Slow Professors?

On September 18th, more than three dozen faculty members at Assumption gathered over dinner for our 2018 Fall Faculty Learning Community. Each semester the DCTE selects a book on teaching and learning in higher education and offers free copies to all who are interested in reading and discussing it with their colleagues. This semester’s selection was The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, by Barbara K. Seeber and Maggie Berg, which made quite a splash when it was first published in 2016, drawing plenty of both accolades and criticism.

The book bills itself as a manifesto designed to help faculty members resist the corporatization of higher education. It comes in a small package (just 90 pages of text), which means it’s long on big ideas and short on specifics. Those qualities mean the book serves well as a discussion-starter, since it leaves plenty of room for faculty to debate about the ideas, consider whether they make sense within a local context, and explore possible ways to apply them in our work.  Our discussion did all that and more, as faculty first spoke with one another over dinner at their tables, and then we opened it up for a whole group conversation.

Below I have pasted in the handout I used to guide our conversation, which consists simply of one quote that caught my fancy from each chapter of the book.  Taken as a whole, these quotes should give you a pretty clear picture of the book, and the kind of debates it is likely to inspire among faculty. Although I found myself equal parts agreeing and disagreeing with the analyses and recommendations of the authors, it did its work for us: it sparked thinking and conversation. If you’re looking to do the same with a group of faculty on your campus, I recommend it.

Foreword (by Stefan Collini): “One of the many valuable recommendations in this book is that we academics should, collectively, talk to each other more about how we actually spend our time, with all the anxieties, displacements, and failures that involves, rather than presenting ourselves as the overachieving writing robots whom most systems of assessment seem designed to reward.” (ix-x)

Preface: The Slow Professor is a call to action and, as such, it is idealistic in nature.” (xvii)

Introduction: “We wanted to become professors because of the joy of intellectual discovery the beauty of literary texts, and the radical potential of new ideas. These ideals are realizable, even in today’s beleaguered institution, although the ever-increasing casualization of labour makes them harder to attain for many of us . . . Our responses to student papers could always be fuller, our reading of scholarly literature could always be more up-to-date; and our books could always be more exhaustive. These self-expectations are escalated by the additional external pressures of the changing academic culture. In the past two decades, our work has changed due to the rise in contractual positions, expanding class sizes, increased use of technology, downloading of clerical tasks onto faculty, and the shift to managerialism—all part of the corporatization of the university.” (3-4)

Time Management and Timelessness: “The more committed we are to our vocation, the more likely it is that we will experience stress and burnout (17); “When we experience timelessness, we are creative, and creativity is experienced as timelessness.” (27)

Pedagogy and Pleasure: “It seems obvious that when one teaches well, one enjoys it, but perhaps the reverse is actually more accurate: that when one enjoys teaching, one does it well (34); “overwork makes us ‘hate students.’” (58)

Research and Understanding: “I am trying to think of time as an unfolding of who I am as a thinking being. Broadly speaking, I am trying to shift the focus from the product (the book, the article, the presentation) to the process of developing my understanding. This is not to say that books and articles and presentation don’t get written (though there may be fewer of them), but my experience of writing them changes in the sense that shifting my focus in this way eases some of the time pressure.” (59)

Collegiality and Community: “The Slow movement urges us to immerse ourselves in local cultures, but our home departments are on the verge of becoming ghost places. The hallways are empty because we work elsewhere, and we work elsewhere because the hallways are empty.” (75)

Conclusion: “Slow professors act with purpose, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience to the effects of the corporatization of higher education.” (90)

We look forward to seeing everyone at the Spring 2019 Faculty Learning Community. We’ll be announcing the book selection later this semester, and getting copies out to you in December so you’ll have time to read over break.