Friday, August 15, 2014

Should faculty be 12-month employees?

I guess today I will be taking off my "Instructional Designer" cap, and putting on my "Higher Education Administration" cap. My career in higher education goes back to the days of me being a  work-study student, working for the department of Media Services, providing all those nice A/V equipment that professors use as part of their course.  Since then I've had a variety of jobs with an ever increasing responsibility load.  Despite the change of departments, change in job descriptions and duties, I always remained outside of an academic department (you know, the ones that have professors and teach courses).  I was always in some support role, and usually one that involved technology.  I have always been a 12-month employee, not an academic-calendar employee (9-month, September to May) like the TT† faculty. If you had asked me back then if I would want to take the entire summer off, I'd probably tell you that you were nuts. Even if we factored in the lower pay, the summer is when business gets done!  You speak to vendors, you try out new products, you upgrade your current bits-n-bobs for new trinkets that will support the teaching and administrative function of the university.  In short, the summer is when you can experiment and not impact a lot of users as you are tweaking your services.  I guess the analog would be that we are the elves working tirelessly to prepare for Christmas.

Then I moved to an academic department, which I really love.  There is only one thing I was not prepared for:  I wasn't really sure what the impact would be of faculty (including the department chair) being 9-month employees.  Faculty are the life-blood of a department, they aren't just warm bodies who teach courses.  They are subject experts who bring their wealth of knowledge, curiosity, and energy to the department.  They are the driver (or supposed to be anyway) of new innovative offerings, of new partnerships, and of course, mentoring the next generation of (insert profession) scholars and practitioners. However, they aren't around in the summer!  We (the program administrators and secretarial staff) are around, and we get done what is within our sphere of influence, however we can't do all things alone. The faculty are part of our team, and they need to be involved in major decisions, such as partnering with other department, working on ties with other Universities, arranging for symposia and so on.  These are important things that can be done in the summer, but because faculty don't work in the summers (they aren't paid in the summer), this important work doesn't get done.

Now, granted, some of you may say that committee meetings and things like that get done in the academic year, but I would argue that September is hectic as the semester starts and it's probably too much work to throw to faculty.  December is the Holiday break (and for us capstone grading!), January no one's around, and May we're back to vacation and final exam grading modes.  This really leaves five months, out of the year, to be super productive.  Anyone who's worked in management knows that you can't just condense a year's worth of work into 5 months.  Partnerships take time to build, paperwork and legal documents (if needed) also need time, Deans and Provosts need to approve some things which means that they also need their time to consult and go over things.

So, my (potentially naive) question is: should faculty be 12-month employees.  Sure, they can choose to take vacation like the rest of us, but should they be on the hook for the summer months to do committee work, prepare proposals and documentation for program offerings, program improvement, and spend the summer (when they don't teach) some quality time with the non-faculty staff planning out the next moves that will make their programs competitive and reinvigorated?

Your thoughts?

† TT = tenured, or tenure track.
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