We’re all going on a summer holiday?

It’s that time of year again. If you’re an academic, someone is going to ask you today whether you are now on your holidays, and how you will spend this enjoyable period of two or more months of absolute leisure. And you’re going to feel highly annoyed, knowing as you do that three weeks is as much of a break as you can hope for. Right now you’re planning your summer research, the update of your course materials for next year, the academic conference circuit. In fact for some academics summer may actually be the busiest time.

So why does nobody believe us? In part the answer is because too many people remember that school teachers really do take a month or two off, and they imagine it absolutely must be the same for university teachers. In part it is because some higher education institutions really close down physically for weeks on end in the summer. In part it is because what academics do in the summer months is less visible than what they do during the teaching term.

Overall the academic profession has not been successful in explaining what lecturers do in the summer and why it matters. Just as people look for all sorts of efficiency gains in universities, it is important for the academy to show what the current levels of efficiency are. And to look ahead to how these can be reformed and adapted to changing circumstances without damaging the system of higher education.

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31 Comments on “We’re all going on a summer holiday?”

  1. Ernie Ball Says:

    So why, then, is the IUA pushing to keep academics on campus 12 months a year and 5 days a week, regardless of whether that is the best place for them to carry out their research? Can it be that the organisation representing university presidents in Ireland has also confused lecturers with secondary school teachers?

  2. kevin denny Says:

    Since the public don’t know (or probably much care) about what we are producing they look to the inputs and they assume, wrongly but understandably, that being in the office and being at work are the same thing.
    If you are not familiar with research, its hard to understand how you could be doing it while, for example, sitting in a coffee shop.

  3. Vincent Says:

    Honestly, I don’t think for one moment that the general population gives a huge hurrah what you get up to in summer. What I do think matters is the billions in infrastructure lying idle. My instinct would be that you clear out your sh stuff. Or better yet stagger the academic year.
    And you have to ask what the hell the French ever did to deserve the volume of pasty insular harried families that decamp from various ferries with a clatter of sour faced kids. They must think that the number of single parent and divorced families are endemic.

    • Wendymr Says:

      Re. infrastructure lying idle, don’t you have a conference trade? And I’m not just talking about academic conferences. Management of my former university frequently boasted in union/management meetings about the income through halls of residence, catering facilities and classrooms used for business conferences and seminars was greater than income from student use.

      • Vincent Says:

        Well yes, but they didn’t get all that cash to provide facilities for largely useless jollies. And for what it’s worth I feel exactly the same about the underutilized school buildings scattered across the State. Six hours out of twenty four, what’s with that.

  4. Eddie Says:

    What I am saying here will not be palatable for many.

    The Infrastructure lying idle is a serious cause for concern for many school governors when the school doors are shut for nearly 2 months during Summer. Some university buildings lie unused for at least 2 months. Not all academics do research and not all academics come to office 5 days a week. Even if academics claim they work literally 24/7, there is a shortage of believers. The reason why teachers and academics are bunched together is because of their unions? Too much ranting about their pay and conditions which negates any attempt by the public to understand what they do when they are not marching or protesting? After watching a rowdy NUT conference in Harrowgate , years ago, in which catcalls and finger pointing at an education secretary was going on, my 7 year old son and his mate asked: ” what is the class they are attending”? The UCU is behaving in the same way. THE is full of name calling like “Troll”, if any one dares to present any other view which does not bash the government and does not say how wonderful the academics are, and their union is. There seems to be a sense of entitlement running through in both groups.

    Senior management in universities should be thinking of rolling academic year with academic staff taking turns to teach. When there was an attempt by one of neighbours who is an engineer to say the above, my academic friends was quick to criticise this person’s ignorance of academia and intellectual activity etc.. and was unconvincing with cliches, quotes, metal bashing in engineering which showed his ignorance. The arguments continued citing MPs and bankers etc.. My engineer friend starting to leave said to the academic” you are in the wrong profession!”

    In US, there is no automatic 12 months salary. The Summer salary has to be justified. August is the month when secondary school results are announced. Not all academics take part in clearing/queries. If UCAS system works well, there is just the top up in clearing, but many universities run clearing for weeks just to get their primary quota of places filled. Even here, only a few academics are involved.

    The VCs of all universities in the UK have to do some joined upthinking. There will be protests and strikes, but then, the HE landscape is changing very fast!! Students are becoming the consumers at least in England and they will be in the driving seat here. If Summer jobs are not there, they will be asking questions too.

    • Ernie Ball Says:

      In US, there is no automatic 12 months salary. The Summer salary has to be justified.

      This is bullshit. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

      • Eddie Says:

        You do not either!

        • Ernie Ball Says:

          Uh, having spent over a decade in the US system, I’d say I do know what I’m talking about. There are a handful of third-rate US universities that pay their staff over 9 months. None of the reputable ones do. Are you advocating that we emulate the worst universities in the US system?

          • Eddie Says:

            So there are universities who pay for 9 months, and have many many adjunct professors too. One would have thought from your first reaction, it does not happen there . Actuall there are more than a handful. You should uopdate your information. Any way, I am not here to accuse any one of any thing. That I leave it to lefties!

          • Eddie Says:

            Just to add to my reply below:

            Please see:http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2010/04/summer-time.html. I know where this professor works- in a large good research university.

