The Deleterious Health Effects of Sedentary Work Cultures

One aspect of my privilege is my education which has enabled me to make a living without sacrificing my body. Roofers, welders, plumbers, farmers, house painters, construction workers, tree cutters, often aren’t as fortunate.

But I’ve noticed a pattern even among my fellow white collar egghead professors. A majority routinely sacrifice their health for the sake of their work because of a deep-seated intellectual bias that prioritizes the mind at the expense of the body. 

Simply put, most of my colleagues have been sedentary for decades. On top of that, generous people take turns providing unhealthy office snacks*. Most professors don’t make time to walk, hike, run, play tennis, swim, cycle, or lift weights because there’s always another lecture to plan, or syllabus or grant to write, or set of papers to mark, or conference presentation to prepare, or faculty workshop to attend.

I like my work and my university, but not nearly enough to sacrifice my health for it. One colleague of mine retired in May and died in July. I didn’t know him so I don’t even want to pretend his lifestyle played any part, but I fear too many of my colleagues will not get to enjoy as many post work years if they do not prioritize their health more than is the norm.

Today marks the end of the world’s longest academic sabbatical, mine. I normally work summers, but I took the summers of 18 and 19 off, the book-ends to my 2018-2019 academic year sabbatical. 15 months, huzzah! Someone call the Guinness Book of World Records**. I won’t be telling any of my colleagues what I’m going to tell you in the next paragraph because the sedentary nature of faculty life is so pervasive my athletic self lives deep in the closet***.

Besides the traditional, publishing a couple of articles, reading a bunch, and updating my syllabi, I also turned the knob up a bit on my regular swimming, cycling, and running volume. Por exemplar, I joined a Masters swim team and so far this year have already swam about the same distance as last calendar year. And SO WHAT if I did stretch and chill in the jacuzzi after some practices! Also, I’m on pace to cycle 5,000 miles this year and maintain my 1,000 mile a year running streak. I was fit when I began my record breaking sabbatical, today I’m a little more fit****.

Am I overcompensating? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’m under no illusions that my active lifestyle will guarantee any kind of post-work longevity because life is fragile. That driver on their cell phone could wipe me out on tomorrow’s ride.

But as long as I work as an egghead professor, I will dare to be different by making time to swim, cycle, and run. In particular, I will not sacrifice the quality of my life to the pervasive work culture of which I’m apart. Please, just don’t out me to any of my colleagues.

*Decent chance I have my first donut in a long time today. #glazed

**Could an educator-reader please tell me if teaching is like riding a bike, I’m afraid I may have forgotten how. Any tips?

***Except for one colleague-friend who follows my workouts on Strava. I should probably get him to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

****No, I haven’t just opted to not write about racing triathlons, I have in fact sold my time trial bike and stopped competing for reasons I’m not entirely sure. As I age, given the attrition of my peers, and my consistent training, I would do quite well. But when I envision best case scenarios, like winning races, I’m still not sufficiently motivated to toe the line. Is there a sports psychologist in the house?

bike

 

Paragraph to Ponder

“Fifty years ago, 90% of black postsecondary students attended historically black schools. In 1990, it was close to 17%. Today, around 9% do.”

From “Historically black colleges, including Bennett in Greensboro, locked in fight for survival”.

Why does it matter? Because nationwide, black students tend to do better overall at historically black colleges. They are more likely to graduate within six years than black students at predominantly white institutions. Also, black students at HBCUs are more likely to go on to graduate school than those who attend other schools.

In recent years, historically black colleges and universities have seen enrollments plummet and endowments decrease. The students in this article highlight the primary challenge the HBCU’s face, initially very enthusiastic about their choice, the students bail as soon as their college’s or university’s accreditation is threatened.

Sadly, apart from 8 figure donations, enlightened financial leadership, and continuing accreditation, I don’t know how the HBCU’s stem the race for the exits.

College Math

I sat next to a fresh faced Seattle teen and her dad on the flight back from New York City. They were perusing a Columbia University brochure. “Shopping colleges” I asked and the father was off and running never mind that I really needed some sleep.

His story is deserving of a separate post, for our purposes today, he said a year at Columbia costs $73,000. The dad makes bank and the daughter is the best 16 year old archer in the country, but last I checked, archery scholarships weren’t too generous. Meaning the fam has to come up with at least $325,000 given projected tuition inflation, air travel, and NYC incidentals. A fan of dark humor apparently, he said, “And then they need a masters to get a job.”

She wants to “be a doc for professional athletes” so rather than a masters, she’ll have four years of med school tuition.

Compared to a degree from the University of Washington, will a Columbia degree (or Stanford or UCLA* or Berkeley where she’s also applied), increase the odds of her achieving her career objective, which of course, she’s likely to tweak if not completely change? Her older sis pays $11,000 a year to study public health at “UDub”, one of the top programs in the world.

If I was the dad, I’d make Younger Daughter a proposition. Follow in Older Sister’s footsteps and I’ll give you the money saved from Columbia that you can then use to travel the world and fund medical school, and/or start a business, or to buy a large luxe house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Here’s the final tally:

$325,000 – $50,000= $275,000 + 4 years earning 3% compounded annually = $309,515

What should she do, cash the check for $275,000 and allow it to grow to $309,515 by graduation, or take a very expensive bite out of the Big Apple?

*in this one case, the obvious answer is; yes, definitely

 

How Not To Indoctrinate Students

Excellent advice from David Gooblar’s Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “What is ‘Indoctrination’? And How Do We Avoid It in Class?

His answer. . . by modeling open-mindedness and intellectual humility.

Gooblar thinks we can guard against closed-mindedness if we:

“. . . admit when we’re wrong, discuss our failures, and let students know when we’re unsure about something.”

