Reflections on 5 Days in the Life of a Tenured Professor

I have to admit I was shocked to total up my working hours last week and see that I only worked 42.5 hours. I’ve been thinking alot about why it seems like I worked much more than that. Here are some conclusions I’ve come to:

(1) I have read somewhere (I can’t remember where!) that the average employee works (actually works!) only 26 hours per week.

(2) The lack of control over my time makes many of those 42.5 hours seem alot worse than they are.

(3) Other responsibilities outside of my main job leave little room for rest.

(4) The knowledge that even 40 hours is not enough to get everything done is a stressor. Hence, I put in another 7 hours today (Sunday) sending faculty in the department information about their upcoming salary review, scheduling meetings with journal interns, and drafting a memo to the dean requesting permission to hire this year and next.

The life of a tenured professor is a great one, and I don’t at all want to come off as complaining. But it is not as though tenure has made us all into a bunch of slackers. To the contrary, most (but certainly not all) of us tenured professors continue to work as hard as ever — because we like what we do.

Day in the Life, Day 5

Day 5: Friday. Busy morning and relaxing afternoon ahead.

6:15am: Wake up, shower, dress, coffee, kids to bus

7:30am: In my office, chatting with colleague on phone

8:00am: Check email and prepare for 8:30am meeting and 9:30am phone call.

8:30am: Meeting regarding personnel issue

9:30am: Phone conversation with woman from England working on on-line submission system for journal

10:15am: Meeting with undergrad student working as teaching assistant for me

10:45am: Touch base with department admins, sign forms, etc.; talk to faculty member leading our hiring process; final check of emails

11:45am: Leave campus for indoor center to drop off rackets for tennis team and play tennis(!!!)

2:00pm: Lunch, post office, bank

3:00pm-4:45pm: Watch women’s tennis match

4:45pm: Get son from basketball practice

5:30pm: Home, go through mail

6:00-7:30pm: Nap

7:30pm: Dinner

8:00pm-10:30pm: String tennis rackets

10:30pm-Midnight: Check email, correspond about departmental affairs, schedule meetings for next week

Midnight-12:30pm: Draft memo to dean about department’s hiring needs for next year, while checking eBay, facebook, blog.

12:30pm: Tequila and bed

Total hours worked: c.6

Day in the Life, Day 4

Day 4: Wake up late from staying up too late last night. Day full of teaching and meetings ahead.

8:00am: Wake up, coffee, shower, dress, take out recycling. Everyone already gone to school and work.

9:00am: Decide to work at home until 11:00am meeting. Check email, prepare for class today.

11:00am: Arrive at office at last.

11:00am: Meet with honors student to discuss research interviews, and departmental admins to discuss departmental matters

12:00pm-1:15pm: Class

1:30pm: Lunch (non-working for a change!)

2:30pm: Office hours: meet two students regarding courses

3:00pm-4:15pm: Meeting with interns to train on on-line submission system for journal, and follow-up email queries to system designer

4:15pm: Go to tennis center to pick up rackets; compose and send emails that have to go out today.

5:15pm: Get son from school basketball practice

6:00pm: Deliver son to church league basketball practice

6:00pm-7:30pm: Work on faculty salary review materials during practice

7:45pm-9:00pm: Home, dinner, kids to bed, talk to wife about daughter’s courses for next year

9:00pm-11:00pm: String and grip tennis rackets

11:00pm-11:30pm: Revise and post class assignment to course website; email students

11:30pm-12:00pm: Check eBay, facebook, blog.

12:30pm: Bourbon and bed

Total hours worked: c.9

Day in the Life, Day 3

Day 3, Wednesday. Kids back to school, but buses running late so off to a late start today.

7:00am: Wake up, coffee. Wait with son at bus stop until 7:45 (bus 30 minutes late)

To 8:30am: Shower, dress, eat.

To 9:00am: Check email, pack

To 10:00am: Stop at dry cleaners, post office on way to office

10:00am: Arrive at office at last.

To 11:30am: Check emails, respond to request for input from dean, update faculty on issues, deal with departmental fax machine, schedule meetings

11:30am-1:0pm: Train interns and compose email to on-line submission system designer.

