The introduction to The Slow Professor argues that stress in academia exceeds stress in the general population (finally, some empirical studies to show what we live every day!) and that this stress has a lot to do with busyness, time pressure, and lack of work-life balance promoted by the corporatization of the university. With corporatization and increasing managerialism (of particular relevance to me right now because academics at my institution are being restructured) comes the language of efficiency and crisis.
While much of this may be familiar territory to those who've been paying attention to the many critical studies of the university (or just living in academia), what surprises me (but shouldn't) are assertions like these: "individual professors' well-being has far-reaching effects.. . .It goes without saying that stress is bad for the individual and has direct consequences for society. The harmful effects of stress our our well-being, health, and communities are widely documented and now generally acknowledged. What is less evident is that addressing individual professors' stress has political and educational ramifications" (4) and "faculty stress directly affects student learning" (6). Instead of asking "what is wrong with us?" that we seem to be struggling as academics within our institutional contexts, the authors ask, "what is wrong with the academic system?" that it creates conditions that we know are actually detrimental to our being effective as academics. That these issues of stress and time crunch can be directly connected to some of our most significant work -- teaching -- is really important. I know that I've felt very compromised as a teacher lately because last quarter as we were reading about how we need more time to deeply think about our actions and responsibilities, I was also completely behind in their grading and everything else, unable to role-model what I was talking about. If I can't actually do what my class argues for in the context of my visible work life, how can I expect my students to take seriously what I'm advocating? (What's more, at my institution, which is deeply entangled with the corporate model, I may be able to more effectively argue for better conditions by talking about the way it makes me an ineffective teacher and role model than by arguing for traditional academic values. This is just an oddity of my institution, though. It may be that others can do more with that argument.)
I love that Berg and Seeber assert that in response to "crisis!" and calls for efficiency, "Slow Professors act with purpose, taking the time for deliberation, reflection, and dialogue, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience, able, as Collini puts it, to hold our nerve" (11). In the face of all the calls to rush to a decision (and I know I'm NOT the person I'm capable of being when I'm rushed, as suggested in the Rettig quote in the Preface), asking for time to consider something has seemed weak or ineffectual or just plain not possible. My chair and I spoke about exactly this once, where zie affirmed that it was okay to say that I needed more time to make a decision. But it still seemed weak in the face of my highly-corporatized institution and institutional culture (where even some of my best colleagues would rather just throw something together, put in place, and then improve it later, which drives me nuts because a bad decision can definitely be worse -- and more damaging -- than none at all); Berg and Seeber help me see this differently -- that asserting that I need more time to consider a decision can be seen as resistance. What's more, I can also think of it as role-modeling to others that we should be taking more time to think deeply about our decisions.
While Berg and Seeber are both humanities scholars, they also assert that "[The humanities] are paradigmatic of the non-instrumental intellectual enquiry which we need to protect across disciplines. It is precisely this critical thinking that is at the heart of the university as a public good" (13). This reminds me of the movie, Contact, and the pulling of funding for all pure research in favor of applied research. So I can see the connection to the STEM disciplines here. Though my strange context has made me wonder about the notion of a critical citizenry as a public good. Obviously, while some critical thinking can be deployed to solve corporate problems, it doesn't necessarily seem helpful to corporate interests to have an informed and critical citizenry. So the corporate university does not support the notion of critical citizenry as a public good. (In fact, what I'm learning about neoliberalism is that it does not support notions of the public or common good.) So I'm wondering whether the notion of a critical citizenry as a public good now sounds like a liberal (as in liberal versus conservative) notion. I know that it's very difficult to argue, in my context, for these broad values; both students and faculty in other disciplines at my institution believe implicitly in the instrumentality of the education we provide and academic knowledge more broadly. (Another, perhaps too harsh, way to say this is that my institution doesn't really believe in academic values.)
What are your thoughts about the introduction? What does the culture of busyness, overwork, and efficiency look like at your institution? (Perhaps sharing these will help us all to recognize the signs -- and opportunities for resistance -- at our own institutions.) And I've been thinking a lot about this one: how can we decolonize our own heads of this thinking (that what's wrong is us rather than this efficiency and overwork culture) so that we can change our own habits, self-talk, and interactions with others so we can be people and academics we're capable of being?
Please don't feel constrained by my questions or opinions! Take the comments in any direction you like. I look forward to it!