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10 controversial ways I think about the future of academic work


Ten Controversial Views on Academic Work:

1 – I want everyone to be around on campus for casual chats and unplanned meetings, but sometimes I work flexibly from home without a set schedule.

2 – When colleagues are on campus, I want to be able to drop by their office for unscheduled conversations. Meanwhile, most of my time on campus is spent behind closed doors and in Zoom meetings.

3 – At the end of each day, I find myself exhausted from Zoom meetings and miss the energy you get from being in a room with smart people. And yet most of the meetings I schedule are on Zoom.

4 – I firmly believe that talent is widely distributed geographically and that we can attract the best people to work in our institutions if we support remote work. At the same time, I’m not sure what a critical mass of remote colleagues is doing to the culture of our residential campuses, and I worry about the full integration and retention of remote faculty.

5 – If my life circumstances were to change and I needed to step away from my daily commute to campus, I think I could continue to contribute productively as a remote employee. At the same time that I want flexibility for myself, I continue to wonder about the costs to institutional culture and innovation of a growing proportion of important academic staff who now mostly work remotely.

6 – I am convinced that high-quality relational education can be created in fully online programs and that these online programs can coexist with (and even add value to) residential programs. At the same time, I am confused about how campus culture can be optimized for a mix of in-person, hybrid, and remote academic workers.

7 – The future of residential education looks to be largely hybrid as norms evolve towards allowing students to maintain academic resilience even during sports trips or when they are ill. And yet, I consider the hyflex model for faculty meetings (xMeetings), in which some people are together and some are on Zoom, are almost always unproductive.

8 – The new reality of work everywhere is hybrid, and higher education must compete for talent across multiple fields. The best people will go elsewhere if we don’t offer employment flexibility. How can we reconcile this new workplace reality with the sense that part of what makes academic work so fulfilling is the density of personal connections?

9 – We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine almost everything about the university as a place of work. We are finally free to figure out what will work best for the people who make up our institutions of higher learning. We can create new ways of working based on what we know about productivity and inclusion and community, all powered by ubiquitous communication and collaboration platforms. But despite​​​​this opportunity, a big part of me longs for things to go back to a more campus-oriented way for a few days.

10 – I am convinced that the possibility of flexible, hybrid and even remote work is optimal for individuals (myself included) who work in higher education. At the same time, I am less and less convinced that flexible, hybrid, and remote work is good for our colleges and universities.

Perhaps the way forward is to acknowledge the gap between beliefs and feelings about the new academic workplace. We need to create safe and inclusive spaces to talk to each other about what we think and feel about how academic work is changing.

These conversations should include remote and hybrid colleagues, as well as those who come to campus most or all of the time. The discussion about the future of academic work must start with trust and openness.

What are your thoughts and feelings about the future of academic work?

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