall check to be late by a month or more, as it often is at UW, UO, and UCB due to bureaucracy snafus. So when people write about these things they're talking about real, practical problems that are not generally known.

But also -- maybe lighten up? I hear fancy faculty, high achievers and so on, make wry remarks all the time about the no-summer-pay thing.

It is an issue. You want us to work only 40 hours a week during the year, but if we did that we would not get all the things done we are supposed to do or make our hours.
At the same time, the university figures salaries and so on on the idea that we will teach summer classes, so if we spread out the work to 50 weeks then 12 of them are effectively not paid.

It would be nice not to have to care about these details but they are real because they are about rent and food.

Jonathan said...

It is a major pain not to be paid during the summer. It means I have to save about 25% of my salary and put it aside for then. It is also a pain to be paid every two weeks rather than once a month. I don't tend to complain about those things because I am still relatively privileged in almost all other aspects of my job. I realize that when I retire in 15 years there will not be many like me left: non-adjuncts in R1s. We are a dying breed with the "reform" of higher education. I get cranky. I do remember waiting for that first paycheck that never seem to arrive.

Leslie B. said...

"have come to see themselves as wage laborers"

Thomas: it's *treated as* not "seeing oneself". One can see oneself as a professional all one wants but the institutions and agencies now want really rigid accounting for hours. The dilemma of not having time to finish A because you must be present on day X for project B is common. The more science and engineering oriented your institution is, the more this is true.

On not being professional, I could castigate from another direction -- faculty who consider themselves too good to do service / administration and coyly say "but I am not good at that" to get out of it. People who do that are in my view (a) shirkers in general and (b) responsible for permitting the administrative bloat they bemoan.

Leslie B. said...

"still relatively privileged"

Well, I do not really understand those who claim to be delighted with The Profession, yet fall apart the minute anyone questions what is going on, and assume incompetence on the part of the questioner. When what is going on is the end of the profession as we know it and when that, not the questioning of older realities by younger persons, is the real problem.

It amazes me how faculty have quailed to this year after year. I think faculty bear a huge amount of responsibility in the demise of these institutions. I understand about being caught up in other things, not understanding changes as they happen incrementally, and about hindsight being foresight, but still.

Final point for today: I've always thought that NOT seeing work as work was what was contributing to the problem. While faculty nobly contribute to the cause for free, and convince graduate students that doing that is a "professional" attitude (I understand this but at some point it is also not a professional but an amateurish attitude), and also say they are too fancy to get their hands dirty with any paperwork, legislatures have been working away at reform. Etc.

Thomas said...

Yes, we should distinguish between the way people are treated and the conception of themselves. But we should keep in mind that modern research requires people of what Heidegger called "a different stamp". In practice, this means that people who don't want to be treated this way aren't seeking jobs in academia. "The scholar disappears."

Anonymous said...

Yes, this (the "research man") is really key and is what needs further discussion today, truly. I may have to put in in a post!