Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Which I Consider Changing My Mind About the E-APA Timing Issue

I was composing a comment for the comment thread here in which I propose an argument for keeping the E-APA meeting between Christmas and New Years. I was trying to explain why professional inconveniences should trump personal ones. The argument was that because the E-APA meeting is a meeting of our professional organization, it should be held in a way that does not conflict with our professional activities. That is, I was going to allege that the fact that the APA is a professional organization gives us reason to hold the meeting while we're supposed to be on vacation.

But then I read the sentences over again, and I thought, What? No it doesn't. If it's a professional meeting, it should cut into professional time, not vacation time--not family time. This, in conjunction with some of the other points people have made, has caused me to reconsider. Maybe we should try to hold it during the first week or so in January. I'll be damned.

How's that grab you?

--Mr. Zero

54 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why are we "supposed to be on vacation" between Christmas and New Years?

Anonymous said...

Amen to that.

Mostly Anonymous said...

Wow. Were you on the other side in this debate?!? Welcome to the side of goodness and light.

Anonymous said...

It makes you sound like someone without a job. My university contract runs from the middle of August until the middle of May -- roughly nine months.

The only days I am not required to be available on campus are the official university holidays. This includes week-ends and the like.

So, during the timing of the APA, I am not "on vacation." In fact, I don't get vacation time. You'll learn that if you ever get a job. Only people on 11 and 12 month contracts accrue vacation time. I get sick days -- that's it.

Your off contract time is your vacation time. The current timing of the Eastern is best for all school schedules. It's two days after Christmas anyway.

To those of you who really want this gig, this is part of the entry price! If you have a 35 year career and you go to 10 Eastern APAs, that's not that big a burden....

Anonymous said...

Good point, Zero. I was thinking this kind of thing myself, though I can appreciate people not wanting to miss their first class(es), especially when that bears on enrollment.

But, back to your point: there is an analogy that sort of fits (even though, as with every analogy, it also doesn't fit in some ways). Imagine that a bunch of people from your work wanted to schedule an important meeting, and they decided to hold it on Saturday, because that's a clear day when no one has professional obligations: you'd probably respond with "What? That's my time. Why not just hold it during the workweek, when we all have to be working anyway?"

Anonymous said...

Huh, I don't get it. Why does the fact that it's a professional event mean that it should be set up to conflict with my other work responsibilities? I honestly don't see how that follows.
My department schedules colloquia for Fridays after classes are over. Is that wrong? The colloquia should happen during class time so that I have to skip a class to attend? The other professional conferences I attend are almost all scheduled on weekends (often including a Friday too). Is that poor scheduling? The Central APA meeting is during my Spring Break this year. I'd thought that was good, but you're telling me it's bad?

zombie said...

In my non-academic working life, scheduling a meeting outside of normal working hours would be met with much complaining and resentment. There's an argument to be made that the academic work schedule is unconventional and not structured in the same way as a 9-5 job. We are on call, so to speak, even when we are not teaching. In that light, it is conceivable that we are on call between terms. Certainly I have spent much time during winter break prepping for classes. I could have let it slide, and killed myself doing it during the semester, however. Winter break at my current University applies to everyone: students, faculty and university staff. The university is closed, but we get paid. So, yes, I AM on vacation during the Xmas-New Year period.

There are 3 populations who go to APA. (1) Job-seekers, (2)search committees, and (3)people who go to APA for the actual conference/meeting part of it. (3) go there of their own volition, on their own time. I see no problem there. (1) and (2) have to go, and arguably, (2) is required to go as part of their professional duties. Should they have to go on their vacation time? I'd say they should not, although presumably they are not required to do it year after year. Nonetheless, it is personally inconvenient for them to do it during their vacation time. People in (1) may go for several years running, given the current job market. Many of them have professional obligations once the school term starts, but they can't really say that missing classes is required by their "professional duties." So they may have more trouble justifying missing classes to their departments. (Although many depts are very understanding about it, and fly-outs can sometimes be scheduled around classes.)

It strikes me that the group with the best argument for scheduling APA during a non-break period is (2). For (1) it makes for personal misery and inconvenience, but is probably more professionally convenient than scheduling it during the term. For (3) it may be more convenient than any other option (other than summer time).

Personally, I'd rather the whole job business shift to summer, but I realize the current timing is partly a function of fiscal calendars and budgeting.

The real solution, of course, is to stop using APA as a job conference.

Anonymous said...

Hey 8:53: what your university contract says is irrelevant to these issues. And by the way, nice reasoning: I don't get vacation time; so all of you should suck it up and attend the APA even if it has to cut into your vacation time.

Your not getting any real vacation time has nothing to do with whether those who do get some should be expected to give up some of it to attend a poorly timed conference.

Anonymous said...

It has been pointed out but bears repeating: we are not "on vacation" during winter break. besides that, we have many obligations that take place beyond the traditional 8-5 M-F schedule, which is the standard justification for why we have "summers off." You have to prep on Sunday nights, or grade on Friday nights, or both on Saturday morning - you also have obligations during winter break.

Second, I think it is ridiculous to suggest that missing the first week of class is no big deal. At my institution, the end of the first week marks the end of the add/drop period, which means that should I miss the first week, we would have had no classes prior to a student being prohibited from dropping the class without penalty. On top of that, we drop students that don't show up to the first day of class, how absurd is it that we should expect them to attend a class that doesn't meet the first day?

You have chosen a profession that does not follow schedule of the so-called rat race yet you complain when the profession does not follow the schedule of that "rat-race." Except, of course, that even in the rest of the careers you would have, you would be required to take vacation days in order to have the period between Christmas and New Years off.

Mr. Zero said...

anon 8:08,

Why are we "supposed to be on vacation" between Christmas and New Years?

