One of my highlights in 2016 was attending and presenting at the conference Academic Life in the Measured University:
In one sense, the ‘measured university’ implies a state of caution, a sense of restraint, blandness, even automation. In another, it establishes a new rationality, offering something of a certainty that academic life and decision-making proceeds on the basis of ‘evidence’ … What can be done to act both with, and against, the drift, scale, and reach of the measured university? Is it possible (or even desirable) to redirect the measured university to different ends? If so, what might those ends be and how shall we go about it?
Here is a Storify version of tweets sent during the conference. [View the story “Academic Life in the Measured University” on Storify]
Some of the presentations will be the subject of future posts, particularly as papers from the conference are published, but today I want to explore a presentation on the academic calendar, which is similar to the to-do list, but represents time-in-action or scheduled time. In her paper An auto-ethnographic reflection of teaching intensive work through a lens of the sociology of emotions, Harriet Westcott shared an image of her overwhelming 7-day electronic calendar:
Harriet included thinking time in the above version of her calendar to show the invasive nature of teaching-intensive work, and made herself vulnerable by sharing times she felt like she was failing. Her dilemma:
How to achieve a coherent professional identity and emotional balance (professionally and personally) whilst striving to teach to a high standard, and to achieve the best possible learning outcomes for my students?
This is challenge for many academics, even without accounting for intensifiers such as sessional employment, single parenthood, grief or illness.
What is also crucial in scheduled time is its accelerating pace. According to the academics interviewed, there are more and more externally imposed obligations, which have to be met on a shorter and shorter time span. As a consequence, working days become very long and fragmented. Furthermore, a lack of time and living constantly under time pressure characterizes the everyday reality in academic work.
Worth stating: like anxiety, I don’t believe the acceleration of academic work is an individual problem that can be managed with a more efficient calendar or to-do list. It is a systemic problem that requires collective work to change to the structure and organisation of higher education. Many of us are working on it in different ways, and I hope you are too.
Meanwhile, while my calendar for the year has some unfilled spaces, I am going to make space for slowness by:
- scheduling time to: answer emails, do a 5 minute meditation, have lunch away from my desk
- booking in things I consider important and find pleasurable: reading, writing, connecting with colleagues without an agenda
- making space for thinking
- leaving some time unscheduled.
What does your calendar look like?