Nine to Five or . . .?

Working on campus -- or off.

July 24, 2013

So, as an academic, how many days do you spend on campus? How many days should you spend? My answer to the second question is one that many people won’t like: you should spend as many days (or as few) as you need to, to get the job done. And by that I don’t mean scraping by on some minimal standard, but doing the job well and not shirking your duties in any of the areas that you are responsible for: teaching, service, mentoring, and research.


Lately, I find myself engaged in conversations about what is an ideal number of days that faculty members should be present on campus. This bothers me for many reasons, not the least of which is that it implies we are not doing our job if people can’t see us and that we need to follow a corporate model of 9-5, five days a week, to prove our worth.  But there are many other reasons that mandating a particular number of days is problematic.


Generational and Gender Differences: As family structures change, the new generation of workers does not have the benefit of full-time primary caretakers at home that previous generations may have had when they were forging their careers. Many young academics now, like other families, are part of two-income families where both partners have full-time jobs; they may even be part of an academic couple where they commute long distances. To expect this younger generation of academics to follow the corporate model of putting work above and beyond everything else, including family, is unfair—and unrealistic—given the changing nature of American families. Further, even as the roles of mothers and fathers are changing and converging, that is, mothers are doing more work outside the house than before and fathers are doing more work inside that house than before, gendered differences in time spent in childcare and housework persist, which put an added burden on female faculty.


As an aside, if academics are going to be expected to follow a corporate model, then we should demand higher salaries. After all, affording a full-time nanny on a corporate salary or an engineer or lawyer’s salary is very different from affording one as an instructor, assistant or associate professor in academia today.


Further, the expectation that academics be present on campus every day from 9-5 implies that we don’t work in the evening, or at night, or in the early morning hours or on weekends. Should I expect “overtime” when I grade papers, prepare a lecture, or write a recommendation letter for a student or colleague at night? If I do research on a weekend or during the holidays, should I expect to be additionally compensated?


Accountability: Presumably the discussion on mandating a particular number of days revolves around making us more accountable or more involved.  But even if a minimum days policy existed on campuses, how would people ensure that showing up on campus actually translated into more involvement? One could show up and be shut up in the office and work on revising an article, or catch up on current literature or be on Twitter! I know many people who are present every day of the week but do so to get some “alone” time to work in their office.  I also know many others who are present less than five days a week but are involved and engaged, not only as scholars but also as mentors, advisors and colleagues.  This is not to say that the 9-5 model is wrong (I also know many productive people who do keep that schedule)—the point is simply that people can be productive and involved in a variety of ways. Counting days doesn’t tell us anything about anybody’s productivity or involvement.


Unintended Consequences: Finally, who would be hurt by a policy requiring a minimum number of days on campus? It would be difficult to impose this policy on a tenured full-professor. This means that the burden of being present would fall disproportionately on young, untenured, or non tenure-track faculty simply because they are the ones in the most vulnerable positions.  It might also impact women disproportionately. As this article reveals, women and men in the corporate world use workplace flexibility options equally. However, women use telecommuting to a larger degree than men, who choose other options that do not reduce their “face-time”. This reveals the continuing gendered nature of families of course. It also reveals the higher stigma attached to men who appear to be more family-oriented instead of job-oriented.


The variation in the utilization of telecommuting or similar flexibility options also tells us that less flexibility or the lack of flexibility, has the unintended consequence of pushing women out of certain career paths (for instance, from the sciences in academia or from certain high-status administrative tracks). This doesn’t mean that women are less committed to jobs or less able as workers, and need “concessions”. It does mean that it’s time for us to recognize that corporate culture that relied on a breadwinner/homemaker dichotomy is outdated given the realities of American families now.  


Flexibility is important for worker well-being and productivity. At a time when most workplaces are becoming more flexible (despite Yahoo’s recent decision to the contrary), we should not be thinking of becoming less so. By doing so, we would hurt some of the most vulnerable groups of faculty at the same time that we deprive ourselves of some amazing talent.


New London, Connecticut in the US.


Afshan Jafar is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Connecticut College. She can be reached at[email protected].



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