I chuckled a bit while reading this Chronicle of Higher Education piece on work-life balance by English professor Scott Warnock (Drexel U.). At his university’s orientation program for new faculty, he staffed a table where new colleagues could talk to him about work-life balance. Alas, there were no takers. Reflecting on his lonely experience, he acknowledged that work-life balance is simply not a popular topic for academicians, sometimes at a cost:
Unlike many professions, academic life is indeed a life. It’s a calling, an essential part of you. You’ll live it for much of your waking (and, sometimes, sleeping) hours. That’s the good and bad of it. It’s not drudgery and meaninglessness. But it can eat you up. And academics are often not the kind of people who would admit that.
A university teaching career can be a wonderful blessing for anyone who enjoys the core professorial activities of teaching, scholarship, and service. This is especially so if one is fortunate to secure a tenure-track position and earn the brass ring of tenure.
However, today’s academic workplace can be a stressed out and challenging environment. As I wrote two years ago, mental health is one of the most neglected concerns in the academic workplace. In its worst manifestations, higher education can be a petri dish for horrific bullying and mobbing behaviors.
I am fortunate to be doing the work I do, but I’ve also witnessed and experienced the nasty sides of the academic workplace. On the question of work-life balance, I can attest that Prof. Warnock’s observations are wise and insightful. An academic career is truly a way of life in addition to a vocation, and that reality can bring its share of ups and downs. For me, there have been more of the former than the latter, and for that I am very grateful.
I’ve shared Samuel Morse’s allegorical landscape here before. Morse was an inventor (yes, Morse Code) and artist who taught at New York University during its earliest years. In this painting, he used NYU’s original Gothic-style building on Washington Square — alas, since torn down and replaced by a much more pedestrian structure — to represent the idea of the university as paradise. Even in my most cynical moments as an academician, I find this landscape enormously appealing.