• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Mothering at Mid-Career: Day of Higher Ed

To be honest, I forgot about it. Forgot that Lee Bessette, Aeron Haynie, and others had reminded me that today was to be the #dayofhighered, the day we recorded our activities to counter the canards promulgated most recently by David C. Levy, but prevalent “out there in the world,” that professors work short hours for high wages.

April 2, 2012

To be honest, I forgot about it. Forgot that Lee Bessette, Aeron Haynie, and others had reminded me that today was to be the #dayofhighered, the day we recorded our activities to counter the canards promulgated most recently by David C. Levy, but prevalent “out there in the world,” that professors work short hours for high wages.

Ahem. Actually, of course, I forgot because I was busy. Let me count the ways. I started the day at physical therapy — a seeming luxury that has become a necessity since sitting in a desk chair, working at a computer, seems to have brought on back problems that require occasional straightening out. I’ve got an efficient therapist, and I was out in about half an hour, proud of myself that I’m getting better at many of the exercises.

On my way to campus from the physical therapist I stopped off at a big box store for a few things. I could have held off, but my daughter and I are sharing a car this semester and I wasn’t sure when I’d be in the neighborhood next. Errand accomplished, I headed in to the office and handed over my car keys to my daughter—today’s my day to take the bus home, as her day extends into early evening with choir rehearsal.

So I didn’t get in to work until 10 am. Then it was about an hour of e-mail, all work related, before my yoga class at 11:15. Some e-mails were with students who want to take my class next fall; some were about the book award that our professional association gives — I’m the chair of the committee and need to communicate not only with the winners but with the editors and publicists at their presses. Two were related to planning for our First-Year Seminar program.

So far, I know, I’m may seem to be making Levy’s case for him. I’m already two hours into the work day with only one hour of work—none of it teaching or even research-related! And the luxury of both a yoga class and a physical therapy session in one day is not lost on me. But the day got busier as it went on. I left yoga early so that I could make it to a working lunch with faculty in our FYS program. We had a lively conversation and I was able to share some resources that I hope will be helpful as the semester goes forward.

I walked back to campus with one of our liaison librarians, talking shop along the way. We’re planning a summer “institute” for our prospective faculty, and working with the librarians has been a high point of the week during the last two years. I want to make sure we are still providing what our faculty need.

Back in the office, I attended to more e-mail, then began work revising an essay — I was supposed to have the revisions back to the editors yesterday, but I begged an extension as I was at a conference last weekend. Somewhere in there I made a phone call to a doctor with whom I’m playing phone tag, too — between her schedule and mine, I have to make the phone call during the work day, and hope that when she returns my call I’m neither in class nor a student meeting.

Edits finished, I walked across campus to meet with a colleague to prepare for a meeting we’re having tomorrow about a conference we’re planning. We did some good brainstorming and caught up on several curricular and administrative issues that both of us have been thinking about. Thank goodness for cafes on campus — they really do seem to facilitate intellectual exchange!

Back in my office, I began pulling together my notes from our meeting while I waited for a student. We met for half an hour to work on his plans for next year. I’ve already advised this student about his courses for next year, but he’s rethinking some plans and wanted to talk through his new thinking for a while. In many ways this is the highlight of my day—my first opportunity to work with a student all day, and to really think about the things that still draw me into the liberal arts: what is intellectually exciting, and why? How do the disparate pieces of a curriculum fit together? He apologized for taking up my time, but I’d have spent twice as long if he needed it.

Our meeting ran about half an hour, then he left with a little more of a plan than he’d had last week, while I packed up my laptop and some grading and walked out to the bus stop. Standing waiting for the bus, I began re-reading the novel I’m teaching on Wednesday. I read it all the way home, too—there are advantages to commuting by bus instead of car — and got home at 5:45.

That’s a short office day for me. But now, after a quick family dinner, I’m back to work: writing this blog post, checking e-mail, following up on my earlier meeting (we have agreed to touch base this evening so that we are prepared for tomorrow), preparing for another meeting at 8 tomorrow morning, grading (I must get at least five papers graded tonight if I’m to have them all ready to return on Wednesday), and reading a little further along in the novel. I’ll be lucky if my work day ends before 11 pm.

So the day may not have started until 10, and I left at 5:30 having taken one hour for yoga (in lieu of a lunch break, since it was a working lunch). I’ve got four more hours of work ahead of me, work that I’m grateful I can bring home, as it’s easier to do in the relatively uninterrupted evening hours rather than during the day. I’d estimate I’ll have a pretty solid 10-hour day under my belt before I’m done—though I’d estimate it will only involve one hour of research-related tasks (those edits and some notes I took) and that half hour of direct student contact.

I’m sure David Levy doesn’t think all those meeting or that e-mail were that important, but faculty governance is a big part of what makes the university run, and if we cede that authority to the administration we will not only have no grounds for complaint when we don’t like their decisions, we will also be distanced from the very thing that forms the ground of our daily work: a curriculum that serves our students and a working environment that facilitates our labor. So I can’t regret the meetings and the e-mail any more than the student meeting. Honestly, there are days when I wish I did more teaching and research and less administrivia—but, as I’ve said, the admin stuff is what greases the wheels, and makes the programs that I value function. So now, I’m back to work, and I’ll report back next week on the end of my #dayofhighered. 

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