Ouch. This article hits pretty hard. I’d say it’s an accurate summary of how many faculty feel as a result of the pandemic.
A lot of people get into higher ed because they feel like this is a stable profession. So much of the higher ed workforce over the past few decades has changed in ways that don’t normally break through to public perception. I would say less than half of many faculties are tenured. Other people are contingent, hired every year, every semester. And the workload in a lot of student-facing positions is totally overwhelming for people too. These are people who are working really long hours, often on the weekend. The pay isn’t great, and they don’t really see an opportunity for professional advancement. That was an underlying issue before the pandemic, but COVID showed that the lows can be even lower than what people had anticipated.
To me, the theme of these breaking-point moments is when campuses were asking their employees to give up their own personal lives, to put their health in jeopardy during the pandemic without really acknowledging what that took and what the workers were sacrificing.
Seth Stevenson: As these schools reopen, what kind of reactions are you hearing about mask and vaccine mandates, and teaching virtually as opposed to in person?
If you’re at a public institution, the policies your school can adopt have always been in line with what the state allows. But because masks and vaccines have become so politicized, it’s a good chance that, in Republican-leaning states, you’re not going to have mandates, and people might not even be tested regularly. A lot of schools don’t put up the resources for that. If you’re at a private institution, you’re going to have a lot more flexibility. The campus leaders there are far more likely to mandate masks and vaccines and schools in states that voted for President Joe Biden. So there’s a real anger, particularly in red-state public schools, of people not feeling like the health and safety of their family members is being valued.
The people in charge of these schools are kind of a tough spot, right? They’ve got a pretty complicated challenge to deal with.
I think there is an acknowledgment that, especially at state institutions, to some degree their hands are tied. And I think that acknowledgment is far overshadowed by a sense of, Wow, this institution, my employer, there’s a lot of hypocrisy here.
There’s a podcast associated with it, too. There’s been an interesting rupture as a consequence of the pandemic, and most importantly, the fumbling approach of the institution to it. I’ve had a huge loss of faith in the university and the university administration — I don’t trust them at all to operate in the best interests of the faculty or students.
Also, the politicization is here in the blue states, too. I did not care much for our Democratic governor before, since his primary strength in the election was that he’d appeal to outstate Minnesota, the rural, red part of the state, and that’s what he has done. All along he has taken the minimal steps, and he’s folded up the tent as soon as he could (for instance, abandoning the mask mandate prematurely). I trust him even less now.
Boy, it sure feels good to vent on a blog that will have no effect and that the administration would never read and where my concerns can be totally ignored. It’s so nice and reassuring to know I don’t matter.
I’m not in health care or education, but have been public facing for over a year and thankfully still here (knock on particle board). I know what it feels like though to feel as though I’m considered expendable. Or the sense of not mattering. Nice to comment on a blog where people can vent and commiserate and have negligible impact on the larger world. Well someone here gave me useful advice about cutting my own hair.
It’s similar in health care.
You read about overloaded ICU’s and serious staffing shortages of health care personnel.
Part of that is due to burnout and the horrors of watching very sick people die every day around you.
It’s made worse in this current fourth wave because the patients are almost all unvaccinated by choice.
They are also sicker, don’t respond well to the currrent treatments, and die a lot.
Health care workers are risking their lives every day for a group of people who don’t appreciate them and are often actively hostile. The Covid-19 virus deniers/antivaxxers claim the Covid-19 virus doesn’t exist, the vaccines are evil, and the staff are crisis actors in on the plot. And then end up on a ventilator.
So far at least 3,600 health care workers have caught the virus and died in the USA.
R. L. Foster says
My wife is a professor at William & Mary and she was extremely relieved when the school imposed a vaccination mandate on all faculty, staff and students or to receive a disability or religious exemption or deferral (there have been very few of those). There was virtually no push back from the campus community. From what we’ve heard it seems that most parents were also relieved. Of course, we don’t know if any of the students have fake vax cards, so there is that uncertainty. Hopefully, being students at a very selective school, they should know to do the honorable thing. It would be a near automatic expulsion if found out. Masks are mandatory through September in indoor shared spaces. It almost feels normal on campus again.
PZ Myers says
Yes, you talk to the faculty and students and there is near-unanimity on taking cautious efforts to end the pandemic. Talk to the administration, and the only people they listen to are wealthy donors and the shrill right-wing idiots. It’s like giving Turning Point USA the deciding voice in university policy.
I can’t help wondering about the eventual fate of higher education overall. In many ways, it seems that the people who run colleges and universities are kind of sawing off the limb they’re standing on. Much like most for-profit corporations, they’ve been focussed on increasing “revenue” (tuition and grant overheads) and “capital” (endowments) to the point of damaging the basis of their existence.
