Why nobody should get “release time”

I’ve been grinding the axe for a while now, in the hallways at conferences, at parties and what have you…

Yesterday (Sat) morning, I was on a panel at the APSCUF Labor in Higher Education Conference.  By the way, public kudos to APSCUF VP Amy Walters and all the office folks who organized the conference; it was a blast.

Anyway, one of the presentations in our session focused on adjunct labor issues (hard to have an academic labor conference that doesn’t, and rightly so).  The presenter, Amy, contended that in addition to fighting for better working conditions for adjunct faculty, we need to recognize that experts in our fields often wind up administering programs rather than teaching in them.  This claim, which is extremely incisive and correct, led to a conversation in which members of the audience wanted to talk about “release time” for administrative work.

I couldn’t help myself, after hearing the phrase two or three times, and made the same pitch to the audience that I’m about to make now.

We need to stop referring to non-teaching-work-time as “release time.”  Why?  Because asking to be “released” from teaching reinforces the devaluation of teaching.  It says that teaching is something to be let out of in favor of other (more important) matters.  It evokes teaching as a trap, or a prison, or some other place that somebody else has to let you out of.  I could keep stretching the metaphor, but I hope the notion is clear enough.  Especially if you work in a teaching-intensive institution, reinforcing the idea that you want to “escape” from teaching is bad–not just for you, but also for anybody who teaches.

I’m not saying that management shouldn’t allocate paid time for non-teaching work.  Of course those who administer programs should get paid time and support for their work, which I’ve recently stopped doing and couldn’t be happier (see recent post, “Back to teaching 4/4”).  The problem isn’t the time; it’s the name we give to it, and how that name constructs a system of (de)valuation.  Call it “reassign time,” or “alternate work assignment” (which is what our system calls it) or whatever.

But don’t call it “release time” unless you want administration and everybody else to think that we agree with the idea that teaching isn’t as important as other work we do; that teaching is something to be let out of; that it’s OK to hire and exploit part-time faculty without expertise in our fields because the experts have been “released” to do other things.

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3 Responses to Why nobody should get “release time”

  1. Laura Knudson says:

    Hi Dr. Kahn! I’m in Dr. Murray’s research methods class, and I just wanted to drop a comment on your site to let you know how much I enjoyed your talk – you were a big hit in Texas! 🙂

    Thanks again –

    Laura Knudson

    • sethkahn says:

      Well, thank ya, ma’am. I had a blast. Talking with other people’s students is kind of like getting to have the first day of class again in mid-semester–a new bunch of folks to think with, no idea what’s going to happen, always fun. Hope I get to see some of the gang at Cs and other conferences; next time, I want to do more listening than talking.

    • sethkahn says:

      Well, thank ya, ma’am. I had a blast. Talking with other people’s students is kind of like getting to have the first day of class again in mid-semester–a new bunch of folks to think with, no idea what’s going to happen, always fun. Hope I get to see some of the gang at Cs and other conferences; next time, I want to do more listening than talking.

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