  5. Eddie Says:

    Some typos and unfinshed sentences. Sorry, I typed fast and had to attend to other work!

    • Anna Notaro Says:

      Eddie, reading this while attending the Higher education Academy annual conference, surrounded by a few hundred academics devoted to enhancing their students’ teaching & learning experience sounds as strident as hearing the wrong note in a Bach concerto. Has right-wing/conservative thought anything better to offer than rehearsing the trite anti-union rant? What a let down 😦

      • Eddie Says:

        No this what they do in Cuban universities!

        • Eddie Says:

          Who said, education broadens the mind, and then all vews are discussed and respected? Yes, as long as they are leftist and union-supporting views! No wonder academics are not respected by the wider world.

    • Jacco Says:

      And I presume having students in the driving seat is an unequivocally good thing Eddie? Just like you’d expect patients to tell the surgeon how to operate on them? I agree with you that our summer salaries may need some defending, but I’m not sure that seeing everything through the student prism is going to be very helpful. Unless of course you see HE as merely an extension of secondary school and HE lecturers solely as teachers. There’s no way students are going to be able to judge the “usefulness” of my research, for example. I happen to think some of my research is actually quite useful, you see, but, unfortunately, A level preparation is often so poor that students have no hope to get anywhere near the frontier. Somehow I don’t think turning students even more into customers is going to help there.

      • Eddie Says:

        Some patients are cleverer than their doctors, and observant too!

        • Jacco Says:

          But is it then a good idea to let ALL patients tell their doctors how to do their job to accommodate the few who actually are in a position to do so? I think most universities (certainly the ones I’ve been in) have plenty of ways for such students to engage already. And I’ve not met many UGs who can actually read Econometrica papers. Now, of course, you may argue that Ec’trica is useless in itself, but it happens generally to be regarded as one of, if not the, top journal in economics.

  6. cormaccormac Says:

    I think the point about use of infrastucture is a good one. I notice that here at Harvard, the summer school thing is a very serious entreprise indeed, and I think it’s a widespread phenomenon in US universities. It only lasts six weeks, but v intensive and a good use of resources.
    Re the public image of academics on holiday, I think it’s because people expect others to behave as they would. If you’re in a clock-in job, it’s hard to understand the way academics create work for themselves…even after tenure.

    • Ernie Ball Says:

      That’s exactly right: people who work in jobs where they are managed by control think that that must be the way that all jobs are. They cannot imagine the sort of commitment that academics have.

      What’s appalling is that university management itself have this same attitude. How else to explain the sort of management by control embodied by the Croke Park implementation plans?

      It’s a mistake and will be counterproductive: you start controlling academics and they’ll start treating the job like work in a cannery. Not to mention that Irish exceptionalism in this regard will make it impossible to recruit internationally (summer leave as something you have to apply for? where else is this the case?)

  7. With the event of increased fees in Ireland and the UK, Universities would do well to brace themselves for an onslaught of challenges to their systems, price will be perceived as a proxy for quality and HE will rightly be subject to scrutiny as all users of public funds should be. This should not be perceived as a threat but as a natural progression, if you can justify your time/salary ratio there is nothing to worry about…take charge and define the parameters before the parameters define you

    • Ernie Ball Says:

      You’d think the author of this sort of semi-literate tommyrot (featured prominently on her web page) would have just a tiny bit of shame pontificating about “third level”:

      NHR Consulting are highly experienced in delivering operational excellence & high performance culture management in third level education.

      But shame or circumspection don’t have a big role among third-level management consulting parasites, do they? No, it’s all about piling on the bullshit, the higher the better. If it destroys venerable institutions and results in generations of students as illiterate as the management consultants themselves, well, so much the worse for the institutions and the students. As long as we’re raking it in, who cares?

      • Honest to goodness, Ernie, there are ways of making your point without all the personal abuse. Is that how you think we will make the academy respected by others?

    • Eddie Says:

      I agrre with you! But then you are upsetting academics who think that they have special entitlement of some kind. Being a leftie is far superior to them. But then when they fight for their pay and conditions when other private sector jobs have no such condtions, they lose respect just like the teachers, and people in the wider world do not want to know them.

  8. Ernie
    Did I touch a nerve suggesting that academics should be prepared to provide some sort of ROI on their salary even if it is self-defined? It is a sad state of affairs that you feel the need to attack me and my profession as opposed to having an ideological discussion. Your rant effectively undermines your own credibility – the facts and what you feel about them are two separate entities, I’m surprised as an academic you cannot channel your argument efficiently

    Glad to see you read my site – thanks for the plug! Oh and if you had bothered to do some ‘research’ you may have discovered I have spent many years on your side of the lectern and continue to provide pro bono services in the HE arena….

    Eddie I agree with your point on loss of respect….good point well made


    • Ernie Ball Says:

      “People in the wider world do not want to know them.” You think this is a good point well made?

      I can only imagine what passes for “analysis” in the “HE arena” at NHR Consulting.

  9. Ned Costello Says:

    @ Ernie Ball.

    Quote from your blog: “Ernie Ball is the nom de guerre of a UCD lecturer in a humanities subject.”

    As I intimated in a previous response to your posts, I don’t intend to comment on posts from an alias – particularly one who references war in respect of his use of that alias.


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