Friday, August 12, 2016

Slow Week the Last: Conclusion: Collaboration and Thinking Together

For our final week of discussion, in the Conclusion, the authors reflect on their own collaboration in writing the book, which they describe as putting Slow principles into practice, as well as the various merits of "thinking together." Fundamentally, inspired discussion and supportive collaboration builds and is built on trust. 

Since the co-authors had known each other for a long time, "we were more patient with each other and more compassionate when life events or work pressure intervened in a deadline. Recognizing that the understanding and care that we extended to each other brought out the best in us has made us more compassionate towards our students" (88).  They sandwich in that sentence the idea that this support, rather than some kind of organizational cure-all or fire-rimmed deadlines, brings out the best in themselves and each other.  (Something in me instinctively bristles at this, as if "the best in us" is made by more exacting standards rather than loving support -- and I'm not sure I like what I'm discovering about myself.)

This is the conclusion, after all, and so there's only time for one more definitional clarification: "Slow philosophy overall should not be interpreted, Petrini reminds us, as "the contrast . . . between slowness and speed -- slow versus fast -- but rather between attention and distraction; slowness, in fact, is not so much a question of duration as of an ability to distinguish and evaluate, with the propensity to cultivate pleasure, knowledge, and quality" . . . Slow professors act with purpose, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience to the effects of the corporatization of higher education" (89-90).

So in the face of the fast currents coming at him or her, the Slow Professor aims to not get caught up in it and instead think deeply and purposefully.

This is our last week and so is a great time for summing up.  What have you gotten out of this reading and discussion?  Can you imagine going about your professorial life differently -- with a more conscious consideration of Slow principles?  How can you make time for timeless time?  What ideas do you have for teaching more Slow-ly?  How can a consideration of Slow principles help to nurture your research and scholarship?  How can you engage in building the kind of trust in your department or academic circle that will nurture your intellect and emotions?  How can you work to champion work-life balance for you and your colleagues? 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Slow Week 6: Collegiality and Community

While the last two chapters focused on teaching and then research, this week's chapter focuses not on service, but on collegiality.  Berg and Seeber begin the chapter by focusing on the necessity for academics, as professionals in one of the helping professions (to be jarred by this distinction is, I think, a feminist issue), to see "psychological wellness" as a "ethical imperative."  One kind of self-care is social support and this means that there is an ethical imperative to have positive emotions in the workplace in order to do our work well.  By contrast, in the corporate university social support is not there because people are too busy and people instead have negative emotions because of loneliness and isolation.  (Yes, Yes, Yes!!!)

They go on then to describe how isolating and rude a space the corporate university can be with people texting at meetings and instead explain that we need to be able to vent, understanding that venting isn't whining (especially with colleagues, I've found, since they can come up with interesting ideas), and that we really need emotional connection and support.  

And so if you really identified with all that, and you're hanging on by your fingernails trying to figure out what on earth you can do, Berg and Seeber tell you that the conventional advice about making more opportunities for community through creating series and events is wrong. These kinds of events can just be an additional onerous obligation when the point is to create more positive emotions and community. 

I'm skipping some pages in this synopsis because I felt a little bit that Berg and Seeber were long on explanation and short on help, resistance, or solace.  For example -- and I am not claiming here to be a representative reader -- I am super-sensitive and anxiety-ridden -- but the knowledge that social support has a powerful effect on health just gives me another thing that I can't control to worry about, another stressor, another reason to be frustrated at my job, further harming my health.  I don't think the Slow way is to leave us all depressed about the state of things.  Slow Food is premised on countering the dehumanizing and homogenizing qualities of Fast Food by embracing, savoring, and anticipating flavor!  I wanted Berg and Seeber to come up with some resistance, something we can embrace with gusto here, so I was disappointed to learn that Berg and Seeber weren't going to include practical advice in this chapter because an individual is not in charge of his/her community and because useful advice to promote community is hard to give.  Isn't there something we can embrace here? 

Luckily, the "themes for reflection" are actually really good.  One took me right back to my grad program and this wonderful, alas unbloggable, aspect of my grad school life that allowed me to really feel part of things in a weird way and to have different connections to people.  I had tons of pleasurable emotions from that.  I miss it terribly.  Definitely ask yourself what you miss.  That brought up other things, like intellectual engagement, which is why I usually think a speaker's series is a good idea.  I can see why it could be a nightmare and feel mandatory by the tenure-track.  Maybe I want a reading group -- where we're all just reading something that none of us has written and discussing ideas (hopefully without trying to one-up each other, as sometimes happens).

One thing that I've been trying to do is champion people's work-life balance and telling them not to apologize when they have family obligations or plans in the summer.  But the discussion of collegiality and community is weird right now because my department is now in major upheaval.  We're trying to figure out what to do and move forward, considering the changes that are happening.  We need to come together.  But at the same time I personally really need to be away.  And I feel bad about that. 

What were your thoughts about this chapter?  Do you have a safe space and supportive community to vent (rather than whine)?  What do you miss?