I just went to my school's academic calendar, which reads "December x - January y: Campus Closed – Holiday Break." This suggests to me that I am not required to be working during that interval.

anon 8:53,

The only days I am not required to be available on campus are the official university holidays. This includes week-ends and the like.

Is it really the case that your chair/supervisor person is so inflexible that they would not permit you to attend professional conferences or other professional activities that don't take place during federal holidays? I am incredulous (though not exactly disbelieving). I suppose it's possible that this is the written policy, but is it really true that people wouldn't at least look the other way? Like, your chair would say, "If you miss class to go to the E-APA, we will fire you?" If so, that's really terrible.

anon 10:28

My department schedules colloquia for Fridays after classes are over.

But they don't schedule them on Sundays.

The other professional conferences I attend...

...are not the job conference. The E-APA is de facto required for all job seekers and all search committees.

Zombie,

The real solution, of course, is to stop using APA as a job conference.

Yes.

Anonymous said...

10:40. In fact, what my university contract says is really important. It is the condition of my employment.

And let me point out that if you get employed, you will care about going to your first week of classes. Student enrollment is an issue. Student recruitment is an issue especially majors. You cannot miss the first week of classes.

You also aren't hourly employees. If you want your Saturdays off and to not worry about work when you aren't there, then go become a barista or bartender.

Being a professor is a professional job. It pays around 50K to start in most places for a 9 month contract. That's 62K for the year. Go look up where 50K a year is in the average income bracket. It's way the hell up there.

If you want a professional job, you will have to do things that you don't like. You will have certain freedoms eliminated. And if you had a real job, you would have to take vacation days to take the week between the baby Jesus's birthday and New Years.

I don't understand why this is so difficult for you to understand. It's not about what *you* want. That's not what work is like. The current timing is good for the profession and good for those in the profession relative to their other job duties.

Stop thinking like a graduate student and think like someone who understands what it is like to have a professional job. This is part of the reason I don't particularly like probationary faculty. You think you have it all figured out, but you know jack shit.

10:28 said...

Mr. Z,
I'm 10:28. I wrote:

The other professional conferences I attend...

And you note:

...are not the job conference. The E-APA is de facto required for all job seekers and all search committees.

Indeed. I guess I didn't make my point clear.
I was responding to this claim of yours:

If it's a professional meeting, it should cut into professional time, not vacation time--not family time.

My point is that this is a non sequitur. I was giving an example that shows this. Most professional meetings (that I know about) are scheduled on the weekend. Thus, they are professional meetings that cut into vacation family time. So by your claim, they are improperly scheduled.

Sorry to be pedantic about this. Also, I am not at all impressed by 11:06's tone. I assume 11:06 is also 8:53. The condescension is really ugly. Mr. Z and Zombie are very good at setting the tone here, so please don't poison it.)

zombie said...

Agreed: there are no times during school terms when E-APA would not interfere with teaching classes.

The beginning of the term is bad in terms of enrollment, drop periods, and optics. The middle of the term is bad because of midterms, grading, etc. The end of the term likewise.

But: both Central and Pacific APAs are held in the spring, during the school term. (Wednesday - Saturday, which pretty much blows a whole week)

It is also the case that there is no uniformity in term schedules, so accommodating everyone would be nigh on impossible.

Is it not also the case that many depts schedule colloquia and similar events on Friday afternoons, and do not schedule classes on Friday afternoons? I thought that was b/c attendance at Friday afternoon classes is always abysmal, and that the practice is pretty widespread.

Is there a reason why the job portion of APA (if we MUST do it) couldn't be scheduled on a weekend so that those who are required to go (SCs and job candidates) could do so with minimal disruption of work/vacation time? Those candidates who must travel farther, or who teach on Fridays, could request later interview times.

The rest of APA could be scheduled whenever (Friday to Monday, for instance).

If I had to choose between giving up a weekend, and giving up part of my winter break, I'd give up the weekend. Not that APA cares what I prefer.

zombie said...

"To those of you who really want this gig, this is part of the entry price! If you have a 35 year career and you go to 10 Eastern APAs, that's not that big a burden...."

No. Ten APAs that take me away from my kid during her all-too-brief childhood in the middle of our holiday break is a VERY BIG burden. That's ten years we don't get to go on a family vacation, or just spend time together.

Patrick said...

"No. Ten APAs that take me away from my kid during her all-too-brief childhood in the middle of our holiday break is a VERY BIG burden. That's ten years we don't get to go on a family vacation, or just spend time together."

Really? You can't go on a family vacation during the summer? Or during Spring break? Or go on vacation after New Years? Or in the period before Christmas? We get a LOT of time off as academics, it must be said.

And what do those working stiffs (i.e. basically everyone else in the world) who must, you know, work during the holidays do?

The amount of privilege on display in this conversation is pretty astounding.

Anonymous said...

That's right. Be thankful you even have a job! - Now shut up, roll over and play dead.

You show me one "working stiff" who's thankful about having to fly across the country on the 26th of Dec and fly back on the 1st of Jan - just for the chance to fight for a job that s/he probably won't get - and I'll show someone who's at the end of their rope.

The amount of complacency on display in this conversation is pretty astounding.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:53/11:06: I'm not sure why you assume that I, or anyone else on this thread, is (a) a graduate student, or (b) unfamiliar with professional jobs (some of us have had, or currently hold, them). Most of us here already recognize how much sacrifice to our personal time it takes, and will further take, to be or remain a part of this profession. Your condescension is unfounded; it's also unbecoming.

I don't understand why this is so difficult for you to understand. It's not about what *you* want. Uh, yes it is: these threads were prompted by polls asking for our preferences.

And, as members of this profession - stop using we aren't already members! - we have a say, however small, in when future meetings are held. I'm sorry that scares you so much that you must resort to belittling those who disagree with you.

Mr. Zero said...

Are people saying that it is unusual for people in North America to spend Christmas with their families? Or for salaried, professional people with advanced degrees to have time off between Christmas and new years? Or that it takes a sense of undue privilege to want to spend the holidays with your kids? Because that stuff ain't true.