1:00pm-2:00pm: Chat with previous chair, fight fires, emails, phone calls.

2:00pm-3:00pm: Conference call with journal production desk regarding transition, and follow-up emails

3:00pm-3:15pm: Phone conversation with colleague from another college

3:15pm-3:30pm: Email class about assignments for tomorrow

3:30pm: Depart office

To 4:10pm: Pick up tennis rackets to string from tennis center

4:20pm-6:00pm: Watch kids basketball games

6:00-7:00pm: Dinner with family

7:00-9:30pm: Send emails to kids teachers, eBay people, departmental colleagues, friends; research new tennis rackets on-line

9:30pm: Customize and string tennis rackets

11:30pm: Scotch and put together order for tennis supplier

1:00am: Bed

Total hours worked: 5.5 hours

Day in the Life of a Tenured Professor, Day 2

Day 2, Tuesday. Historic day: First half-Kenyan to be inaugurated as President of the United States. Is the dream still alive?

Had an inch of snow overnight, so kids home from school because of school closure, and university opening is delayed until 10:30a — for some folks. Not me.

6:15am: Wake up, coffee, shower, dress, read Sunday New York Times, check gmail and eBay.

8:15am: Arrive at office. Only one here.

To 8:45am: Check work email, organize for day, eat two muffins at desk.

To 11:00am: Write letters of recommendation for students, check in with departmental admins

11:00-11:40am: Meet with student re honors thesis project

To 1:15pm: Prep for and teach class

To 2:20pm: Eat lunch in dining hall with students

2:30-3:40pm: Write letter of recommendation for colleague at another college who was nominated for an award

To 5:45pm: Prep for and attend chairs’ meeting with dean

6:00pm: Leave office

To 10:30pm: To indoor tennis center for tennis night

To 11:00am: Email kid’s teacher, eBay, check email, finish blog

11:30pm: Bed (hopefully)

Total hours worked: c.10

Day 1 Work Log

What is a week in the life of a slappy tenured professor like? Here’s Day 1, Monday. Kids home from school because of Martin Luther King Holiday so was able to sleep in:

8:00am: Wake up, coffee, shower, dress

8:45am: Quick check of emails and pack up computer and work stuff

9:00am: Drive to indoor tennis center and drop off rackets strung over the weekend

9:30am: Arrive at office

To 10:30am: Review documents for and email correspondence with class I am teaching, honors student I am advising, independent study student I am working with, and miscellaneous chair related business.

To noon: Review on-line submission system being developed for the journal I edit, prepare for meeting with editorial interns, and prep for chairs’ meeting with dean tomorrow.

Noon – 2pm: Train interns on on-line submission system for journal I edit

To 2:30pm: Check mail in office, do scheduling

2:30-4:40pm: Eat lunch in dining hall, bring laptop to write up evaluation of on-line submission system testing, 10 minute phone conversation with friend

To 5:30pm: Meet son back at office, make dinner for him, lay down in break room and watch Australian Open tennis

5:30-7:45pm: Work on documents for evaluation of department faculty for salary review (as chair), intermittantly check email and do scheduling

7:45pm-9:45pm: Show movie to intro. class (“Hoop Dreams”)

To 10:00pm: Log assignments completed by students during the movie, follow-up with intro. class on enrollment issues by email, reschedule meeting with student for tomorrow

10:00-10:20pm: Check eBay auctions, email tennis coach, close down computer, wash dishes, straighten office to get ready for tomorrow

10:35pm: Home

To 11:15pm: Unpack from work, eat muffin, drink scotch, finalize eBay auctions, update blog

To 11:30pm: Change clothes, get clothes ready for tomorrow, pack tennis bag

11:30pm: Bed (hopefully)

Total hours worked: c.12


The follower of this sporadically updated blog will notice a change in its title and description. These changes reflect the fact that I earned TENURE in the spring of 2008 and was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor effective last July.

