Happy May Day! Old Lady Crankypants Rant #1

So I’m thinking about the time crunch and wondering what to do about it. Even if no one ever reads these posts, maybe there’ll be something cathartic in writing about the more work for mother problem, the need to say no, and tips for coping.

Now, because the academy is full of mainly self-absorbed people, everyone thinks that their time is more “valuable” than anyone else’s. Of course, we’re talking about the dominated fraction of the dominant class, so all this is really relative. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for whining on the part of people who don’t do much at all, but I think that it’s true that the clericalization of the professoriate, the increased demands of running mainly privatized institutions that don’t want to pay anyone to do administrative work (or anyone qualified, that is), and the added work of entrepreneurialism have increased the workloads of associate and full profs in particular (assistants as well, but at research institutions, there’s still talk at least of sparing them the most burdensome forms of administrative work). More Marxist rant at a later date.

So here’s tip number one. Never say yes the first time you’re asked to take on additional admin work, unless it’s something you feel so passionately about that you can’t take a pass. You can say no to your chair, dean, or president. Plenty of your colleagues to. I’ve instituted a 24 hour waiting period for any decision about additional work, especially after I took on four independent studies one quarter because I can’t say no to feminist graduate students. What that means is that if you are asked — ftf, by email, by phone — to do something, you very politely tell the person that it sounds like a fantastic opportunity (unless it’s something so patently ridiculous or loathsome (for me, committees about space, which are usually fait accomplis, or some other kind of show committee intended to suppress agitation or mollify consituencies). You then add that you need to consider it in the context of your schedule and your workload and that you’ll let him or her know if you can within 24 hours. That buys you time to think about whether you can take on another task and to consult other people (especially in the case of university-level committees) about whether a given committee has any decision-making or economic power. This last is important: if you’re going to do a lot of work on a committee, you don’t want it to be on a committee that’s just spinning wheels. And don’t listen when senior colleagues or mentors tell you that serving on Committee A isn’t a lot of work. I’m not saying that they’re lying, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a committee that didn’t involve work. And a good mentor understands that we all need to just say no sometimes.

Tip number two and then I really need to go and hide my head under my pillows it being Friday and all, if you agree to serve on an administrative committee, don’t appear uber-capable. Keep your mouth shut and get the lay of the land. Once the committee chair realizes that you’re not irrational, incapable, and that you can actually take notes, you’re going to get tons of work dumped on you. I can’t tell you how often I’ve witnessed performances of ineptitude and helplessness on the part of mostly male faculty who don’t want to do any work (of course, they’ll attend meetings and talk and talk and talk, but that’s another rant altogether). In fact, one male faculty member who I quite liked once told me that the trick to getting out of faculty meetings and other committee assignments was to make yourself as objectionable as possible. Then, he said, no one would object to your absence.

Okay. Old lady crankypants needs to go to sleep. Additional tips on the way. Try the 24 hour waiting period for a month though — I swear it rocks.


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