And the more I think about anon 8:53's contract, which seems to entail that he could not schedule a dentist appointment for a Monday afternoon, the more unbelievable I find it. And I don't see how any of this makes me sound like someone who does not have a job. I have a job. It is clearly somewhat better than 8:53's.

anon 12:16,

I see what you're saying, and your point is taken.

There is a tension between two competing obligations or desires, one personal and one professional. We want to spend time with our loved ones, and we don't want to miss too much work. Most conferences I'm aware of involve missing a little of both, and it is true that weekends and spring breaks are not sacrosanct. So I'm willing to concede that my argument is stated in stronger terms than I can defend.

But I still think I'm on to something. You wouldn't hold the APA over Thanksgiving weekend, even if the conference started on Saturday, not Thursday. I'm not a Christian, but I think Christmas is more like Thanksgiving than spring break.

11:06,

There are lots of academic disciplines, each of which has its own professional organization, each of which holds a national conference, none of which (as far as I know) are scheduled to coincide with the week between Christmas and new years.

Anonymous said...

This discussion is similar to a question that Worst Professor Ever brings up often: how much of our personal lives do we owe to Academia? Grad students and faculty alike both know the pressures of giving one's entire life to one's field: both grad students and faculty are told that weekends, summers, semester breaks, are the times we are to do "our work" (which usually means researching and writing). That is, academics are constantly told that we are expected to produce work which will be used to evaluate us (hiring, tenure, promotion), and told that we have to do it on what should be considered vacation time. Part of this is the insane belief held by many that academia is not a profession, but a calling, and that academics are best thought of as monks who devote their lives to a monastery, as opposed to professionals who are allowed to have a personal life.

The toughest thing, in my opinion, about being junior faculty is pushing back against the university which will, if you let it, take away all your free time. Being asked to stay late to advise a club or meet with students, or show up on weekends to work at the recruitment fair, or any of the other small jobs that one is always asked to do. So when a professional organization decides to host a meeting during some of that scheduled university off time, I see that as another way the profession is telling us that we should devote the entirety of our lives to our jobs.

Anonymous said...

The current timing is good for the profession and good for those in the profession relative to their other job duties.

Uh, that's exactly what's at issue in the larger debate. Begging the question, anyone?

In fact, what my university contract says is really important. It is the condition of my employment.

8:53, if your required presence on campus between Christmas and New Year's is so important to this discussion, then why is that a good time for the profession? If it is a good time for the profession as a whole, that suggests that your issue is not important for the profession as a whole. The incoherence of your blustering suggests that maybe your animus towards those whiny non-full-timers who won't get off your lawn may be playing a role. Let's see, is there textual evidence for that hypothesis?

This is part of the reason I don't particularly like probationary faculty. You think you have it all figured out, but you know jack shit.

That's the voice of reason right there.

Anonymous said...

@2:42

"Required to be available" on campus is not the same thing as "required to be on campus." Reread my earlier comment -- straw man anyone...

If I am at the APA, then I am, more than likely, there for work related reasons. And since we know that the same person cannot be in two places at once, I don't have to be on campus.

zombie said...

Hey Patrick, my kid is 8 years old, not in college. Her winter break and my winter break are not the same. So no, we can't go on vacation before Christmas, or after New Year, because she's in school then. See how this works? Yeah, I'm privileged. I have a great kid and I want to spend time with her in the week we both get between Xmas and New Year.

And yeah, we get to spend some time together during the summer too. Is your point that that should be enough? We eat dinner together too. I guess I should feel lucky, suck it up, put a smile on my face, and ask the APA where, when and how high they would like me to jump. While I'm at it, I'll tell my kid to go get a job in the mines already. Because apparently this profession is just too damn family-friendly, and it's made a bunch of molly-coddling whiners out of us all.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 4:16 & elsewhere,

I'm sorry, but I don't understand this clause in your contract at all. How does stressing 'available' help? How are you "available on campus" if you are attending a conference in the Copley Square Marriott in Boston? And if you're at the APA in order to interview for another job, how are you there for work reasons? And if the fact that you're there for work reasons makes it okay for you to be at the APA during your mandatory "available" time, why does the conference have to be when you'er off for winter break?

Anonymous said...

Right on, Mr. Zero and Zombie!

We really don't have to have a major conference at a time that creates hardship for families and others. Plenty of other conferences are held in summer, late fall or early spring. I go to six or seven of such conferences every year. I really don't see why it's such a big deal to move the APA.

Anonymous said...

Zero and others,

You are being obtuse....and I don't know if it is deliberate or not, but I will just say good luck with your crusades....

Anonymous said...

Another thing to keep in mind is that the people most likely to be on quarters and starting the first week of January are on the West Coast.

They are also the most burdened by traveling to the Eastern APA, both in terms of travel hours and in terms of dollars (airfare to Boston from LA, San Francisco, or Seattle is a lot more expensive than airfare/train tickets to Boston from Miami, DC, New York, or even Chicago).

Anonymous said...

"They are also the most burdened by traveling to the Eastern APA, both in terms of travel hours and in terms of dollars"

Yes, but ticket prices drop off substantially from holiday prices in the first week of January (usually around the 4th)...

Anonymous said...

It appears both sides of this debate have reasonable concerns, and both can come off as giant assholes.

People can sound as though they think we *ought* to move the date of the conference because their rights are being violated by having it held over the holidays, that they deserve to have that particular week off, and as such, they are currently so hard done by. This seems clearly false. Most people in the world have it far worse off than academics. Academics are pretty lucky over all. Our rights aren't being violated by going to a conference right after Christmas.

Given that, however, it does ring true that we should try to improve our situation when we can (with appropriate constraints, of course). So, if all or most people in the profession agree that it's better to move the conference, then it makes sense to do so. All kinds of factors play in to whether it's better to move it, including personal ones. That's perfectly reasonable. But the reasoning can't be that a bunch of advantaged people think their life is so unfair. That attitude deserves condescension.

