The End of Non-sabbatical and Non-summer

Today, I am feeling acutely peeved because the pandemic has eaten up a semester of my sabbatical. I know I shouldn’t think this, I’m counting my blessings, etc. But there it is. Sabbatical is a major perk of a faculty job, one that makes up for a lot of other things. Yet here I was, sitting at home all spring at significantly reduced pay, while everyone else was sitting at home at full pay. They still get to go on their sabbatical when this is all over; my next one won’t be for another seven years, or when my middle kid is in college. When Smurf is in high school. By the way, this was my second sabbatical ever. The first one was spent caring for the newborn Smurf. So yeah. I have yet to have a real and full sabbatical.

On the other hand, how do we have real, rejuvenating sabbaticals when there are research groups to constantly supervise? I don’t have to teach and go to faculty meetings, but none of other obligations ever stop or change. Students want supervision, need constant check-ins. Papers and grants need to be written. Those of others have to be reviewed. Talks need to be given. Most of the work is still there, in the same form as ever, just at reduced pay.

***

August was never really a month of relaxation in academia, and this year quite dramatically so.

There have been innumerable emails all summer about every minute change regarding in-person/online teaching. Not that we, faculty, have any say in what transpires, but there are pro-forma online “town-hall” meetings and surveys and whatnot, giving an illusion of faculty governance to only the most naive. When push comes to shove, such as when someone asks to be moved online because they’re just not comfortable teaching face-to-face in a tiny lab, because the students write and ask why the instructor is putting them in danger, because there are no TAs because the TAs don’t want to teach in person, we see just how accommodating the institution is. (I won’t even speak of all the staff like janitors who’ve had to report to work this whole time, and who will get the shit end of the stick cleaning after everyone, because whoever thinks the elaborate cleaning requirements for students attending in person will be fulfilled by anyone seems never to have met any twenty-year-olds. (Has also never gone to my gym, where we were always supposed to wipe the floor and kickboxing bags after class, and no matter what class I attended, what time of day, 99% of dudes never cleaned after themselves, just got up and left after class, leaving the women to clean everything.)

But this is the pandemic, so everyone has been on high alert since March, stressed and worried about tuition and room/board money coming in (even though pretending it’s not about the money).

Even during normal summers, we are never left alone regarding the upcoming semester. Remember that faculty are not paid during the summer, except from research grants. Why these constant intrusions, making my blood pressure spike several times every day?

Is it the people who are on 12-month contracts wanting to show they’re earning their keep? Or is it a typical corporate power move, basically making sure no one ever thinks even for a little while that they have the right to any personal time whatsoever? Like the colleague who always emails with superficially important links on nights and weekends, ensuring we have no peace and we know he’s working really hard?

And don’t get me started on all the summer defenses. I have had more thesis proposals and defenses this pandemic summer than I have during most semesters. WTF is up with that? These are supposed to be one off, not “everyone, it’s summertime, let’s graduate”!

***

So, tl;dr: I’m starting this fall semester quite grumpy. I will be teaching in person. How’s everyone doing?

6 comments

  1. FWIW — I’m personally having an internal hissy fit about having to start my new job during a pandemic, and essentially having to rely on unreliable people to make connections with and identify future collaborators and research analysts for me. I honestly don’t know how this is going to happen! I did something different, but similarly impossible during residency, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat again, but JFC. It would totally suck if the job I wanted never happened because of COVID. It was going to be hard to begin with, and this just makes it worse.

  2. I never understood why we were so bombarded with requests during the summer, considering we were not paid. In my country of origin pay was for 12 months, so it was reasonable to get asked stuff (still got paid waaay less than in the US). But in the US, we are not paid during the summer. Every year I had several requests for presenting to alumni, showing people around the dept, and other random things. Thankfully I always spent half the summer working remotely from my country of origin and I could avoid all requests. But the last one I had to flatly say no three times to the dean, he was really insistent, but if I’m not paid, I feel no obligation whatsoever.

  3. I traded my Fall 2020 sabbatical for a Spring 2020 sabbatical, so that there would be time for me (and the staff) to prepare for at-home labs. I continued in my service roles as undergrad director and on the Committee for Courses of Instruction, despite being on sabbatical.

    My Fall sabbatical was originally planned to revise my textbook, based on feedback from teaching from it in Winter and Spring, but with Spring delayed until Fall, I got no feedback on the second half of the book. So the sabbatical was even less productive than the addition of service work and stress of sheltering at home would have predicted.

    I’ve spent the summer trying to convert my very hands-on lab course to at-home labs with asynchronous video lectures. I’ve been recording a video every night, and I’m done with Fall quarter (except for 10 quiz solutions, a quarter-specific intro, whatever videos the students need to answer questions that come up on Piazza, and re-editing the closed captions after student workers have attempted to fix the YouTube autocaptions). I’ve even started on the videos I need for Winter quarter (which is 98% likely to be online also).

    (Oh, and for the first time ever, CCI continued to meet every two weeks through the summer—but, miracle-of-miracles, we’re are getting an hourly stipend for the summer committee work!)

    Now, if I don’t have to evacuate my house for the fires that have caused campus to be evacuated, I might make it to October, when classes start. Making it to Fall quarter is my current goal—making it *through* Fall quarter seems too much to expect right now.

  4. Yeah, I was one of those people bombarding everyone with emails all summer. We were getting conflicting instructions from the admin over and over and over about teaching, and all of them required faculty input *right away.* I sent probably a dozen emails out with some version of “I know it doesn’t make any sense, but….”

    I’m grateful to be on sabbatical this fall, but will probably spend it homeschooling and being a f***ing housewife. Not too grateful about that part of it.

  5. Amen.

    I will say, though, my half-assed pandemic sabbatical/summer was still better than no sabbatical/summer at all. My university is at least aware of this problem and said they will try to come up with some solutions, like going up for sabbatical again sooner. I am doubtful this will happen but at least it’s on the radar.

  6. Sabbatical… ha ha ha. I was on “sabbatical” this past spring, with two sprogs under the age of 5 at home with no daycare, and it was like a negative sabbatical. I joined a group of faculty in similar situations whose sabbaticals were torpedoed by lack of childcare, and the administration’s response was “Well, we’re not going to do anything for you, but let us tell you about all the great things we are doing for other people…” We are meeting with the provost this Thursday to try to get them to do something minimal, like reduce the number of semesters until we are eligible for another sabbatical or even just allowing us to shift course loads around so that we can teach overload for a couple of semesters in order to arrange a semester with no teaching. It sounds precious to be complaining about loss of sabbatical during a pandemic when so many people lost their jobs entirely, but I do think it’s going to be a huge equity issue down the road, especially for female faculty. With two young kids, my research program was already on life support, and the future is looking really, really grim right now. If I’m going to survive as a researcher, I can’t just wait for my next sabbatical.

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