Tuitions and expenses have gotten so high that only the richest people can go without going into life-long debt. And most administrators seem to think that the function of college is to pour units of book-learning into the students’ heads, yet that book-learning is easily available at a much lower price elsewhere. The jobs that a college degree prepares you for (white-collar) are the ones that are getting outsourced to India and Eastern Europe, whereas the ones that can’t be outsourced require apprenticeships, not college degrees. I think young people are beginning to see through the “college degree = set for life” propaganda and realize that a college degree simply doesn’t make economic sense.
Jobs for people with advanced degrees are getting fewer and less desirable. Colleges and universities are reducing their full-time faculty to the minimum necessary to maintain accreditation (and treating them more and more like day laborers.) It is harder and harder for a new PhD to find an academic job, other than adjunct teaching, which (in my experience) doesn’t pay above the poverty line. Government funding for research is also much lower than even when I got my PhD, so there aren’t a lot of jobs there, either. And having an advanced degree is a liability in the rest of the job market. I’m only surprised that anyone bothers to get a PhD any more.
Local University policy in Ontario
I’m very surprised that we haven’t been flooded from across the USA with reports of K-12 and college teachers individually telling each class: Today, again, we are going to hold class outside. Grab your umbrella and coat, and your plastic sitting mat, and we will meet outside in the dirt, where I will take roll and then lecture with absolutely no visuals at all. Any student who doesn’t like it is free to move to some other state where this isn’t necessary. If you complain to the administration, the rest of us will deny that any of this happened. And don’t forget to bring your snow goggles for tomorrow. And please start looking in the dirt to see if you can find the needed supplies for tomorrow’s lab.
Alternatively, students who wish can sit in their regular seats indoors. I will leave the class door open, in hopes you can hear some of what we are discussing, outdoors.
The university requires that you teach, but it doesn’t require that you teach inside a room.
Allison @5, I could not agree more! That’s the road that universities are going down. It won’t end well.
It’s also ridiculous for administrators to claim that they have to abide by state laws and the prevailing political winds. My nephew’s large reddish-state university sent out that of course they wouldn’t mandate vaccines, they would never infringe on students’ rights like that! Then they outlined the list of hoops that unvaxxed students would have to jump through every day and week. It was onerous and tedious enough that most of the students got vaccinated to just to avoid the hassle. Now, that is by NO means what the admins should have done, but it certainly helped.
I’ve known for a long time that the university administration was not interested in the faculty, nor in education, for that matter. So, the pandemic wasn’t such a big change, for me. What’s going to drive me out, eventually, is the therapy expectations. Every student requires mental health services, and, instead of beefing up the campus’ resources, the professors are expected to do that. Along with the teaching.
I can’t tell you what it’s like to be expected to teach an advanced, fairly dangerous, chem lab class of 40 seniors, but also to do hours and hours of private talk therapy with every single one of them. My TAs were also explicitly instructed to do that, but I told them not to. When they pay teaching assistants what therapists get (ca. $350/hour), the TA’s can take that up. I’m not even getting paid enough, let alone them.
That the teaching part of my job has become secondary to providing therapy, in the eyes of the administration, is what is burning me out the most.
I was appalled when I learned how adjuncts are treated. A brilliant friend of mine, a truly gifted concert pianist who has two books published by Cambridge University Press is given general required classes with over 100 students – without a TA! – and has no job security and zero benefits.
And students are being treated like slaves – mandatory participation in off-campus activities with no academic credit, purported “binding” contracts regarding attendance, and zero pay for their efforts.
After earning my masters I’ve decided that academia is pretty much a joke these days.
The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) says
There needs to be a term, for use in discussing American politics, which means “an issue that one party claims to be very interested in, but which they will never actually take significant action about because the combination of voter outrage as a motivational tool, the flow of money and power under the status quo, and the resistance of the opposition make it much more useful to simply ignore it once in office.” Whatever you want to call it, higher education is such an issue for Democrats, just as abortion was (and may or may not still be, it depends on whether the court system actually ends up striking down the Texas ban) for the Republicans. (If you disagree with the latter: twice since 2000 the Republicans have had control of the Presidency and Congress; not only was no abortion ban proposed at either point, it was not even proposed to make the legal restrictions from more tightly-regulated states, which were already de facto okay with the Supreme Court, the national standard. It is to the benefit of the Republican Party for abortion to continue, so that they can continue to use it as a fundraising and rallying point. The Texas not-quite-a-ban actually is better for them than an actual outright one, because it gives their voters a chance to harass people and feel like they’re accomplishing things to build engagement.)