To be clear: I'm not claiming that anyone posting here has any particular attitude or another, but simply that it's understandable why both sides would interpret certain claims to be indicative of certain attitudes.

My two cents.

Anonymous said...

11:27 FTW!

Mr. Zero said...

anon 11:27,

I speak for myself here, but I think my remarks apply equally well to the other commenters who have argued that the E-APA meeting should be moved to another time.

I guess I don't see how you could read my complaints about the timing of the meeting as making reference to a literal right to have time off around Christmas, or to an allegation that academics have an especially hard time compared to the rest of the world or compared to other "working stiffs".

The complaint is simply that the E-APA is held at an inconvenient time. This is true. It is held at a time that conflicts with other activities that are typically and reasonably regarded as extremely important by almost everyone. These are family activities, and you do not have to be a privileged, entitled whiner to see them as a priority. They are legitimately extremely important to people.

I know I have things pretty good, all things considered. But that doesn't mean that seeing room for improvement involves a character flaw. And I would point out that I've been working my ass off for over ten years to put myself in this position. I don't understand this idea that it is wrong, or in bad character, or in poor taste, or "whiny" for a hard-working, professional person to want to spend Christmas time with his kids or extended family. I don't understand it at all. I know lots of professional people: dentists, architects, mechanical engineers, software engineers, teachers, people like that. They get time off between Christmas and new years. I do, too; my school is closed during that week, no classes are in session, and I am not required to be there, or to be "available."

I would also point out that I haven't fully made up my mind on this issue--the post is titled and written in tentative language--and until recently I leaned the other way. But I always thought that the timing of the E-APA was inconvenient. I always thought that it interfered with and prevented me from doing other things I would very much like to do, and that I think are important. I always thought that.

And until recently, it was my opinion that this consideration was outweighed by my professional obligation to minimize the extent to which I miss class, especially at the beginning of the semester. Now I lean toward the other side; now I think that if this inconvenient professional obligation is going to eat into something important, it should eat into my other professional obligations. But I make this claim without taking a hard line--see my response at 2:29 to 12:16's objection.

Furthermore, I don't think that a simple majority (or supermajority) should carry the day; I think that if the minority has a decisive reason against moving the meeting, it should not be moved. The question comes down to whether the presence of professional obligations during the first week of January is decisive reason not to move the meeting. I am trying to argue that, while strong, it is not decisive, and that it is the nature and extent of the personal inconvenience that (seems to me) to override the professional obligation.

Throughout this discussion, I have been willing to change my mind, listen to reason, respond to criticism in non-hostile ways, and modify my views in response to reasonable criticisms. I have also been referred to as someone who thinks like a grad student, doesn't know what it's like to have a job, doesn't know what it's like to be a professional person, doesn't know what kinds of perks it is reasonable for a professional person to expect, may or may not be deliberately obtuse, and who doesn't know jack shit. I think it is possible to think that some participants in this debate have come off as giant assholes. I do not think it is possible to think that I have done so.

Anonymous said...

OT, but: is there, or is there not, a new JFP scheduled to be published tomorrow? The "publication schedule" on the APA's website has yet to be updated, and thus says only that the current issue (188) is current until 2/18. But there's nothing after that. Is it correct to assume that there will be another one tomorrow? Or is the APA indicating that philosophy jobs are over, forever?

Mr. Zero said...

As far as I know, there is a new JFP scheduled to be published tomorrow. Historically, the February issue has been published as scheduled. But last year, if memory serves, the announcement that the May issue would be canceled came the day of or the day before it was scheduled to be published.

I'll keep my eyes peeled.

Anonymous said...

"I just went to my school's academic calendar, which reads "December x - January y: Campus Closed – Holiday Break." This suggests to me that I am not required to be working during that interval."

That doesn't follow. What follows is that you are not required to be working **on campus** during that interval and that the undergraduates get a holiday break.

Or, as other commentators point out, we could similarly reason that we are "supposed to be on vacation" every Saturday and Sunday. Yeaaaaah...

Anonymous said...

"Or for salaried, professional people with advanced degrees to have time off between Christmas and new years?"

Umm, many science and engineering Ph.D.s working in industry do not automatically get time off between Christmas and new years. (They might use their vacation days, but that's different.) The number gets bigger if we also include other advanced degrees.

Anonymous said...

Zero,

On the argument under consideration, we would be even less obliged to attend summer conferences. Most of us have 9 month contracts so instead of being "on vacation" during the summer, we are literally not employed. Should I not do professional activities while I am unemployed? No, that is just silly.

The Pacific happens during many people's spring break yet no one suggests moving the Pacific because it is taking place during our "vacation"? Nor is it suggested that we should never be obligated to attend the Pacific because it is during your "vacation"(which search committees must do)? We aren't actually on vacation during spring break; we simply don't have classes.

But, one might object, Christmas is different than spring break - most Americans spend the holidays with their family. Except they don't. Many Americans TAKE the time off but most still have to work (disagreement about this fact might be the crux of the disagreement).

The claim that other professions don't have to work during the holidays is beside the point (and, I think, false). Doctors aren't required to grade students papers when they aren't at the hospital, lawyers bill every time they talk to a client, we don't have to carry malpractice, and we aren't required to be on call ever - our professional obligations aren't coextensive so even if they don't have to work during the holidays, we still might.

In some sense this activity is the difference between being a professional and merely having a job. A doctor is always a doctor whether or not she is at her job. Bus drivers the leave their bus driver hats at work.

