Research saves me from burnout

It’s been quiet around here because I just haven’t had much to say and not much time to say it. I spent most of May in gorgeous Croatia, a place that more than merits your travel dollars and time. We had a great time. Here’s a map and some photos:

It has been a long time since I’ve taken any real time away, and I’ve been burned out. I’ve tried to stay on top of classes, work with my PhD students, and try to get research in. I haven’t. I’ve had no focus and no desire to do anything. Part of it is learning to deal with the lupus. It does makes you tired.

It turns out that the last thing I really needed to stay away from research. I went to Croatia to attend a bioethics symposium, and I went through my usual angst and anxiety, hating presenting, etc. But I had a wonderful time. I took notes all day! I encountered terrific ideas about AI and ethics, why we shouldn’t make robots look like people, and I met one of my student’s brothers. And I was energized and interested.

I’m dead tired from the travel, but I have all sorts of appointments lined with students and a tentative work plan for my own research.

Check my thoughts/principle/idea: I am not going to agree to do uncompensated teaching any more

I work pretty hard to be a good mentor, both inside and outside the classroom, and in general I enjoy getting to know students and colleagues through workshops and whatnot that I am often asked to do, but I am inclined to start to say no when asked to do uncompensated teaching. Figuring out what a “reasonable” amount of service to do is a perpetual struggle, especially for women and faculty of color, and it’s too easy to say yes to teaching.

Why say no? For one it does eat up time. And just like writers and artists who want to draw a line at doing uncompensated work for “exposure”, free teaching strikes me as a way to devalue the very real work of teaching well..

Moreover, the “free teaching” requests that come out of USC benefit the institution. I love having pipeline programs and getting diverse students interested in things, but you know, I never have any grace or leeway granted to me regarding my teaching duties. One enrolled student short of the cutoff for a TA? Sucks to be you, no TA. By some weird kink we have 2 credit hour classes that fit with with nothing else and burden junior faculty with more course preps? The fact that some really nice faculty member 30 years ago once taught two sections of that for 2 hour credit means that you have to do so, too. Sucks to be you, you owe us the other 2 credit hours come hell or high water. Or take a pay cut. Up to you.

Given that institutional rigidity, why exactly should I teach for free as a service task? No matter how minor the actual teaching task?

I haven’t thought this all the way through, so I’m interested in opinions. Not ones that start out “Look, bitch from hell, you are worthless at your job because I hate women but here’s a bunch of pretexts as to why this comment isn’t really about that…”

Instead, happy to hear real ideas: should I do this as somebody who is institutionally protected as a means to say to administrators “dammit, teaching is our bread-and-butter and it deserves compensation” or does my stance somehow make things harder for adjuncts and contract faculty to do so as well? I 100 percent support them in setting the same limit.