Sunday, October 15, 2006

Professors accused of dishonesty on sick-leave

The state legislative audit bureau released its report on UW sick leave policy on Friday. You can read the AP report here.

It has already become another 'reason' for the UW-haters to attack us. We can, of course, add Mark Green to that number, as he seems to think running against the universities will bring him additional votes.

In any case, I think the audit bureau report demonstrates another fundamental misunderstanding of the world of academia. Most of us see flexibility as one of the most important parts of our job. We are not clock-punchers. However, you are more than likely to find us sitting at home on the couch grading or reading that latest journal in our field. Our work does not stop at the office door--instead it is our passion and our life.

Sick-leave is something that is tangential to our work. For example, I have not cancelled a class since I have been here because I was sick. I have, however, spent the rest of one of those days miserable in bed (usually reading material related to my position). Technically, I should have taken a sick-leave day, according to the standards proclaimed by the audit bureau. But then that should also mean that I shouldn't finish that grading or make another revision to that journal submission in the evening or on the weekend. We don't worry about sick-leave because we never really leave our work behind.

The other aspect to this is that unused sick-leave works out as a retirement suppliment to counteract our below-average pay. UW pay has slipped and is getting worse in relation to other academic positions across the country. Providing a boost at retirement is a way to make up for some of the salary loss during our years of service.

In the end, however, since we have no strong advocates in Wisconsin, we will continued to be pummelled by politicians looking only for political points. Administration in Madison will sit meekly by and apologize. Riley and crew will probably be proposing some sort of new, wasteful and onerous reporting requirements. I wish they would spend their energy making people understand why the work we and the UW system do is crucial to the future of our state and our citizens.


Anonymous said...

There are many professions where people do not punch clocks, feel very passionately about their work, often work 60 hour weeks and yes _ feel like they are underpaid _ and yet they have to take a sick day when they do not show up to work. It's that simple. To claim that professors _ and no other state employee, not even other unclassified staff _ have some special exemption from that rather basic requirement is rather arrogant, isn't it?

lammers said...

You've just proved Winnie-Bloggo's point about not understanding why an academic is different.

Being a professor is not a job, it is a career. We are NEVER off-duty. I check my university e-mail on weekends, holidays, and when sick, and respond to student and colleague queries. I write lectures in the evening at home. I grade papers on weekends at home. The three months of summer WHEN I DON'T GET A FREAKING PAYCHECK, I am in my office, WORKING, every single day. And some chowderhead legislator is going to raise a stink about sick-leave???

Okay, how about this? Every professor in UW System starts putting in just 40 hours a week. Taking whole days off when ill. No more working at home in evenings and weekends, no more toughing it out so classes aren't cancelled (There is, after all, no such thing as "substitute teachers" for college.)

Be prepared, because it will triple the cost of running UW System -- you'll need three times as many professors if we cleave to these rules. Also, forget about the millions of dollars in grant money overhead -- no one will have time for THAT anymore.

Sure, kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Tired of politicians seeking headlines said...

Anonymous did seem to miss the point that professors basically work flex time. Not all work needs to be done in the office. I'm insulted when Green and others act like we don't work. I, too, have come and worked when feeling really sick because no one else can teach my classes, and I went home "early" after class and office hours. Then I graded over the weekend. Maybe we should boycott all out unpaid work over the summers and watch the semester slow down significantly as we work only when paid.

Anonymous said...

What you are all missing is that these LAB attacks are a routine part of the budget process. Every two years they issue some report that is essentially a "gotcha" prior to the start of the budget process. The fact that they are concerend about sick days should be taken as a good sign -- they couldn't think of anything more nasty to throw at us.

BTW, I think professors SHOULD take more sick days. Too many come in to work sick because they don't want their classes to fall behind. I had a colleague at another college who came in to campus for weeks even though he was terminally ill. He died 72 hours after the last class he taught. A few sick days might have given him some time with his family.

lammers said...

Letters on this topic by myself and Martin Gruberg appeared in the 20 October Northwestern: