Recommended to me over the summer, but put aside in favour of the more escapist saga by Elena Ferrante, I eventually finished reading the much debated The Slow Professor. Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. This fresh and inspiring short book has been food for thought while completing appraisal forms, workload planning and documents for my probation meeting. Early career academics and more senior scholars, but most importantly those in leadership roles within our universities, should familiarize with the analysis of the current state of academia offered by Berg and Seeber.
Taking inspiration from the principles of the slow movement (in particular the Slow Food one), and applying them to the higher education sector, the two ‘slow professors’ take a stance against the frantic speed and endemic problems of isolation, time poverty and anxiety in the academy. As a sort of manifesto and self-help book, but supported by evidence of a variety of studies on the job-related stress and burnout of academics, Berg and Seeber propose strategies to maximise the pleasure in teaching, research and administrative duties and resist the ‘supermarket’ model in North American universities. Slow down is the mantra: take extra time to read and to listen to students, to go to libraries and learn to say ‘no’.
The Slow Professor certainly offers useful advice to make work less stressful and pinpoints some systemic fragilities in universities, which are equally present in the UK. However, I am left with a doubt that the suggested strategies come at a price. Berg and Seeber are honest as they acknowledge their position of protection as tenured professors and feel that they have an obligation to improve the working climate for all the spectrum of academic position (ix). I wonder whether what they predicate is in reality a perpetuation of reaching a position of privilege. If the (tenured) professors slow down, who is covering for the faculty meetings, the various committees and the extra seminars? How can we resist the speed and find strategies that won’t impact the assistant professors/lecturers or the hourly paid/fixed term lecturers and in the end the experience of our students?
So, I would like to open up the debate and invite BAFTSS members to discuss strategies of deceleration that can really improve the life of all of us. Join me for a chat on Twitter on Monday 7th of November at 6pm @baftss @elena_caoduro #slowacademia.