Sunday, November 1, 2015


My personal sense of (academic) culture was thoroughly shocked after I moved to the Netherlands to take up a teaching post; because I find to be flummery and madness what a surprising number of my colleagues here actually think is quite a realistic and sensible expectation—to wit: that university faculty, when not teaching in their classrooms, could reasonably be expected to spend most of the rest of the day availably sitting in their offices.
            Personally, I find this notion to be all-around benighted flummoxitude—at least partially because the present generation of senior faculty—established academics with lots of years of experience and practice of university life—have faced first-hand in the world of education the transition from a paper to a virtual world. As a former colleague of mine (retired Professor of English) puts it (here), echoing the common experience of university life: “With so many faculty teaching so many online or off campus courses, the hallways where our offices were located became gradually less populated. But mobile phones, the Internet, and IM meant that our office hours were now 24/7.”
            Qualitative evidence accumulated over a fairly long university teaching career by this Phrontisterion philosopher, who has enjoyed formal institutional affiliations in France, Germany, the UK, and the US, only further aggravates my feelings of (academic) cultural gobsmackery and rational estrangement at this idea of job “presence,” which one normally associates with a 9-5 office-type job. It simply does not belong to the general culture of a university—indeed, language normally associated with teaching jobs at universities, is of “working independently, without a boss or immediate colleagues” (Chronicle of Higher Education).
            So I have deduced, with very great haste indeed, that this notion must therefore be particular either to the general academic culture in the Netherlands, or to this particular little Liberal Arts & Sciences community.

So let the reflections commence.

On Time. My boyhood days were decisively shaped by the 9-to-5 cadence of corporate America. The adults were daily in absentia, spending hours traveling to or returning from the “place” where wealth is commonly generated—the workplace. And the kids were ensnared in primary schools patterned after the same corporate boilerplate—the 7:30-to-3:30 school day (exclusive of extra-curricular activities like sports, clubs, etc.), which coincided, as if on purpose, with parents’ working schedules.
            This may seem a dovetailed vision of an ideally engineered corporate society à la Huxley (of Brave New World fame), where the external activities of old and young are moderated and supervised each and every day; and like every day preceding, this day’s dénouement reads like a story book tale: at day’s end, gradually, inevitably, and tediously, everyone returns to the nest, the family dinner, homework/television, and bed. But my memories, while they may seem like one of Norman Rockwell’s wonderful Americana illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post, are framed by the oppressive corporate reality behind society’s goose-step march.

Four years of high school, though, introduced a different pace to my life, bringing with it more undefined blocks of time between classes, more autonomy. It was a new period of moving toward independence and adulthood. Then came the explosion of Life at university… the very incarnation of seemingly unlimited choices. And there was time a-plenty. Time to read, to think, to study, to speak and be corrected, to speak out and to protest. It was the first time in my young man’s life where I felt what it was like to be unburdened by the suffocating and oppressive corporate lockstep that seems to animate the life-time of the world.
            It is no wonder, then, that when confronted, inevitably, with the adult world of work-to-live, I would avoid at all costs entering into the enslaving rhythms of the 9-to-5 world and what I perceived to be the mind-numbing and unfulfilling tasks of generating wealth for ‘The Man’. Instead, going through the open doors of the academy, I choose for freedom, to own time instead of owing time.
            So, in one of those distinctly interesting ironies of life, it would seem that toward the end of a fairly long scholarly career I have come round full circle. From my perspective as a longtime denizen of the ranks of university professors, I cringe when I hear institutional scuttlebutt whispered around and about the corridors, such as: ‘they want us to be in our offices all day!’ My hippy-esque translation of this, of course, is straight out of the early 70s: ‘this job is just like every corporate 9-to-5er in the world—we owe (give or take) forty hours a week to the Institution (‘The Man’)’. So, what to do with rumors that we should be in our offices when we are not teaching, or give an accounting of where we have been and what we have been doing when not in the classroom?
            My shuddering reaction to this, each and every time I hear the fluttering whispers, is that this is a nightmare scenario for an academic and university environment: the Culture of Corporatism weds the Ivory Tower – and gives birth to a Demon Child that is neither entirely one nor the other. This is surely some strange neighborhood in the Twilight Zone.
            Then however, on a more rational note and once I have settled down my ruffled feathers a little, the philosopher in me can still recognize the drive behind, if not this particular translation of, the push for some kind of academic “presence” on university campuses, which are dedicated to the Liberal Arts & Sciences communitarian vision of education.

