Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vacation and the tenure track

As a whirlwind summer semester draws to a close in two short weeks, I have many friends in the non-academic environment who comment about the lucky "vacation" time I will get with the two weeks that separate our summer and fall semesters. The Chronicle of Higher Education calls it the "fantasy of the faculty vacation"--that elusive time "off" from teaching that usually means time spent preparing for new courses, researching, revising, editing, and analyzing data. It is not time off. It is not a vacation. We often find the tenure track clock tick-tocking away and the work that we know is THE WORK that will be tallied up by those waving the tenure-granting wand is done when there is no pay and there is no vacation--it is work we do when we are on "vacation."

As a first generation college student, the misunderstanding many in my social and familial circles have about the "time off" is hard to combat and a futile effort, in most cases. Just as the comments, "You only work 12 hours a week" (representing actual class-time, not "work" time) no longer bother me, I am trying to let go of the many comments regarding the perception of time outside of the traditional semester. The impression that faculty life involves a schedule of weeks off throughout the year for "holidays" many of us spend working long hours in home offices will remain unchallenged when I hear commentary on the easy path I have chosen in my professional life, I am going to let the many slightly sarcastic well-wishing comments, ("Have fun on your vacation, I wish my job was like that. Must be so hard! chuckle chuckle) drift away from my ears and try to incorporate more of what others see in my away-from-campus time: I'm going to try to have a few days of pure vacation during my vacation. No laptop, no data, no tenure clock floating in the back of my mind.

Many faculty members struggle with this "real vacation" time. We have lingering guilt when setting aside the tasks that need done before another semester begins. We struggle to justify a true vacation when the finite time of the tenure track has us running frantically toward our goals. This is especially true for newer faculty and those who are pre-tenure. We might also share the thought, "You know how it is. Tenure first! There will be time for rest later, right?" one of my colleagues wearily wrote in her last email.

So in two weeks (and a few days) from now, during a few days of my semester break you may find me on a mental beach taking a much-needed mental vacation from the tenure track faculty life. Until then, I will wrap up the summer semester teaching, polish off a few research goals, and focus on the freedom of a few days of TRUE vacation.
Montell, G. (2010, June 9). The fantasy of the faculty vacation. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved June 12, 2010 from http://chronicle.com/blogPost/The-Fantasy-of-the-Faculty/24586/