Right now, you can't take the time off but that is no different than those who haven't accrued vacation days, work in fields that can't take those days off, or that lack the seniority to get first choice of vacation days.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the junior members of a profession have greater demands placed on their time. For example, almost every lawyer I know was working 60-70 hour weeks their first year or two out of school - most didn't know what a weekend was. No professionals start out with all the flexibility and capacity for self-determination as their senior colleagues. This doesn't make it right but it does discount the claim that other professions treat their professionals better.

Personally I think the fact that moving the APA to the first week of January would require 30% (the number that was suggested earlier for number of schools that have classes then) of those attending to skip the first week of class completely trumps the inconvenience some experience because of the current timing (especially when that time off is recognized as the luxury it really is) because teaching is our primary job duty; being in class is what justifies our salary.

Euthyphronics said...

The nature of the inconvenience to some of alternative times may well trump other considerations (although I do want to hear what quarter-systemers' eg English lit colleagues do for the MLA). Set that aside. I seem to keep seeing arguments of the form "It's reasonable to expect us (like most professionals) to work between 12/26 and 1/1, so it's reasonable to expect us to go to the APA then." Am I the only one who thinks this inference invalid? It's one thing to say that my university contract obliges me to work (grade, write papers, prep classes) even during "off" times; another to say that it's reasonable for me to be expected to be physically absent from my family for any 120+ consecutive hours of my employer's choosing. (Maybe it *is* reasonable, but the fact that I can be expected to work doesn't seem sufficient evidence for this.)

Mr. Zero said...

I apologize for the length of this comment, which I have been forced to divide into two parts. If you only read one, read part 2.

On the argument under consideration, we would be even less obliged to attend summer conferences.

For one thing, I have not argued that all conferences must be scheduled so as to interfere with class time. See my comment at 2:29. For another thing, we are not obliged to attend summer conferences. The problem is, job seekers are obliged to at least plan to attend this conference that interferes with Christmas. The summer analogy is weak because it would be so much easier to schedule a mandatory summer conference that wouldn't interfere much with teaching or a major family holiday like Christmas. Many of the conferences I routinely attend are so scheduled.

Most of us have 9 month contracts so instead of being "on vacation" during the summer, we are literally not employed

I find this discussion of what constitutes a vacation extremely tiresome and irrelevant. It is not the "crux of the disagreement."

The point is, you are not required to be in class, on campus, or available between Christmas and new years. Whether this is because you are literally technically on vacation does not matter. The compelling argument in favor of the current timing of the E-APA is that everyone is on vacation that week, so a meeting held then won't interfere with our professional responsibilities. The key premise is that we are on vacation, not that we are supposed to be working.

But most people--apparently an enormous supermajority of almost 85%--would rather be doing something else during that time. This is not new. The timing of the meeting is perennially unpopular. Almost everyone hates it. The idea that this is weird or spoiled or something is silly.

I didn't have any APA interviews, so I didn't have to go this year. Guess what I did instead. I went on vacation. If my chair had called me up on Dec. 27th and said he had some stuff for me to do, I would have told him that I was on vacation and that I'd be happy to do it as soon as I got back. And would have said, no problem. But there was no chance of this happening, because he knew I was on vacation and he was on vacation, too.

The claim that other professions don't have to work during the holidays is beside the point

I didn't bring it up. This has been an ongoing rebuttal of a point made at 11:06, that professional people work between Christmas and new years. The pros I'm aware of are very likely to have this time off without having to take vacation. That the legal profession exploits its junior members is no reason for us to mistreat ours.

Americans spend the holidays with their family. Except they don't.

Are you listening to yourself? Yes they do. According to this recent Gallup poll, 93% of Americans spend Christmas with family or friends. The practice is nearly universal in the United States. (By contrast, only 62% attend a religious observance.) Christmas is second to Thanksgiving in terms of the number of Americans who travel long distances to spend time with loved ones.

you can't take the time off but that is no different than those who haven't accrued vacation days...

No, it is a lot different. My employer doesn't require me to go to the meeting. It is not part of my job. It is 100% extracurricular. That's why it's a matter of debate. The meeting is where we, as a profession, have agreed to hold job interviews. We, as a profession, also decide when to hold that meeting. The analogy that I can't have that week to myself because it's like I haven't accrued enough vacation days makes no sense. I already have that week off.

Mr. Zero said...

Part 2, continued from above, more important than part 1:

the fact that moving the APA to the first week of January would require 30% ... of those attending to skip the first week of class completely trumps the inconvenience some experience because of the current timing ... because teaching is our primary job duty; being in class is what justifies our salary.

This, not the "vacation" garbage, is the crux of the disagreement. But you must know that I thought of this already and that I disagree; I point out in the main post that trying to clearly articulate this point led me to see its weakness and consider changing my mind; I also argue against it at 1:35 above.

And here is another argument: if your principle were generally true, then we would be obliged not to miss any class whatsoever for conferences. Teaching, our primary job duty, lasts all semester. But this is not true; we generally miss class in order to attend conferences, and it is generally okay to do so.

I say that attending conferences sometimes justifies missing class, just as it sometimes justifies missing out on personal time. But I argue that the importance of the Christmas holiday trumps the inconvenience of having to miss the first week of class. Assuming that the poll sample does not drastically underrepresent quarter-system people, and there’s no reason to think it would do this in particular, a lot of them think so, too.

I would like to see a real poll that isolates Quarter people in the sample. Then I would like to move the meeting on a trial basis, and then get more data about the quarter people. If, after that, a majority of the quarter people thought a January meeting was unacceptable, not just inconvenient, I would change my mind back.

Here's how I would handle the inconvenience of missing the first week: I would get a colleague to cover the first meeting; I'd buy him dinner to show my appreciation. He'd take roll, distribute the syllabus, and assign reading. For intro classes, I'd do an online logic tutorial like the ones Andrew Cullison has mentioned on his blog. For the upper division, I'd use WebCT to do an online reading quiz or short writing assignment. Attending the rescheduled meeting would not have to involve any dereliction of my primary duty. Of course, one reason I can do this is because my colleagues are nice, supportive people who want me to succeed and are willing to help me out.