On Community: Student Presence. Historically speaking, the first initiatives for “presence” at undergraduate Liberal A&S university campuses were of the Oxbridge sort of residential campus, which were in turn imported to North America via, most notably but certainly not exclusively, Harvard College. This residential philosophy was directed at creating community among the ‘scholars’ (i.e., students), and was initiated by urban university administrators who were afraid that students who lived around and about the city and commuted to their classes would become too fragmented from the university community and thus from their community of scholarship. The basis for the concept is that educational institutions stand ‘in loco parentis’, in lieu of the parents. Thus,
most early institutions were residential and the tutors lived in the halls with the students. … [The] focus was on control of the student as opposed to modern philosophy which focuses on the development of the student as a whole, but has always connected those interested in the welfare of students with students needing assistance.”

Still according to Wikipedia (@ residential colleges in the US), “A residential college is an organisational pattern for a division of a university that places academic activity in a community setting of students and faculty, usually at a residence and with shared meals….” Among residential colleges listed are, “Certain colleges at Cornell University, Emory, Harvard College of Harvard University, Princeton, Stanford University (Freshman-Sophomore College), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, [and] Yale.” To take only the example of Harvard College’s Lowell House in order to set the general historical context in North America:
At the time of Harvard's founding … the "colleges" of England's Oxford and Cambridge Universities were communities within the larger university, each an association of scholars (both established and aspiring) sharing room and board; Harvard's founders may have envisioned it as the first in a series of sibling colleges which, on the English model, would eventually constitute a university.”

According to the same site, the “House” system at Harvard was
created by President Lowell in the 1930s to combat what he saw as pernicious social stratification engendered by the private, off-campus living arrangements of many undergraduates at that time. Lowell's solution was to provide every man … with on-campus accommodations throughout his time at the College; Lowell also saw great benefits flowing from other features of the House system, such as the relaxed discussions (academic or otherwise) which he hoped would take place among undergraduates and members of the Senior Common Room over meals in each House's dining hall.”

Another famously residential Liberal A&S college in the U.S. is St. John’s College (in both the Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe, NM locations). Each campus location, of course, has significant natural attractions as a draw; but beyond the local perks of the “active extracurricular life,” the end goal of the residential philosophy, especially among the smaller Liberal arts institutions, is to “offer students a variety of opportunities to become involved in the life of the local community.” “St. John’s is a lively community of learning,” says their website on the Student Life page. And continues: “Conversations begun in the classroom spill over onto the quad and the placita, and our students naturally pursue life outside the classroom with the same passion and intensity that they bring to their studies.”
            In addition to the residential idea as a concept to encourage participation in the life of the university’s extended community, the smaller institutions also have the advantage of having, as St. John’s College website boasts, a “dedicated, accessible [emphasis mine] faculty.”
St. John’s College faculty are dedicated to teaching and are readily available to students. All classes are small (13-19 students), ensuring that every student has a voice; the overall faculty-student ratio is 1 to 8. Paper conferences, informal study groups, the “Take a Tutor to Lunch” program, and a wide variety of extracurricular activities provide any number of occasions for students to interact with faculty members.

In addition to evolving a sense of community between St. John’s and the local towns and communities, St. John’s residential philosophy is also very much an attempt to create a sense of community and exchange between students and faculty, which manifests itself 1) in small class size with a truly luxurious faculty-student ratio; 2) in a seminar style teaching format where students are given an active voice; and 3) in extracurricular (non-teaching specific and non-institutional) opportunities for faculty-student interactions.

A final example of the smaller, Liberal Arts & Sciences College with a residential philosophy, is Bard College. For a look at the vision behind Bard’s residence life philosophy, the Bard Mission Statement offers these insights:
“The Bard College Office of Residence Life & Housing is committed to fostering a safe and secure environment that enhances the personal, social and intellectual development of every student, enriching their liberal arts experience. We seek to empower and challenge students to become individuals, citizens, and leaders who understand their responsibility in creating effective and socially just communities at Bard and beyond.”