When researching my doctoral dissertation, I spent two months closely studying a master high school teacher with a PhD in Mesopotamian history. Most PhD’s in Mesopotamian history would fall FLAT on their face if required to teach high school, but not this one because he never flaunted his intellect. One time, I recall, he started a story about something he had recently read about Egyptian pyramids. “I recently read in a book, but I don’t know if it’s true, . . . ” With one simple phrase, he demystified textual authority. The take-away, reader beware, authors are flawed.

However, there’s more to the “indoctrination story” than Gooblar reveals. A year ago, I was teaching an interdisciplinary International Honors course to a dozen whip smart juniors and seniors at my liberal arts university. One session, when discussing economics, a winsome but exasperated senior said, “I’ve never had a single professor here say anything positive about capitalism.” And on a scale of “1 to 10” in terms of liberal, liberal arts campus cultures, I’d rate my university a 4.

I thought long and hard about that statement, but also the student’s seeming resistance to critically question obvious, albeit unintended, negative consequences of unfettered free-market capitalism. As a conservative surrounded mostly by liberal faculty and peers, did he feel compelled to overcompensate? “I’m planting my flag on the hill of free-market capitalism come hell or high water!”

No, I don’t think that’s what was happening. I also taught the same student writing four years earlier in a seminar where we got to know one another well. I was reminded in the Honors course of how close he was to his mother whom he talked about affectionately. When I probed a little about how he came to his pro-capitalism views, he talked about his mother’s passion for it and their numerous conversations about it from when he was little. His hesitance to question capitalism as an economic system didn’t have anything to do with peer relationships, it had everything to do with his love for his mother. To even question capitalism, let alone reject it like an increasing number of his peers, would’ve required him to reject his mother. Far too high a cost to pay.

When teaching anything remotely political, that is the educator’s dilemma—how to honor each student’s familial context while also challenging them to expand their worldview. Or more specifically, given our example, how to celebrate the beauty of a loving child-parent relationship, while simultaneously cultivating critical thinking about closely held, unquestioned assumptions learned from birth.

How do educators challenge students to thoughtfully confront their families ideological blindspots knowing their intellectual awakening will disrupt those cherished relationships?

 

College Professors’ Iffy Pedagogy—Take 2

The tendency to assign more academic texts than students can realistically read closely isn’t the only, or even primary difference, between many higher education faculty and the best K-12 teachers.

The single greatest difference is most college professors expect their students to adapt to their teaching methods. In contrast, the most effective K-12 teachers learn early on to adapt their teaching methods to the various ways their students learn. As a result, accomplished K-12 teachers have many more methodological arrows in their quivers.

In elementary, middle, and high schools, the onus of adaptability is on the teachers to “differentiate instruction”. In higher education, the onus of adaptability is almost always on the students.

This is some far-fetched shit*, but imagine if the chairs of academic departments in colleges and universities across the country invited a handful of the most excellent K-12 educators from their communities to talk to their faculty about the myriad, student-centered ways, they promote genuine learning.

University students everywhere would be indebted to those enlightened chairs.

*just trying to sound Presidential

 

Wednesday Assorted Links

1. How Much Snow It Typically Takes to Cancel School in the U.S. Or how soft are you and yours? Specific Northwest, middle of the road (pun intended).

2. Speaking of maps. A Road Map for Reviving the Midwest.

“So the states of the Great Lakes region appear to be faced with a stark choice. It can . . . harness the modernizing forces of universities and immigration, setting itself up for revival. Or it can give in to the seductive impulses of nativism and hostility to higher education, and settle in for more decades of bitter, grinding decline.”

3. MoviePass Adds a Million Subscribers. Including a 25-year old Chicagoan who is digging it. You go gerl’, stretch those dollars.

4. Solar’s Bright Future is Further Away Than it Seems. In related news, in the upper lefthand corner, we’ve had more sun this winter than in any time in recent memory. Almost feels like Denver. To quote Kurt Warner after his SupBowl victory, “Thank you Jesus!”

5. Millennials are screwed. Not the 13 seniors in my January seminar. They’re going to thrive, by which I mean change the world for the better. #skilled #hardworking #sociallyconscious

6. Special Education funding is a priority this session. Shout out to Jeanette Byrnes who is an ace committee assistant this session. Working her butt off wrestling very large copying machines and providing sundry support for two committees. And gaining new respect for working men and women everywhere. Tangent: Jamie Pedersen used to swim at the Olympia Y during session. Bizarre open turns that I’m not even sure I could demonstrate.

Sign of the Apocalypse—Higher Education Edition

This is an email I received recently. I have changed the name of the college based upon the ratio of full and part time faculty.

Dear Dr. Byrnes,

Academic Keys, LLC is conducting an executive search for the position of Interim Dean of Education at Adjunct College.

As part of our search strategy, we are seeking recommendations for colleagues who may be interested in this opportunity.

If this position isn’t right for you, but you would like to receive opportunities in your discipline, please subscribe to Academic Keys e-Fliers where you may choose your discipline and specific fields of interest.

This is a rare opportunity for an experienced administrative leader to serve as Interim Dean of the School of Education at Adjunct College. Working closely with the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Interim Dean will provide program review, assessment and recommendations while providing vision, leadership, and dedication to quality higher education. Specific focus will be placed on maintaining accreditation with external regulators and providing recommendations to senior leadership for the direction for the school.

Adjunct College is a private, non-profit college. Serving approximately 1000 students, the School of Education, the largest of the three schools, employs:

  • 1 Department Head
  • 7 part time Program Coordinators
  • 3 full time faculty
  • 150 part time faculty

This is a full-time Senior Level Administrator position, and the person appointed to this position will be a member of the Deans’ Council Team. The position reports to the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs of Adjunct College.