Annual leave, furloughs, and the academic speed-up

This Friday I will be taking my first vacation day as a faculty member ever, in a little over 15 years at USF. Nine-month faculty do not get annual leave, and it is only with the shift in August to a 12-month position (as chair) that I started to accrue annual leave.1

I intend to take regular annual leave as part of a balanced life and to do a better job as chair over the long term. Some department chairs accumulate annual leave up to the annual maximum. I know the material incentive for such hoarding (at least at USF, there is a cash payout if you move from leave-accruing to non-accruing positions with annual leave unused), but I worry about the causes and consequences of workaholic behavior. If I need to be in the office every day of every week throughout the year to keep the department running, I’m doing something wrong as department chair, and going long stretches without breaks is not particularly conducive for the judgment I’m supposed to be demonstrating (starting with setting up conditions necessary to make good judgments).2

It is important on a broader scale to maintain leave and to make it more broadly available in the U.S. I do not know the specifics of research on hours worked, but my understanding is that American workers have far fewer paid days of leave of all sorts than workers in most industrialized countries. The dramatic speed-up of teaching for many faculty with mega-class sizes and adjuncting in the U.S. is thus part of a broader story of work patterns of underemployment for many and little paid leave for millions who do have full-time work. When I was a faculty union head, I fought for paid parental leave and fought to defend paid annual leave for 12-month-faculty from being taken or scheduled arbitrarily by management. The first was not much of a fight since there were a number of administrators at USF who saw the value of a paid parental leave program. The second required going to arbitration on grievances filed in 2008, which the United Faculty of Florida won a year later. The majority of faculty at USF covered by the UFF collective bargaining agreement work nine-month contracts, so they do not earn annual leave. There is enormous flexibility in faculty work, up to a point. As lawyers might say, a tenure-track assistant professor at USF can schedule her or his hours almost any time; the university doesn’t care which 60-70 hours they work each week.3

From my friends around the country who have been forced to take furlough days at other universities, I am well aware of being in a privileged position not have furloughs at USF in the past four years and having paid leave. Paid leave is different from furloughs for reasons apart from the paid/unpaid issue. First, I am taking annual leave on my calendar, not the university’s. Second and equally as important, I am not facing the Orwellian “you’re not working nudge-nudge, wink-wink” situation of tenure-track faculty or non-tenure-track faculty on a furlough day.4 Third, my vacation days will not be days that temporary employees at USF will not be working and not be paid (which is the case at campuses when furlough days coincide with university or building closures).

Until Friday, it’s a set of long days. Good days, I expect, and long ones.5

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  1. Nine-month faculty do accrue sick leave, and I have taken sick leave when taking care of my children when they were younger and ill or when I thought I was too ill for the state of Florida to have gotten its money’s worth out of me. []
  2. Part of the purpose of this entry is to make a public commitment to using annual leave on a regular basis. []
  3. Almost all tenure-track faculty I know generally work enormously hard, long hours, and in several cases I am aware of, on travel to and from a funeral. []
  4. Technically, they’re not supposed to work. My guess is, most who want tenure are working anyway. []
  5. Yes, I’m still in the every-day-is-fascinating stage of being a department chair. I’m lucky to get my first vacation day when that should still be the case. []

One response to “Annual leave, furloughs, and the academic speed-up”

  1. Raymond Johnson

    I think your decision to take leave is a healthy one. As a graduate student, I understand the need to work hard but also see some detriments with workaholism. The Chronicle wrote a nice piece about it a while back: