Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Some Labor Day Reflections about Work and the University

Posted Sunday, September 3, 2017, at 8:20 AM

Tomorrow is Labor Day and I think we all need to ponder a few moments what it means now to work, especially at a university. You may see stereotypes in movies of older, white gentlemen wearing tweed jackets with arm patches and smoking pipes, sitting in big leather chairs in front of an expansive library, pondering the mysteries of life. The face of the university has changed greatly as well as the workload. Female faculty and faculty of color abound in today's university.

The workload has also drastically changed, but not necessarily for the better. Funding dollars from state governments have changed the workload of a faculty member, the staff, and the administration of the University. As less money comes from the state, all University employees take on more duties with no compensation.

Last year a group of female faculty participated in an Atheneum series discussing what the roles of faculty members are in the 21st-century. What students see mostly is that faculty members teach their classes. The average faculty member who is tenured or on tenure-track will teach four classes; instructors will teach five. To many people that doesn't sound like a lot. That's only 12 to 15 hours of face-to-face teaching time. However, that doesn't account for the preparation and the grading that is involved in those hours. So if we were to do the same calculation that we do for students, faculty are essentially teaching 30 to 45 hours a week including preparation.

What students and oftentimes administrators do not see is that faculty members are also very heavily involved in the governance structure of the University. We serve on many committees, some of them being very time intensive and quite important to the functioning of the institution. You have faculty members who are serving on faculty senate, which is at least two hours of meetings a week, plus working outside on the issues that come up. You have faculty members who are serving as directors of programs on top of teaching the regular workload. You have faculty members who have labs, graduate students, and working very closely with students on internships. That varies among faculty members; however many faculty members are spending 10 hours a week in meetings, with no compensation.

The life of a faculty member, especially a tenured and tenure track, does not stop there. We are expected to stay abreast of our discipline by participating in professional activities. This means that we are expected to conduct research and publish, to present at national and international conferences, to produce artistic pieces and artistic works for the public, and to serve as experts in the field within the region. These are the hours that most students and administrators do not to see. Many of us also have families, and we have the work-life balance issue.

Administrators and staff at the University are also taking on more duties with no compensation. You have job descriptions that have expanded greatly because there simply are not enough people to do the work that is needed to be done. Our students are also affected because our students have to work more hours in order to simply pay for their living expenses as well as their tuition.

On this Labor Day weekend I know there are faculty members who are working on their classes. I spent half of my Saturday yesterday working on some documents that needed to be done to produce a minor in Spanish for the health professions. I also found myself working on my publication of an upcoming book. I have faculty colleagues who are consistently working on their time off. Essentially, we often feel we do not have time off, because we care about our students and we want to make certain that we are prepared. I know of administrators who work until 8 PM at night and on the weekends in order to get all their work done. Our staff members are working beyond their job descriptions and learning new skills in order to ensure that our students and our faculty are taken care of.

On this Labor Day let's remember to be kind to one another. When we are tired and overworked, we can get snippy and snarky with one another. We react out of tiredness, frustration and concern. It's important to remember that all of us have stuff that we have to do.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Give your mind and body the luxury of rest. Get out and enjoy the beautiful weather and be ready to start anew on Tuesday! We can't change the system overnight, and it does need changed; however, we can try to work together to make life as pleasant as possible for those around us.

I'm going to take my kids to the Japanese festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and to Six Flags!