Again according to the Bard College website, the philosophy of residency in the Liberal Arts & Science tradition is intended, literally, to lead both to the establishment of community as well as to the emancipation of the student:
“We envision a residential community in which:
·       Students feel safe, respected, valued, comfortable and at home
·       Students are engaged in activities and dialogue which promote social justice, intellectual and artistic inquiry and challenge as well as faculty/staff engagement outside of the classroom/office
·       Students have ownership over their rights and responsibility for shared governance and community monitoring
·       Students are engaged in the Bard and local community
·       Students reside in a sustainable manner, not only environmentally but with regard to personal decision making around health and wellness
·       Students understand, respect and follow the principles and philosophies of community living, inclusive of active participation in development of community standards
·       The physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness of all is prioritized
·       The physical residential structures are safe, secure, clean and conducive to the life of the mind and personal wellness”

The idea of community, then, that undergraduate students of the Liberal Arts & Sciences should be physically present on a residentially designed university campus, has, it seems to me, translated well in the Dutch context. University College Roosevelt (UCR, Middelburg) for example waxes lyrical on the virtues of the undergraduate residential philosophy, and its website is much more explicit about its “City Campus,” arguing that such a City Campus “provides the perfect atmosphere for students, faculty and staff to live and work together,” with the result that “students … become part of a tight-knit academic community. The support students receive from each other and their easy interaction with instructors is an essential part of the success of UCR.” This idea of “Community Feeling” is obviously a selling feature of UCR’s undergraduate Liberal A&S educational model, because the website continues on lavishly:
“Life on campus enriches the university experience and contributes to the academic success for all students. UCR boasts a highly dynamic environment and creates a tight network within which students can learn, live and thrive. When questioned what UCR alumni valued most, they mentioned the community and diverse social contacts, in addition to the academic skills acquired. […]
                  Additionally, UCR is intricately connected to the city of Middelburg, as we are part of the inner city of Middelburg. Right in the town's historic center, you will find the heart of UCR, namely our main buildings Franklin, Eleanor and Theodore. Our university library (Zeeuwse Bibliotheek) is located just a five-minute walk away. The science laboratories are located in Vlissingen, only 4 miles away from Middelburg, which is where the University of Applied Sciences, the Hogeschool Zeeland, is located. A 20-minute bike ride or 8-minute train trip will get you there easily.”

On Community: Faculty Presence. The philosophy of undergraduate student residency on a university Liberal A&S campus is, predominantly, in order to create a student-centered academic environment, which leads to the creation of community, both small and large. So in the pedagogical vision of undergraduate Liberal Arts & Sciences it would seem reasonable to also have teaching faculty live locally in order to be present, and available to, and involved in the institution’s larger academic community presence. Interestingly, the Dutch Collective Bargain Agreement (CAO) allows for this interpretation in Article 1.9 Location: “An employee can be obliged to take up residence in or near the location where the work must be carried out if, in the opinion of the employer and in view of the nature of the position, this is required for the proper performance of the job.”
            In the Netherlands, however, it seems to be quite the common opinion, anecdotally speaking, that this “obligation” is really not enforceable, at least not if a relatively isolated institution, such as UCR, wishes to hire teaching faculty. Because much of the teaching at UCR is actually done piece-meal, with faculty members traveling to Middelburg from hither and yon in the country just to teach their several courses. This seems to me similar to the adjunct-teaching environment in the U.S., which includes all the strengths and weaknesses of that workplace model.
            So let us assume for the nonce that it really is unrealistic or impracticable in the Netherlands to have teaching members of faculty live locally in their academic communities. Given the residential philosophy of undergraduate Liberal Arts & Sciences, what then might it mean for faculty to still be active and engaged members of their undergraduate educational communities?
            University College Utrecht (UCU), to cite an example close to home, is attempting to address this question by adopting (post 2012) a professional “presence” policy. Instead of having faculty sit all day long in their offices, though, they have sought to define professional scholarly presence as a virtual or online presence; and given the shifting state of the notion of work-place in the Netherlands, this seems a reasonable compromise.
            Virtual Presence. In October 2012 Utrecht University Library organized a symposium entitled, Visibility: building online scholarly presence, in an attempt to address the question of ‘professional presence’, including visibility and availability, in the scholarly community.
·       “Where and why does a scientist need to be visible on the Internet?
·       How can Open Access really contribute to better citation scores?
·       What are the pros and cons of social media?”