Anonymous said...

zero,

You really are being obtuse.

You consistently conflate not being in class with being "on vacation" but these things are not synonymous. You find the argument tiresome but yet you keep using the terms interchangeably - listen, if professors were, in fact, on vacation during the week between Christmas and New Years then universities could not legally run job interviews during that time period - that would require someone to work during a time that they were contractually given off. The same would be true of Spring Break.

You link a Gallup poll claiming that 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas together but ignore that the APA takes place from the 27th-30th - not the 25th like the poll you cite is talking about. The poll doesn't say ANYTHING about having that week off.

You claim "we generally miss class in order to attend conferences, and it is generally okay to do so" but ignore that the FIRST week of class is unique. You can organize your schedule to minimize the affect of missing a class any other week of school but at least 2 things distinguish the first week of class. 1) students, generally, only have this first week to decide if they want to drop the class (without penalty) - having a substitute read your syllabus is misleading and uninformative, they can't get to know you or ask questions of you. 2) many schools drop students who don't attend the first day of class (but we don't drop them for missing any other class - more evidence of the unique nature of the first class), we do this so that other students, who want to get into the class, can do so - if you aren't present this is both hypocritical to what we demand of the students and it means that you won't be there to permit students into class (including overrides to overload the class). [I think similar arguments can be made about uniqueness of the last week of class or finals] And, I'd like to add, it isn't just schools on quarters or California schools that start the first week of January - many Southern schools start then too.

Mr. Zero said...

You consistently conflate not being in class with being "on vacation" but these things are not synonymous.

If you had read my comment at 12:12, you would know that I understand this and don't care. The thing that makes the week between Christmas and new years an attractive time to have the job conference is that we normally have no (other) professional responsibilities that week. I use the word 'vacation' to describe a time period like that. I know that we can be asked to do stuff like grade exams, get ready for next semester, conduct job interviews, write reports for committees, etc. It doesn't affect my argument.

Maybe you think my argument is, "I am contractually entitled to have the holiday break to myself, so we should reschedule the E-APA." If so, that's a stupid misunderstanding. I know am obligated to grade exams and submit grades during the break, and my employment contract could not specify that I be free of extracurricular obligations like conferences & interviews.

My argument is, I normally have no professional responsibilities the week after Christmas. I, like all Americans, would like to spend that time with my family, but am prevented from doing so by the E-APA. So we should hold it in January unless there is a decisive reason against it. I argue that this "first week" thing is not decisive.

You link a Gallup poll ... but ignore that the APA takes place from the 27th-30th - not the 25th

Do you think I don’t know when the APA starts, or when Christmas is? Why do you think I wrote the stuff about traveling long distances? Because I am in love with the sound of my own typing? And I'm the one who's "obtuse." My god.

Look. You wrote that "Americans spend the holidays with their family. Except they don't." The Gallup poll proves that you are wrong. Almost every American does exactly that.

Like a lot of academics, I don't live within a thousand miles of my mother. In order to see her at Christmas time, I have to fly (or drive for three days). Flying on airplanes is expensive. Doubly so, since it is customary not to part ways with one’s spouse at Christmas. And a lot of people have kids. Children under 2 can sit in someone's lap, but after that they have to have their own seat. We also have to rent a car. Trips home cost us around $1,000, and would be more if we had kids. Because of various obligations, some of which are professional duties I discharge when campus is closed, we can't leave until the 23rd or so. Because of the APA, we have to plan to return on the 26th or very early on the 27th. That's $1,000 for as little as two full days, depending on arrival/departure times.

If the APA were in January, we could stay for a much more worth-the-money ten or eleven days.

You ... ignore that the FIRST week of class is unique.

No, I don't ignore it. I don't find it decisive. I addressed the uniqueness of the first week, explained how these unique problems might be dealt with, and specified what sort of evidence would persuade me to change my mind and accept that the problems are decisive after all. I must have been ignoring it using reverse psychology or something.

Your complaints:

1. How is it misleading? Are your syllabi written so that they communicate the right idea only when you are the one reading? They can email questions. Getting to know someone takes more than an hour. And add/drop period usually lasts two weeks, so they'd have plenty of time to take one look at you and get the hell out of there.

2. It's not hypocritical to miss the first day if you have a good reason, such as a job interview. If one of your students had to miss the first day because of a job interview (et al.), you would give that student a break, right? You wouldn't drop her from your class for missing the first day if she had a good reason, right? Because you would have to be a real asshole to do something like that.

Anonymous said...

the add/drop period usually lasts two weeks, so they'd have plenty of time to take one look at you and get the hell out of there. . . . It's not hypocritical to miss the first day if you have a good reason, such as a job interview.

I don't have a settled opinion about the main issue here, so I'm not siding with any of you folks who are insulting each other left and right. That said:

(i) Is it really true that the add/drop period usually lasts two weeks? It might be true for all I know--I've never looked into this the way I'm sure zero has. But I do know that the drop/add period is exactly one week not only at my university, but at every single state university in my state. And I'm just guessing here, but I'd expect the drop/add period to be generally briefer at schools on the quarter system (which are the ones with classes that start when the alternate APA would be happening, if I remember this correctly from above). So where is this data about the usual length of drop/add periods?

Second, Zero thinks it would be a nasty thing for a professor to drop a student for non-attendance when that student has a good excuse. But I think the person he's responding to is at a campus that has a policy similar to the one at mine.

A little background: we have a lot of trouble with financial aid fraud--students registering for courses they have no intention of taking so they can get the loan. And while I don't pretend to understand any of this, the administrators claim we have to have policies that try to prevent this, lest we get in trouble with the gov't for being accomplices to fraud (or something like that--you can tell I don't pay much attention to this stuff). So the policy isn't the instructor's policy, it's the school's policy--as, I think, this anonymous fellow was pretty explicit about. At my campus it isn't the first day, but rather the first week of classes--if a student does not attend, he or she is to be dropped, regardless of what excuse he or she offers. Students who have a good excuse will be dropped, but they can go through an appeal process, and anyway they get a full refund on their tuition since it's still within the range of the drop/add period.

