Columbus Day: Everybody’s Working Through the Weekend

For academics on Columbus Day, at least the third line rings true:

Everybody’s working for the weekend
Everybody wants a new romance
Everybody’s going off the deep end
Everybody needs a second chance
–Loverboy, “Working for the Weekend” (1981)

Loverboy has not aged well–it’s painful to listen to (or look at!) even in full ironic mode. But the more pertinent irony is how laughable it now seems that the weekend can provide any respite or even any difference from the week.

10:30pm on Saturday, Columbus Day, October 2011. My academic spouse and I are grading papers, after putting kiddos to bed. We’ll now try to watch one episode, on DVD, of Community. We made it to Season 2 and I still use a cut from the show for Introduction to Anthropology. On Sunday morning I am doing an admissions event. Monday morning we will be teaching and scrambling for extra childcare, as the schools shutter to celebrate an ironic historical accident: Columbus Day.

About Columbus Day. It’s a good time to re-read the Michel-Rolph Trouillot essay “Good Day, Columbus” in Silencing the Past. Trouillot argues Columbus Day commemorations found a crucial lobby among not just Italians but the Irish, as these groups struggled to become accepted as fully white: “Columbus played a leading role in making citizens out of these immigrants. He provided them with a public example of public devotion and civic virtue, and thus a powerful rejoinder to the cliché that allegiance to Rome preempted the Catholics’ attachment to the United States” (1995:123). For some reflections on the practical matter of Columbus Day and pre-school, see the post on Myth Making and Child Rearing at Torso and Oblong).

In the interstitial time, I overhauled our anthropology department webpage and given us a parallel home on Facebook. I’m very happy with the changes. But this interstitial project has only made me think more about academic labor.

To be more specific, I re-designed the webpages to meet a directive echoing through my college this year: that faculty need to clearly articulate the value of lifelong learning, and to underscore the value of studying in our particular field, at a particular place. It is hardly a unique theme to my college, as it is also a thread running through discussions of anthropology–see the latest issue of the anthropologies project. It is also something Martin discusses in his interview with Inside Higher Ed:

At some 100 million, far more students are involved in adult and continuing education than as matriculated students. Higher education is no longer simply the portal for a stable career but a medium of lateral labor mobility as people retool themselves continually as lifelong learners. Most academic departments and disciplines have done little to reflect upon this massive population returning to the university in terms of their own intellectual itinerary and aims.

At the same time, I’ve also been told that only faculty are able to articulate this vision, and that it is crucial to keeping our jobs. But this is a task traditionally cast as “service.” Again, Martin on academic “service”:

Indeed, service has a connotation of voluntary or unpaid work, which associates it with the raced and gendered divisions of labor on many campuses–those who serve the academic mission, from clerical staff to food and maintenance workers. Service as a category of labor is also connected to unpaid domestic work and slavery. Devaluing service not only makes it easier to take for granted all these jobs that allow campuses to operate, but also takes attention away from the increasing administrative work that faculty are asked to do and the growing purview of decision-making claimed by senior administrators–whose own work is becoming more generously compensated. Academic freedom, doubtless a value that cannot be taken for granted, pertains to faculty governance, a domain that is being eclipsed by university governance over which administration holds sway, especially when it comes to priorities in collecting and disbursing funds or investments. Faculty will be well-served to recast service as administrative labor, both to give value to an increasingly consequential aspect of their academic lives, but also to come to recognize the knowledge they possess as to how to run the institutions of which they are a part.

So, it seems that if it is vital for faculty to articulate the value of their role–and I would agree it is an important task–it nevertheless needs to be re-cast, perhaps as administrative labor, or maybe as part of scholarship, or as part of teaching load.

Interestingly, there are at least two other prominent blog-posts this week signalling significant stress in academia. From Kate Clancy, The three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: on being a radical scholar:

We talk some more. About how we can’t compete against people with kids but a stay at home spouse, about how we can’t compete against our peers without kids at all. He is in a department where people show up early and stay late. You can find a third of the faculty in the department at any given time on the weekends.

And it’s not just academics with kids, as seen in a post by Tenured Radical, now at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ask The Radical: Are You Clocking Too Much Overtime? A favorite passage:

It is true that some of us, because of how we are positioned–by field, because of youth, by virtue of a joint appointment or a commitment to an interdisciplinary program, because we inhabit an identity that causes students and committees to stick to us like chewing gum on a sneaker–simply have more work to do. In my next life, I hope that I will be reincarnated as a grumpy old heterosexual professor of Middle English with untrimmed nose hair, wandering hands and a sign on my door that says “Office Hours By Appointment Only.”

Both posts are worth a full read. Both posts signal there is something awry across academia, across the working world, and at a time when official unemployment has been stubbornly above 9% for far too long.

Lest this be taken the wrong way, I certainly realize I am one of the lucky ones–lucky to have a job, lucky to have a job in academia, and with my spouse, lucky to have two jobs in academia in the same small town. I would certainly welcome a more frank focus on issues of poverty, as Katha Pollitt writes in The Poor: Still Here, Still Poor: “Let’s not forget that the unemployment rate for white college grads is 4 percent, and every single one of them has been written up in Salon.”

Still, to return to Loverboy’s “Get Lucky” album, it does seem there was a time when lucky meant “everybody wants a new romance,” on top of what was already assumed: a work week with a weekend.

To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2011. “Columbus Day Anthropology: Everybody’s Working Through the Weekend.” Living Anthropologically website, First posted 9 October 2011. Revised 21 September 2017.