A (Short) Excursus By Way of Reminder: Teachers 101. Primo: studies (both quantitative and qualitative) clearly show what administrators seem always to doubt, but which teachers have always known—that teachers work too much in general. It is no wonder that the idea of ‘teaching’ seems to be joined at the hip to the reality of ‘stress’: “All [academic] ranks [work] over 40 hours a week (average of 61 hours/week) and all ranks put in a substantial number of hours over the weekends.” Conclusion 1: teachers work a lot of hours.
            Secondo: teacher satisfaction surveys [e.g., Kim & Loadman, 1994] reveal two defining characteristics of teachers:
·       “Intrinsic Variables: Interaction with Colleagues “Relationships with colleagues, a sense of collaboration and community among faculty, and recognition from other teachers all have been cited as factors in a teacher's willingness to stay in the profession” (Bogenschild, Lauritzen & Metze, 1988).-
·       Extrinsic Variables to teacher satisfaction – “professional autonomy/decision making authority”

Conclusion 2: Educational administrators should generally leave teachers alone to do their jobs, because studies consistently show that teachers value a sense of academic community as much as they prize professional autonomy.  What remains to be seen, it would seem, is what it means to have “academic community.”

Modern workplace flexibility, in and out of the Netherlands. Canadians seem to love the idea of flexi-time work schemes. Among other virtues, this Canadian website sees the following benefits in such workplace schemes:
 “For employees:
·       Increased control over when work is done. For example, an employee might choose to work in the evening and spend time with children in the afternoon.
·       Escape from the everyday disruptions of the office environment
·       Improved balance between work and home life
For the employer:
·       Scheduling work across longer portions of the day
·       Recruiting and keeping valued staff who have other life commitments or interests
·       Making more efficient use of facilities, desks, computers, etc.
·       Continuity and staff coverage by one employee while another is away
·       May need smaller office space, less furniture and/or less equipment
·       Fewer parking spots required
·       Reduced absenteeism and/or lateness
·       Increased productivity because of fewer distractions or interactions between colleagues”

The Canadian human resources site does point out however that there are issues to be considered around the question of flexible schemes in the workplace, among which are: “Trust and supervision,” and lack of “Communication between staff who work at varying times and may therefore meet less frequently.”

According to, “Dutch companies are well aware of the business case for a work-life balance. There is a trend towards more flexible systems of working time in order to make more effective use of employee resources.”
            And a Dutch expat website reports that there was a survey conducted by the consulting firm McKinsey for the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf, which concluded that “More Dutch people would like flexible working arrangements, with the ability to decide where, when and for how long, they work,” and that “Four out of five employees currently, or would like to, work from home (thuiswerken).” It does not therefore come as a surprise that as of
“April 14, 2015, the Dutch Senate accepted the Flexible Working Act, allowing employees of companies in the Netherlands more flexibility in respect of working hours and working from home. As per – most likely – 1 July 2015, employees can not only ask for changes to the number of hours they work, but also changes to the times they are required to work and their place of work.”

So for all those who voiced an opinion in the Telegraaf survey – you are now in a much stronger position to negotiate working from home. Yeah!

And then you just have to love working in the Netherlands for the following aspect of the Dutch Flexible Working Act—that employers have to agree to stuff the workers ask for! Try making that happen in the US!!!
“An employer has to agree with a request to change the number of working hours, unless there are substantial business reasons for not doing so. Case law shows that business interests are rarely considered to be weighty enough. An alternative distribution of working hours as a result of a reduction in working hours also has to be accepted by the employer, unless business interests outweigh the preferences of the employee. […]
                  Employers should be aware that their duty of care extends to the employee’s workplace at home; the employer remains responsible for the workstation. Altogether, it will become more complicated for employers to organize their workforce.”

