academy · mental health · politics · turgid institution

Fatigue and the World University Rankings

SSHRC deadline was yesterday. I submitted the application. I seem to be unable to write in complex sentences as a result. And yet, I am attempting to write a coherent blog post. All week long I thought I wanted to write about fatigue. The students’, my own. Yours, too? Why is it that, no matter how much I work to prevent it, the September freight train always hits me. Always. All ways.

And now, when SSHRC is finally put to rest, fatigue. But not just my own. This year, I was struck by just how tired the students are. The ones in my classes are mostly first-years, so you’d expect more bright-eyed-bushy-tailed than weight-of-the-world-crushing-me types. It’s sad, really, how fast they go from the former to the latter. Two weeks? Three tops. And now, it’s the end of week 5 out of 13, and it seems like we’ve all aged a couple of years.

In seemingly unrelated news, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings came out a couple of days ago. Did you notice? Did you talk about them? Have an opinion on them? Where’s your U on it? The Globe and Mail tells us that, on the whole, Canadian universities are dropping this year. The University of Alberta fell in these Rankings from spot 100 in 2011 to 121 in 2012. This news will undoubtedly cause some soul-searching in the higher levels of the academy this week. Either that or some questioning of the methodologies, as it happened a few years ago, some Canadian universities bowed out of the Maclean’s rankings, because of dissatisfaction with their methods of inquiry.

So, what’s the connection between fatigue and the THE Rankings? I’m not sure, but the links emerged in my head as other questions. Such as, does it have anything to do with the the increasingly precarious positions of teaching staff? Or the rising debt levels students undertake to pay for their education? Or the lack of transparency in decision-making, which is part of the very situation of precarity of the New Faculty Majority? And how does the post-Recession permanent state of exception (it’s recession, so no new hirings, no replacement hirings, no budget) in universities affect this generalized fatigue? What non-quantifiable qualities are lost in the ensuing budget cuts and job losses and generalized austerity?

Ultimately, how can we combat this fatigue?

11 thoughts on “Fatigue and the World University Rankings

  1. I don't know, Margrit. I'm not teaching this semester, but I'm up to my eyeballs in administrative stuff, and a lot more meetings relating to developing an online course, and I seem to have a LOT of graduate students to supervise lately. I'm not getting smacked by the grading freight train, or the exhaustion particular to trying to carry the enterprise of two 40-person classes toward enlightenment (!), but I'm still pooped!

    Except this semester seems a lot faster, maybe because I miss the anchoring rhythm of teaching.

    I try to pace myself, from week 1 to week 12, but it's hard.

    (And everyone here is handing in their SSHRCS … and they all go to my husband to check, as he is the guy who signs off on it for the university. So my house is FULL of SSHRC apps, and my husband is up til all hours of the night reading them and annotating them. That makes for an … interesting … ambience …)


  2. I'm having trouble imagining ways to combat the fatigue as well. Mine comes mostly from the ever-changing challenges of precarious employment. I'm the co-ordinator of the Canadian Studies programme this year, meaning I sit on the Council of Chairs meaning I listen to the likelihood of having my own limited term appointment (and those of others) cut for budgetary purposes. It is exhausting, this work of balancing hope + hard work + realism + pernicious anxiety. I think writing in public about it is a first step, though.


  3. We've been (inhumanely, I feel) going since mid-August. I am done. Maybe because I have been going for so long, I am able to more selectively block those things/pieces of news that would typically emotionally exhaust me. Or I'm just writing about it, confronting it rather than letting it silently eat away at my soul.

    But, as I type this, all I can think of is heading back to bed.


  4. I'm teaching 3 first-year Intro to Literature courses this term, 2 of which start at 8am. They're usually perfectly thoughtful and alert, but I see fatigue in some of them, which has little to do with early start times. Looking out at my students from the front of our classrooms, I often wonder about the different responsibilities they juggle: studies, work, family commitments, etc. I think, too, that the pressures of the current economy weigh on undergrads — not only rising tuitions but also worries about how to choose the best career paths for themselves and what kinds of demands they'll face in the professional lives.


  5. Well, I'll go with a wee ray of optimism, picking up on Aimée's reponse: I've also been getting up early — 6, say, and sometimes a smidgen before then — in order to put the time into my writing, which is where I get a lot of my fulfillment and strength. Insisting on getting to put my energy into the things that give me back energy makes a huge difference.


  6. @Aimée, I do not understand how two-academic families can function during the stressful cycles of the year, but then I'm probably steeped in the conditions of my own existence, and too tired 😉 (jaded, too?) to imagine others.
    @Aimée and @Kit (and I know @Erin, too): As soon as the baby starts sleeping through the night, and I catch up in my sleep (ha!), I pledge to join you in the research-in-the-morning habit.
    @Lee, I know what you mean; there's that bright side to exhaustion, too.
    @Kathryn: classes at 8 am? Two of them? I can barely make it to campus around 9 am to teach at 10. And yes, I like to think of students as complex beings, too, which is why I'm worried about them at this time in their lives, which should allow for more exploration and exuberance.
    @Erin: yes, precarity *is* the most draining part for me, too. The work that goes into the applications, emotional as well as physical (hours of sitting down, researching, writing), the futility of it all. I think I'm becoming completely enraged by the entire situation, and not in a productive way, especially when I sit and watch regular surreptitious cuts happen at the expense of the most vulnerable with the tacit acquiescence of the privileged.


  7. You know, the precarity would kill me. I have such incredible privilege to at least be secure in my employment, so that I don't have to worry about the future at the same time I'm dragging myself through the now, and very well compensated for it, too. I don't deal well at all with precarity (like when those condo developers wanted to buy our house and I cried every day for weeks, for example …)

    There's a couple of years from when Daughter was tiny that I don't really remember. I was that tired, all the time.


  8. I am trying to combat fatigue myself. I try to make it to the gym at least once a week (my bad–should be at least three) and walk every day for at least half an hour. I bake gluten free bread and protein based treats to relieve stress, make all of my meals for the week ahead of time, etc . . . I just can't seem to accomplish as much in a week as I used to, but I think my enthusiasm for my own capabilities has worn off O.o First year PhD student-itis, perhaps? I hope it is not incurable.


  9. And @Erin: the precarity is hitting me in a way as well. Even though I've had some awesome starts as a grad student, and PhD student (conference papers, articles accepted, etc . . .) but it never seems to be enough. It is almost like I've just developed some sort of learned helplessness–no matter what I do it will never be good enough, it won't count even if it is accepted, etc . . . it just never seems to be enough. And I blow my failures out of proportion lol so it sounds like I really fail all the time when maybe I just don't fail well O.o

    And even people with masses of publications and great cvs are not finding jobs. That reality is hitting me already. I thought I had things figured out, but nope.

    Also yeah the tacit acquiescence of the privileged in the exploitation of the vulnerable. I've almost given up on caring about that; there's nothing I can do. There is just nothing I can do.


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