College professors are burned out by the coronavirus epidemic. According to Liz McMillen, Executive Editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Faculty members are stressed, sometimes extremely so; they're tired and anxious about a required return to campus; they say they are neglecting their research and publishing. They aren't sure that their institutions have their safety as their top priority.
In short, as the cover of The Chronicle's special issue proclaims: "The Pandemic is Dragging on. And Professors Are Burning Out."
I'm not surprised. Professor Gary Dworkin, the leading researcher on teacher burnout, has linked the phenomenon to feelings of hopelessness, meaninglessness, and isolation.
Professors have certainly been isolated during the pandemic. Almost all face-to-face learning shut down last spring, and instructors were forced to teach their classes online--whether or not they wanted to or were trained for teaching with computers. Not fun.
And many professors have good reasons for feeling hopeless. University budgets are being cut, programs slashed, instructors laid off. Two of my colleagues at prestigious private universities had their retirement benefits slashed--not a good sign for the future.
Finally, some faculty members are probably feeling that their work is meaningless. Many universities adopted pass/fail grading policies during the pandemic, which tends to erode the rigor of teaching and learning. If students believe they will pass a course with only a minimum amount of work, most will slack off; and if a professor is required to assign 100 grades under a pass-fail policy, that professor will likely pass every student who has a pulse.
But hey, things are tough all over. Minimum-wage workers, people in the hospitality industry, small-business owners are all suffering. Parents with small children are stressed to the max as they try to juggle their jobs with daycare. Many of these folks do not have health insurance.
Professors, after all, have paid health care and retirement benefits. If they are tenured, they have rock-solid job protection. And most of them have flexible work schedules. I don’t think there is one tenured professor out of ten who goes to the office on Friday or shows up at work before 10 AM on a Monday morning.
As for all that neglected research and publishing that Editor McMillen mentioned, I'm not buying it.
First of all, a lot of stuff gets published that is totally worthless except as a stepping stone to tenure. We could save thousands of trees if the professors published less--especially the professors in education and the soft-science fields.
In any event, I'm not convinced that the pandemic has slowed down productive research that much. Admittedly, some researchers must do their work in laboratories or the field. The coronavirus probably impedes their progress.
But what prevents a professor from going to work on the book that's perpetually described as "in progress"? After all, a lot of profs are teaching at home in their pajamas. Maybe there's a little time for writing during the day instead of watching The View. Whoopi's not going to help you write that bestseller.
In short, esteemed scholars, stop your whining.
Despite what you might think from reading The Chronicle of Higher Education’s special issue on professor burnout—it’s not all about you.