From these progressive moves in terms of the Dutch work environment, an NL expat website concludes that,
Thanks to digital connectivity, work practices are indeed changing, with people taking their work out of the office and onto a café terrace, a park with wifi, or at the kitchen table. […] The Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis (KiM) found that the total number of employees who routinely work from home or another remote location rose from 27 per cent in 2008 to 32 per cent in 2012. […] Work sectors that have a higher proportion of home or flex workers include education, ICT, and the financial services.


But despite the general optimism on the question of flexibility in the work place, the site does not fail to warn that, also according to the KiM, “the main obstacles preventing more people from working at home include a work culture that discourages working remotely, a lack of mutual trust, employee’s limited knowledge of relevant regulations, and habitual behavioural patterns.”

In the Netherlands the Collective Bargaining Agreement governing education is the CAO, which already takes a broader view of daily work-time for academics (Article 4.3), premising that the “38-hour working week is implemented within a business hour period of 78 hours.” So contractual business hours are “Monday to Friday between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. or between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., and the hours on Saturday between 7:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. or between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.”
            In case any teachers out there in the Netherlands did not realize it, then, this means that it is conceivable that academics would (also) work evenings and weekends, or at least Saturdays.
            Second and third contractual points of interest for function-based contracts falling under the umbrella of the CAO, is that 1) “presence” is consistently equated with “availability,” and that 2) “the details of function based contracts, such as the availability and presence of the employee, are negotiated between employer and employee.” The key word in point 1 is availability; and the key word in point 2 is negotiated.

Despite the clear egalitarian heritage of the Netherlands, not all jobs are created equal. So in thinking about the question of where a job “happens,” and especially the job of the professional university teacher, it seems reasonable enough to translate space or locus in terms of function, because it is important to avoid fusing and confusing institutional positions. There are faculty teachers and researchers, administrative positions, and institutional positions (those who fix and repair and clean and maintain). And while these latter types of positions are absolutely essential to the smooth functioning and even the very material and financial existence of the institution, they are support positions to an educational institution’s primary mission of ensuring that good teaching and research happens. Normally these different job functions are already profiled differently in human resources, with academic jobs linked to classrooms, research expectations, and the necessary teacher-related admin, while job descriptions for administrative positions routinely set out standards and qualities and skills that relate to the, well, administrative well-being of the institution. Each type of employment is absolutely necessary to the health and vitality of an educational institution, but each also fulfills entirely different functions in the institution. Administrators are not normally researchers, for example, nor do they ensure classroom teaching, etc.

University Faculty. Teaching/Research: Generally speaking, the professional academic’s life is contractually divided into the three areas of Teaching/Research, Tutoring, and Institutional Service. Formal teaching traditionally happens in the classroom, but teaching in the absolute sense happens everywhere and anywhere, even, it is sometimes rumored, outside the classroom. Hence, at least in part, the interest in the residential campus in the Liberal Arts & Sciences tradition. Research in the humanities, on the other hand, is a much quieter kind of activity, requiring in the first instance books and libraries and ateliers and laboratories, and afterwards, locations that allow for uninterrupted reading and writing and editing.
            Tutoring/Advising: Both in the U.S. and in the Netherlands there are some functions of the Tutoring/Advising Task that, because of the proprietary nature of the computer software generally used to manage student records, need to happen in the faculty office. Otherwise, I have discovered that my tutees (and students as well) also enjoy coming with me to walk the dog, or find it nice to come to the house for tea, or apéritif, or even for dinner.
            Institutional Service: Finally, Institutional Service can take sundry & diverse forms, such as writing letters of recommendation, supervising research projects and theses, committee work, et al, and where this happens is normally determined by the function at hand.

In each of the traditional contractual areas of Teaching, Tutoring, and Service, where the scholarly life of the university instructor ‘happens’ at the end of the day is perhaps best negotiated by the particular needs of the activity and by the individual faculty member. This is the gold standard of the Liberal Arts & Sciences undergraduate education.

UCU has chosen 21st century tools to address the question of academic presence and the creation of scholarly community; and that institution has found responses that are both consistent with the evolving workplace laws in the Netherlands, and which respect the traditionally autonomous and independent culture of the university as a scholarly workplace environment. Such solutions will also be effective in encouraging a type of professional academic atmosphere that will sustain scholarly community, both faculty and student, both near and remote.
            How to create academic community? University webpage or personal website, that is the question.

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