Holiday times

It’s that time of year again. Yesterday I was at a reception and chatted with a group of entirely pleasant people whom I hadn’t met before, and who came from various professions and walks of life. One of them said to me, very pleasantly: ‘It must be so nice for you and your colleagues to have this lovely holiday between now and September.’ Everyone nodded. As I said, they were very nice people. In fact, I had to keep telling myself they were very nice people, because unless I convinced myself of that on the spot I was going to have to hit them, causing a nasty incident with journalists present. So instead, putting on my most patient and friendly voice, I pointed out that university lecturers certainly don’t have three months off in the summer, and that overwhelmingly they wouldn’t be away for more than three weeks or so, and some a lot less. ‘Of course, of course’, they replied in an indulgent tone. They didn’t believe a word I had said, but they weren’t going to provoke an argument.

I suspect this is the kind of infuriating moment that many academics experience. And while I stand over my reply to these nice people, I also know that my case is weakened by the fact that a lot of people in the education sector do have a lot of time off in the summer. I remember that when I returned to Ireland from the UK in 2000 to take up the presidency of DCU, I took our children from their English school and transferred them here. And at first I simply could not believe that the summer holidays here began at the end of May for most secondary students. I really couldn’t believe it. In the UK it would have been late July. When I went to secondary school in Germany the summer holidays were exactly six weeks long, and teachers were only able to take just under four of those.

But it’s not just schools. Our colleagues in the Institute of Technology sector in Ireland have contractual rights to summer holidays stretching over two months and more. And so, because there is no contractual position we could cite when having annoying conversations like mine yesterday, absolutely nobody believes that the position in universities is different. And yet, it is – emphatically. Over the summer my staff in DCU are expected to work on their research, organise or attend or speak at conferences, prepare the next year’s syllabus, supervise research students, teach on postgraduate programmes running over the summer, and do countless other things that they will need to get done in order to progress their careers. But the world outside believes they are all sitting by some swimming pool in Tenerife or perfecting their golf. And because we have been so unconvincing, those who comment on academic performance and sometimes take decisions on pay and other matters often conclude that university academics work less and less hard than those employed by institutes of technology.

This is another one of those cases where we have to gather and publish reliable data that can be used to rebut such comments, because if we don’t we will continue to be treated as work-shy. But we must also face up to the fact that the terms of employment in education more generally as regards summer vacations are no longer really acceptable and will have to be re-thought. The time is right for reform.

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16 Comments on “Holiday times”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    I have had that conversations more times than I can remember. But my understanding was that our contracts or terms & conditions of work specify that we are entitled to one month off during the summer. Of course there are people who take considerably more off which may explain some of the ignorance that abounds.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Yeah well, if you will continue to treat whatever you are doing as some sort of masonic secret what can you expect. It’s about time you told people that ’til about thirty all you get if anything amounts to pocket money for an indentured servant. And that after that income for those at the normal top of the career is less than an OK plumber.
    Of equal importance, you had all better buy a song-sheet and go out and get trained how to sing. And on this topic there needs to be real consequence for mouthy gobshites to stupid to connect that any holder of the public purse knows the way to get cats moving is to keep them hungry. If the medics can fool the Government year after year as to their willingness to vanish over the hills. Where instead of the Government saying ‘Bye lads’ for they can see a stampede of first class medics coming in they bow before this quality bullshit. You lot need to learn this Art. Further given that most people believe you receive a kings ransom, why on earth not put in a huge bill four or five times what it is at the moment. What can you loose to make things worse than they are now.


    • Actually Vincent, I largely agree with what you say – we are not good at communicating what we do, and that is in part because we don’t have the facts and data to hand. We have to correct this.

  3. iainmacl Says:

    interestingly, today’s Phd Comic is on the theme of holidays and is more representative of the reality of university.

  4. Al Says:

    I think you will find most IOT lecturers spend their summer break refining their materials. If one has to lecture 16-18 hours a week, along with the obligations therein, there is little time through the academic terms to do so.

  5. Jilly Says:

    I would comment on this topic, except I’m too busy working (in my office, on campus)…

  6. cormac Says:

    Al:I wouldn’t say most. I will be at work in WIT for all of July and some of August, as will many of my research-active colleagues – as you rightly point out, that is when the research gets done, given the heavy teaching loads in the IoT sector.
    But ‘many’ is not ‘most'; the vast majority of lecturers in my college have been gone since June 20th, and will return on September 1st. I think this is true across the sector (WIT is more research-active than most IoTs) – the main reason is that there is less pressure to publish!
    Re Fredinand’s point on the universities, I am convinced that the general public simply can’t grasp that there uis more to 3rd level than teaching

    • kevin denny Says:

      True they can’t grasp it & it is frustrating but then how could they? Even graduates see universities as essentially places of teaching. And there are enough wasters taking months off to do justify that impression, sadly.

    • Al Says:

      Personally, I find this pressure to publish mentality, (as expressed to me in person by others) kind of narrow minded.

      If one accepts that it is an academic duty to be expert in ones field, then ones thoughts or skills should be of a standard that are ‘publishable’ to others.

      To follow on from this that all efforts are to be aimed at peer reviewed journals or conferences misses the full potential of the academy.

      Ones expertise could be available to:
      -Peers through publication
      -Peers through conferences
      -Charities or other worthy causes
      -Government or other state agencies
      -Primary education
      -Secondary education
      -Remedial or rehabilitative efforts
      -Joe and Janet public
      -Community efforts

      Obviously there is equal scope to take the piss or bullshit in any of the above.
      One should also ask who the ‘public’ is in the word ‘publish’?


  7. At least readers of your blog will know that you are continuing to work over the summer (if blogging counts as work).

  8. cormac Says:

    I publish in both peer-reviewed and non-reviewed literature. Sure, there is room for both. But there are also academics who don’t publish anything, anywhere, or give public lectures, or do anything beyond the bare minimum required for teaching.
    Which is fine, except that highly -qualified and motivated candidates can’t get jobs…

    • Al Says:

      What would concern me would be if ‘management’ sought to account for the situation and attempt to ‘improve’ things.

      It is by no means a given that fine lads like you and me would be given a pat on the back.

      We would be lucky if our ways, means and ends were tolerated or understood. Rather, it could be a ‘fill in this form telling us how many publications you will have in the next five years’.


  9. [...] Ferdinand von Prondzynski, president of Dublin City University, Ireland, is apparently getting tired of people thinking he and his faculty get the summer off. Over the summer my staff in DCU are expected to work on their research, organise or attend or speak at conferences, prepare the next year’s syllabus, supervise research students, teach on postgraduate programmes running over the summer, and do countless other things that they will need to get done in order to progress their careers. But the world outside believes they are all sitting by some swimming pool in Tenerife or perfecting their golf. And because we have been so unconvincing, those who comment on academic performance and sometimes take decisions on pay and other matters often conclude that university academics work less and less hard than those employed by institutes of technology. [...]

  10. peter Says:

    I note in today’s Irish Times one of the ITs is offering its full set of facilities for rental for the period June-September. Is this (a) a commendable attempt to both earn income and use taxpayer provided facilities to their optimum, or (b) an embarrassing but honest admission that the place is effectively closed down for the summer as staff disappear for months?


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