You're Not Alone
By Douglas Reimondo Robertson,
Northern Kentucky University
Hundreds of thousands of faculty feel chronically overloaded and out of control of their work life. What can you do about it?
Why are so many of us feeling so overloaded all the time? One big reason is that 21st century higher education is generating tasks faster than the academy’s work force is expanding. Somebody’s got to do this new work, and that somebody is often faculty.
Another reason why so many of us feel chronically overloaded is the faculty tradition of autonomy and self-governance—we like to be in control of our fate, to be involved, to have a say. Can you say “committees”? We have a billion of them, of our own making.
Still another reason for widespread overload, yet again of our own doing, is that many of us measure ourselves and others by our busyness. When we ask colleagues how they’re doing, if they don’t rattle off a long list of professional activities until they are red-faced and gasping for air, then many of us wonder why they aren’t pulling their weight. “Slackers!” “Put them on a committee!” “They’ll never make full professor behaving like that.” Chronic overload has become an indicator for us of productivity and professional accomplishment.
Overload-as-pernicious-norm leads us to the final reason why the problem is so widespread: Vested interests in the larger systems of which we are a part benefit from us thinking that working until we feel fried is something to which we should aspire.
How many of us would feel guilty if we finished the semester without metaphorically staggering across the finish line of our teaching triathlon? Plenty!
Meet Douglas Reimondo Robertson
Douglas Reimondo Robertson is assistant provost and professor at Northern Kentucky University. He has authored or co-edited six books and numerous peer-reviewed publications. Currently, he is senior editor, New Forums Press's college teaching book series; past editor, To Improve the Academy; and is a current or former member of the editorial boards of Innovative Higher Education, Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, and Kentucky Journal on Excellence in College Teaching and Learning. A recent Fulbright Senior Specialist candidate, he has provided over 135 keynotes, workshops, and consultations. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, and is chair of its publication committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; http://pod.nku.edu/staff.asp