The policy is also supposed to be useful for sending the message that what happens in class is, we think, important. I don't think going to a conference would be hypocritical at all, but I do think it would undermine the message a bit.

Finally, students at my campus would avoid a course whose professor they couldn't test out in the classroom. And at my campus the consequences of that would be a big deal: if my courses don't attract the magic minimum number, that's a huge problem--for me, for the chair, for the few students who want to stay in the course but can't because it's cancelled due to low enrollment, for everybody.

I'm not suggesting these are serious, decisive points. But we all get touchy about different things, and the thing I get touchy about most here is folks at the few fancy schools making assumptions about what life is like for the vast majority of us who, of course, aren't at fancy schools. (Most schools aren't very fancy.) I don't even know if that's what's happening--zero might be a VAP at a school much like mine, for all I know. But that was my first thought--he or she has never heard of schools like mine, whereas anon. (who might be wrong as all get out--I haven't been paying close enough attention) seems to know what things are like at a campus like mine.

Anonymous said...

The reason we have a first day drop policy is because there are some majors that are impacted and some classes are impacted. You have to wait for them, and if you don't show up, you are screwed.

You might suggest that the university hire more faculty if this is the case. Well, some universities have been cut so much that they cannot hire more faculty, and the administration want to make it difficult on the students so they will tell their parents they cannot "get" the classes they need because of the budget cuts.

Then they hope the parents will get angry and complain to their state legislators to restore the funding. But impacted majors and class control can occur even in good times.

So there are two very good reasons to have a first day drop policy. But as an earlier commenter noted, many of the people on this thread aren't aware of all the issues that go on at a university because you haven't been regular faculty members serving on faculty senates and other regulating bodies of a university.

I also suggest Zero visit his mom during the summer like I do. I don't do the Christmas visit, but we're not Christians, so no one really bothered. And summer visits are more fun anyway....

Mr. Zero said...

Is it really true that the add/drop period usually lasts two weeks?

It is at every school I've been involved with, which is four as of now. Even if it was only one (full) week, and the E-APA meeting timed to coincide at least partly with the weekend, it would not compel us to miss the entire week. It would be seriously inconvenient, but not insurmountable.

Zero thinks it would be a nasty thing for a professor to drop a student for non-attendance when that student has a good excuse.

I used to teach at a school with a somewhat similar policy. Under the policy I inadvertently dropped a student whose mother had died earlier in the week--she had iron-clad documentation which she presented only afterwards--but the administrative policies were such that there was nothing I could do. Classroom capacities were set by the fire marshall, and we were not permitted to exceed them. I felt like a real heel, I became convinced that the policy was unfair, and I declined to enforce it in the future.

The policy you describe is much more reasonable than the one I have experience with. You could obviously miss the first day of class without being a hypocrite under such a policy. And it's an easy fix: you can just have the syllabus guy take roll. He could also pass out override permissions. This is a problem with a clear solution.

students at my campus would avoid a course whose professor they couldn't test out in the classroom.

That seems to me to be a serious problem and I don't know how to mitigate it. If it really came down to it, and your classrooms have suitable A/V equipment, you could record a "welcome" video or conduct the class via Skype if you had the time (both of which would still require assistance). Maybe these would be more trouble than they're worth, but if you were really worried about losing the course due to low enrollment.

I wonder whether this would happen often enough to be decisive, though. At my decidedly non-fancy campus, this isn't a problem--there aren't enough classes to go around, and we don't have to hunt for students. I have to turn lots of them away. Our class sizes are much larger than is optimal, and we haven't canceled a class due to low enrollment since I've been here. From discussions with friends at other schools throughout the country, I get the idea that this is not atypical.

Mr. Zero said...

The reason we have a first day drop policy is because there are some majors that are impacted and some classes are impacted.

Again. There is an easy solution. The substitute takes roll. Problem solved.

I also suggest Zero visit his mom during the summer like I do.

Of course, I do visit my mom over the summer. But as has been thoroughly documented, observance of Christmas and the desire to spend it with the people they care about is nearly universal among Americans regardless of religious outlook. The argument that we should keep the APA when it is because anonymous 4:13's mother is not a Christian is preposterous.

Anonymous said...

The argument that we should keep the APA when it is because anonymous 4:13's mother is not a Christian is preposterous.

Huh, that doesn't seem like a fair interpretation of what 4:13 said. Did you mean to be saying that the APA should move the meeting to January because your mother lives more than a thousand miles away?

I do generally visit two families over the Christmas holidays. Like you, I can't really get away before the 23rd, not because of my job but because my kids are in school. So I go to the Easterns only about half the time, but when I do it's more of an inconvenience than a huge problem.
So of the non-quarter people, are more like me, or like Mr. Zero? I guess that's the question.

Anonymous said...

Clarificatory question from the other side of the Atlantic: regarding these "nine month contracts" that people mention in this thread, does that mean you just have to figure out how to eat over the summer yourself, with no hope of finding academic employment for the period? If so, that sounds pretty insane to me.

Tenure said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. Zero said...

that doesn't seem like a fair interpretation of what 4:13 said.

Perhaps I was not being fair to 4:13. Maybe I didn't get the point.

Did you mean to be saying that the APA should move the meeting to January because your mother lives more than a thousand miles away?

Of course not. But, unlike 4:13, before I said the stuff about where my mom lives, I cited a bunch of evidence about how typical my situation is and how much importance Americans place on spending the Christmas holidays with the people they care about. 4:13 must realize that his/her experience is atypical, even among atheistic philosophers like us.

So of the non-quarter people, are more like me, or like Mr. Zero? I guess that's the question.