The landmark moments in the life of an academic are few, but all are quite significant. Completing the PhD, getting a tenure-track job, publishing your first book, and so on. But there is probably no moment more significant than earning tenure. (Tenure being the contractual right of faculty not to be terminated without cause, and particularly not to be terminated because of the particular ideas being taught or topics being researched, hence associating tenure very closely with academic freedom. I think the Wikipedia entries on both of these subjects are pretty sound.)

In my case, the victory was bittersweet because my decision was twice delayed. First, when I left Our Lady’s University prior to standing for tenure there. (See early postings for more on that.) Second, when my colleagues here insisted that I wait until 2007-2008 to stand for tenure, rather than considering me in 2006-2007 (which was my 8th year of continuous employment since earning my PhD in 1998).

Putting together my tenure portfolio was both CATHARTIC — allowing me to see that I actually had accomplished some things as a junior professor — and FRUSTRATING — because I knew my friends (and “aspirational peers”) had long since crossed over the tenure and promotion threshold. I had a hard time accepting that I had been consistently productive over a period of nine years and still had to worry about whether I would get tenure or not (more on that in a later post).

In any event, tenure was granted and I began the 2008-2009 academic year with all of the security it affords. I also found myself having to defend the rationale for the tenure system. Why should I as a faculty member have job security when others do not? And having tenure only compounded the beliefs of some of my friends that faculty don’t really do anything anyway. If we didn’t do anything before tenure, why would be do anything after tenure?

Of course, there is some “dead wood” in every forest. And there are certainly some faculty who use tenure as an excuse to slack off. As for me, I find myself busier than ever, in part because I became chair of my department on January 1st (more on that later). To give anyone interested a sense of what a week in the life of one faculty member looks like, beginning tomorrow (if all goes well), I will post a log of how I spent my time each day for the coming week. I only hope I have enough time to do that! Stay tuned.

On Writing

“Writing is manual labor of the mind: a job, like laying pipe.” — John Gregory Dunne

(From the April 23, 2006 NYTBR review of Erica Jong’s “Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life,” by Ron Powers)

Slackin’ on my bloggin’

OK, so I have been slackin’ on my bloggin’, but a new semester has started so I am back and ready to elevate my game.

In fairness, much has happened since the last posting on May 17th. Sold a house, bought a house, moved out of apartment into new house, separated family members moved to NC, lots of unpacking and yard work. Kids spent much of the summer at the neighborhood swimming pool. I read the page proofs and created indexes for two forthcoming books (one to be published in September 2005 and one in early 2006), organized a professional meeting of 200+ people in Philadelphia, and prepared to take over as editor of an academic journal. Not to mention playing in a mixed doubles tennis league. More on all of that later.

So, the three months of summer flew by. Blogging is about the only thing I slacked on this summer.

Welcome back.

What Happened to March?

OK, let’s just say that March was an insane month, so I’ve gotten a bit off track in terms of posting. Let me review.

First of all, three weeks of March were given over to spring break. Of course the spring break at Wake Forest University did not overlap with the kids’ spring break at school. So, I drove the kids back to Indiana in early March so they wouldn’t have to sit around the apartment all day long while I was at work. The day we arrived in Indiana, I dropped the kids off at home and left immediately for the airport to fly to Louisville for a meeting. I flew back the next day, spent the weekend at home, and had a chance to visit with a couple of OLU students, which was great. Then I spent a couple of days the next week at the playa’s club in Chicago – where I got to meet a Luvabull live and in person – then drove back to NC for a conference.

While the kids were away, I was busy organizing a professional meeting that is taking place in August. Over a hundred scholars will be participating in nearly 50 sessions. It was an organizational challenge, to be sure.

During this time, my father had a stroke. Since the kids were away I flew right away to California to visit with him. He is physically every well, though his speech is difficult and needs practice.

The week I got back from California I drove back to Indiana to pick up the kids. Over that weekend — Easter weekend — I loaded up a U-Haul with household junk to bring back to NC, watched an OLU baseball game and tennis match, and visited with a townie/OLU student at a local tavern.

Our first trip back to Indiana, the kids and I left March 2 and we finally arrived back on March 28. In between all of this traveling, I also had my regular teaching responsibilities, grading, and advising students.

Nothing creative or funny to say about it. It was just a brutal month.