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The State of the Profession

Via George (and, as he points out, a host of sources before him), the Guardian’s article, Cracks in the Ivory Towers, on problems in the academy. As George points out, though the study being reported on is focused on the UK, it bears significant comparison with problems in the profession here in the US. Among the more interesting, and more sadly familiar parts of the article:

Kinman and Jones polled 1,100 academics and academic-related staff at 99 universities. Nearly half say they are constantly under strain, over two-thirds (69%) say that they find their work stressful and 78% believe that the status of their profession is in decline. Seventy-two per cent of academics find that their first thought every morning is about work.

The list goes on and gets worse. Half show borderline levels of psychological distress. Eight out of 10 say that as the result of that stress they are tired even when they’ve slept; over half say they experience headaches and 41% have trouble sleeping. One in five report dizziness, heart pounding or skin rashes, which they put down to stress.

The study’s authors do point out a bright side: “University workers do feel they have a choice in what they do at work and how they do it. Some 81% agreed with a statement that said they had the possibility to ‘learn new things’ in their jobs.” And I’ll back up the idea that the kinds of autonomy we in colleges and universities have are crucial; the freedom to do my job the way I want to do it is part of what drove me into academia in the first place. But I’d like to re-examine that “possibility to ‘learn new things'” that we ostensibly have in our jobs — what percentage of that 81% might say that the requirement that we never cease learning new things adds to the stress that seems to be causing us so much physical and psychic pain?

Me, I sleep like a rock (thank you, Sleepytime Extra, now with Valerian!), and I try to burn off as much tension as I can by running. But I spend my days hovering somewhere between a little tired and bone-crushingly exhausted, I feel I’m always fending off the potential for sliding into depression, I’ve got frequent palpitations from my stupid floppy valve, and I’m still being treated for an increasingly bad case of acne at thirty-fucking-seven years of age. And while I don’t have a desire for the marriage-and-children scenario, the profession has demanded things of me that has made such a scenario, had I desired it, difficult if not wholly untenable.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my job. I love my students. Life here is more good than not. But there are aspects of this profession that are much more problematic than many realize, aspects that seem to be causing many of us serious pain.

And now back to my regularly scheduled grading.


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