Slow Professors? Yeah. Right.

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A few days ago University Affairs published an article entitled “The Slow Professor”.

It’s the title of a new book written by two tenured academics about the “frantic pace” of modern academia, and stepping away from it.

I have never seen such a grotesque example of tenured faculty privilege. Imagine, Canadian academics, some of the best paid academics in the entire OECD, are deciding that they want to slow things down and take it a bit easier. Because they are overworked. Poor darlings.

Let’s hope we don’t see the “Slow Nurse”, or “Slow Doctor” movements picking up amongst the professions. Why should academia bathe in this self-indulgence?

As contract faculty I don’t have this luxury. My pay is so bad that I have to take as much work as possible, to maintain even a modest standard of living. I’m not part of the Canadian middle class, by any measure of income. Tenured faculty earn at least three times what I do. So my sympathy for them, as you might imagine, is extremely limited.

In the magazine article, there’s a quote which is quite breath-taking in its selfishness:

Why did you change the name of the book from The Slow Campus to The Slow Professor?
We changed it because we thought that focusing on the “campus” would make the subject seem too big, too impersonal. The title is important to our theme — we’re talking about individual agency.

And this makes it even more cringingly entitled. What the situation screams out for is collective action by the faculty. They have allowed the rise of managerialism to erode their say in how the University is governed. They have allowed casualization of academia to a large degree in one of their primary functions (teaching). They have allowed management to cut faculty numbers, thereby reducing the number of people available for essential “service” and committee work. Class sizes have increased. The enlarged and more representative student body needs a lot more care and attention than it used to. Obsession with metrics has placed a greater administrative burden on faculty. External funding has become much more difficult to obtain, and requires a significant time commitment to write grant proposals. These are all true.

And some of these well-paid individuals, who are feeling hard-done by, are going to exercise their “Individual Agency” to take it a bit easier. Wonderful. They seem to have forgotten that they are largely funded by the taxpayer and by student tuition fees. Are students and taxpayers going to be sympathetic to the Slow Professor Movement?

Hard question time:

· Who gets to be the slow professor? Who amongst the privileged, gets the extra privilege?

· Who gets extra work to do because some of the professors are being slow?

· What work, which they are employed to do, will they refuse to do?

· What will the management reaction be to non-completion of tasks?

If you can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, then you can’t have a slow professoriate. Everyone will have to be in it, or nobody should be in it, because it’s not fair to those who aren’t on the slow-track.

I can tell you exactly what being a “Slow Professor” will cost me. It will cost me 20% of my annual earnings, the princely sum of C$6750. As a sessional lecturer/contract instructor (Adjunct Professor in the US), I am an academic serf paid for piece-work. Each piece is a one semester long course. If I want a vacation and take quiet time to contemplate things, then I have to stop working for two months and so I don’t get paid. As I have now been teaching continuously, without any break, for five years, and without any vacation longer than 4 days at a time, I feel I need it. A very bad mental health issue, as a direct result of student actions during a final exam has brought me to the point where I have to slow down. Note that this is not a luxury for me, unlike tenured slow professors. I don’t get sick leave or much in the way of benefits. I just have to stop work and stop getting paid.

So I won’t be a “slow professor” for long, because I simply can’t afford to be. Rather like the majority of working people, if we don’t deliver what we are contractually obliged to do, we don’t get paid. Why should tenured professors be any different?