I don't agree. Non-quarter people don't typically have personal or professional obligations during the first week of January (at least, not on the order of Christmas or the first week of class), so non-quarter people would not be nearly as inconvenienced by scheduling the E-APA for that week. Of course, if I'm wrong, I hope you'll let me know.

I was thinking that the question is, is this inconvenience to the quarter people and others who have class that week so severe that it constitutes a decisive reason against holding the meeting that week? As I tried to indicate earlier, if a quorum of these people find this inconvenience to be sufficiently severe, I'd be willing to change my mind.

Although it is just an internet poll, the results of the survey are quite striking. A huge majority prefer moving the meeting to the first week of January--the percentage is much larger than the percentage of people who teach on the semester system. And the more Californian and southern schools start class that week--the higher the percentage of people whose classes would be interfered with is--the more compelling this supermajority is.

Anonymous said...

5:59,
No, it's more of a technicality. Most of us get paychecks every month, but technically it's nine months of salary spread over twelve months. The main reason for this is that many of the scientists at a university will have grants that they can use to pay themselves over the summer, when they're doing research and not teaching. Since we aren't teaching over the summer either, our contracts are also nine months. (So we could work somewhere else for the summer months, if we wanted to, without needing the permission of our deans.)

8:21 said...

Mr Zero,
Okay, I figured that a majority of APA members prefer early January to the current dates, and that people on a quarter system (and those with similar January schedules) very strongly prefer the current dates. Whether the latter is a decisive reason would depend on whether the majority preferences were weak or strong. A whole lot of people whose family lives would be wrecked outweighs the problems caused for the quarter people; on the other hand a whole lot of people who are only inconvenienced are still outweighed by the substantial number of quarter people.

I take the poll numbers with a grain of salt. Plainly a substantial majority prefer to move the dates. I wouldn't take the results of the poll to be more specific than that.

Anonymous said...

--I wonder if we might be better off putting aside, in this specific conversation, the issue of the first week of January, as opposed to other possible relocations in the calendar (such as slightly later still in January, sometime in early December, etc.) The core issue raised in the main post was about, I think, whether the Eastern APA really should be held when classes aren't in session for anyone, or indeed whether they really should be held during the term. (It would be interesting if we could have it in summer, actually, but that doesn't remotely fit hiring schedules.)

--The "vacation" issue has been somewhat beat to death here, but I had two thoughts on it. First, it is right that we don't generally have specifically _vacation_ time per se. We have periods of time where we have particular classroom obligations, and then periods of time where we don't, and we typically use lots of that non-classroom-obligated time for all sorts of other professional obligations, especially for our scholarly output. But surely _some_ of that non-classroom-obligated time is legitimately to be used for vacation. Frankly, if we don't take a bit of time off now and again, well, I don't know about you, but my brain just plain runs down. And it is part of the professorate package that we typically have a lot of latitude as to just how to organize our non-classroom-obligated time, to treat such time as vacation when we decide that we want to do so, and to take on other obligations in those times only to the extent that we decide it best to do so. This sort of freedom is part of what we get as compensation, instead of money. So if people want to preferentially think of the end of December in vacation terms, they are well within their rights to do so.

--Moreover, it seems to me that pretty much everyone I know in the profession treats the winter break as fundamentally a time for vacation & family-related travel. And I'm a tenured & productive professor at a well-regarded PhD program, and who was trained at any even better-regarded one; I reveal this about myself not at all to make anything like an argument from authority, but rather to indicate that the people I'm thinking of here are on the whole a bunch of successful philosophers near the top of the profession. So the idea that there's anything even vaguely _slackery_ about thinking about the end of December in explicitly vacation terms, seems to me very likely to be out of alignment with the profession on the whole.

A-158 said...

Huh...I've changed my mind. We start in early January at my school -- January 6 this year. If we're going to have APA-E at the turn of the year, the current date seems far better than missing the start of school. Zero, I understand your POV, but simply don't share it. I think the cons outweigh the pros you mention. Anyway, now I'm ranking my preferences thusly:

Oct/Nov > Dec > Jan

I still don't see why we're limited to sucky and suckier, but it seems like we are.

Anonymous said...

Quick remark about the MLA conference: basically, it's held on a three-day weekend (Fri-Sat-Sun), so everyone I knew at my quarter-system school taught their Thursday classes, then left in the evening. I don't see how this argument has come to be about "missing the first week of classes," as though the proposed dates of the conference would require you to miss the entire week, Monday through Friday.

So this is the diagnostic question I would pose, if anyone from a search committee is reading this: would you find it reasonable to accommodate a candidate (or several) who asked to interview on Saturday or Sunday, so as to be able to teach a late Thursday or Friday class before flying out? That seems like a much likelier scenario for the inconvenience than the one where you miss your entire first week because of a weekend conference. But maybe I'm the one missing something -- apologies if so.

I also took the airfare/hotel cost issue to be a significant difference between the two date ranges. But the reasonable solution of holding the conference in cheaper cities would seriously interfere with the vital need of so many academics to believe that they're part of an elite, rather than part of a very economically heterogeneous (and increasingly devalued) profession. So it's not on the table, I guess. Being able to visit New York or Boston (or SF or LA, in the case of MLA) really seems to be an unshakeable entitlement.

Anonymous said...

Being able to visit New York or Boston (or SF or LA, in the case of MLA) really seems to be an unshakeable entitlement.

Huh?
I admit that I would rather visit Boston, NY, LA, or SF, than Spokane, Camden, or Biloxi. It's not an entitlement, just a preference.

In any case, the Easterns meet in Baltimore and Atlanta for reasons of economy. What's good about these cities is that they are cheap to fly to and also cheap to stay in. The Eastern APA division, in other words, is already doing what you suggest they will not do because of some kind of elitism.

WV: ametatom
(Nagel, perhaps?)