In academia, the summer break inevitably leads every professor to confront the very tasks he/she has put aside during the busy semesters of teaching: finish that research project; complete that journal article or book; catch up on more readings of favorite authors; brush up that syllabus; weed/add class materials, etc. To many, summer is really not a breather of one’s academic self, but merely a dedicated time to concentrate on things other than teaching. Except for the shorter library and office hours, and the minuscule number of students roaming about campus, summer is business as usual to many of us whose work follows wherever one goes.
My May summer vacation is different only in one regard from my regular semester: I am in the United States rather than my post in Iloilo City, Philippines. Although labeled as “official travel”, in actuality I am running my Division’s affairs as Chairperson from wherever I can get access to the Internet. Since landing, I have written letters of all sorts-- requests, endorsements, explanations, justifications, committee appointments, reports-- to my bosses bearing electronic signature (which, fortunately for me, the Dean and University officials accept as official). Remotely, I arranged for our Division to conduct a series of training with employees of the Department of Social Welfare and Development; part of our extension activity. I advertised, received applications and arranged to hire substitutes and lecturers for the first semester, which begins in June 1. From whatever convenient desk I can open my laptop, I troubleshoot on course offerings and faculty loads- answering distress missives from the College Secretary about needing to open more General Education sections for incoming freshmen, a new recruit who suddenly pulled out because of legal encumbrance from her current University affiliation, and a faculty member who asked to defer going on study leave the last minute. Not even the 12 to 15 hour time difference could absolve me from delivering timely advisories to colleagues who are returning from or about to go on prolonged leaves of absence (for graduate studies or sabbatical). With email, one never really has time off; not even if one is 9,000 miles away.
Summertime is also a period of deadlines for research project proposals or travel grants. Therefore, if I wish to do something productive in the next calendar year (which begins June 1), I must turn in my applications during the summer. The writing and accomplishing of forms needed at home had to be wisely interspersed with sightseeing and visiting family and friends. Electronic connectedness, while a bane to my existence as Division chair is also a blessing if I were to turn in proposals in time. Another plus is that I am able to supervise a team of field researchers back in the Philippines through Skype. I have never appreciated electronic bank transfers until now; and the power of Google voice which allows me to place relatively cheap international phone calls to the Philippines.
But alas, the writing break which I sought and planned to use to anchor my summer days has long since disappeared from sight. Except for the two full days spent slogging over materials at the Library of Congress last weekend and yesterday getting my bearings at my University of Maryland College Park Library, I have not made progress on the writing bit. The pile of books (marked for relevant chapters) at my UMD office stares at me with alarm, asking, “why haven’t you read me?” Just like a colleague at Johns Hopkins who similarly laments having not done any writing since he took a 4-month sabbatical, I am inevitably torn between doing my job and fulfilling life goals.
Summer is just like any month of the year to an academic and administrator with a full plate. The illusion of summer idylls are only for those without deadlines to meet. Regardless, it is a privilege and a treat I truly relish that I am spending my academic summer in another country where I could get access to materials, get connected with the right people, network, relish cool weather, grab pizza, cheesecake, pulled pork sandwiches and lots of other caloric-laden sinful treats I couldn’t get in the Philippines. It’s my version of happiness.