Professors on Vacation

Teaching college is a lot more work than outsiders think -- although probably not as much work as professors think.

Ferdinand von Prondzynski, president of Dublin City University, Ireland, is apparently getting tired of people thinking he and his faculty get the summer off.

Over the summer my staff in DCU are expected to work on their research, organise or attend or speak at conferences, prepare the next year’s syllabus, supervise research students, teach on postgraduate programmes running over the summer, and do countless other things that they will need to get done in order to progress their careers. But the world outside believes they are all sitting by some swimming pool in Tenerife or perfecting their golf. And because we have been so unconvincing, those who comment on academic performance and sometimes take decisions on pay and other matters often conclude that university academics work less and less hard than those employed by institutes of technology.

This is another one of those cases where we have to gather and publish reliable data that can be used to rebut such comments, because if we don’t we will continue to be treated as work-shy. But we must also face up to the fact that the terms of employment in education more generally as regards summer vacations are no longer really acceptable and will have to be re-thought. The time is right for reform.

Having had “real jobs” both before and since my stints as a college professor, I can sympathize with both sides of this argument.

It’s certainly true that university teaching requires a lot of work during one’s “off” time.   While the iconic image of the college professor is standing at a lectern and engaging students in a Socratic dialogue, that’s really a small fraction of the job description.  Professors who aren’t working when they’re outside the classroom soon become ex-professors.

Making use of the time in between teaching terms is the only way to get any substantive writing done for faculty in universities with heavy teaching loads — which is to say all but a small percentage of universities.  (The large PhD-granting institutions typically require faculty to teach one or two courses a term vs. four or five at “teaching” schools, with a commensurately higher expectation of high quality publication.)  I seldom took more than a few days off during summer and hardly any at all over Christmas and Spring breaks.

On the other hand, it’s undeniably luxurious to have large chunks of the year when your time is more-or-less your own.  Most people work all year round on a rather fixed schedule, getting maybe 10 or 15 vacation days plus weekends and holidays.  And, increasingly, we’re expected to do work — or, at very least, be available via phone and email — even on our off days.

As a professor, there’s tremendous flexibility as to when to fit one’s work in.   So, yes, you’re likely working on any given day in August.    Maybe you’re at the library or in your office; maybe you’re in your home office or by the pool catching up on your reading.  And you may be working well past 5 o’clock.  But, if you want to get in a round of golf or run some errands during the workday, you can.  That’s just not the case for most office jobs, let alone for those who work at a factory or construction site or coal mine.

Of course, an increasing number of jobs are coming with a flexible leash.   Telecommuting is possible for more and more jobs and the line between “their” time and “your” time is increasingly blurred.  I don’t have nearly the flexibility I had teaching college but I have considerably more than I did as a defense contractor or book editor or Army officer.   And all those jobs had more leeway than is afforded to a coal miner or retail clerk.

Via Fabrizio Gilardi via Chris Lawrence

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Nearly everybody seems to think that his or her job is unappreciated and that they’re over-worked and under-paid. My suggestion: say “Thank you!” to somebody today.