On NSS and REF across the UK – here’s what I’ve been trying to say to my own institution, at pretty much every opportunity I can get (although not quite in these words):
If you want academics to produce research and teaching excellence, then there’s just one word that you need to know. It has four letters. It is, of course, our old friend TIME.
We all know it; we all keep saying it to each other; we all keep writing ranty blog posts such as this; and yet I can’t help but notice that – in formal contexts – it’s the one thing that people don’t say: nobody says ‘I don’t have the TIME for us to do this’, because then you’re *that guy* who isn’t committed to their job/institution. I believe that this is a huge mistake and that we should all talk about TIME, well, all the TIME.
Imagine a brain surgeon – highly trained and entirely capable – being forced to perform complex brain surgery in, say, a 30 minute slot. Then imagine that the brain surgeon is also being asked to (wo)man the phones on reception whilst undertaking that surgery, whilst simultaneously undertaking a variety of other clerical tasks as well. (On a related note, the brain surgeon had to answer 40 emails immediately prior to surgery and so didn’t have the chance to scrub up, oops …).1
Blast it. There’s brain juice all over the operating theatre. How in the blazes did that happen??
In order to produce research and teaching excellence, the single thing above all else that academics categorically do not need is another initiative, another set of bells and whistles, pretty much another anything that in any way eats into their TIME. What academics need is not presence, but absence. We need to lose stuff. We need stuff to be cleared away. Less is 100% more for us. I watched Fantastic Four the other day and saw the entirety of academia in Dr Doom. Can you imagine how much writing he could get done on that planet?? My actual thought was: would I be able to whittle down those rocks into some kind of writing implement? It literally felt more plausible to me that I could hop through space and time to another planet than to get some actual space and time to think and write.
So, the single, overriding purpose of any new initiative should be this: how does this help to make TIME for academics to produce the quality teaching and research that we are capable of delivering? How will this new initiative help not only to preserve, but to expand, that most precious (and, in hard monetary terms, financial) resource: academics’ TIME? How will this new initiative take away stuff from academics, not add to it? We absolutely do not need new stuff; we need to lose stuff.
We know how to do it. Just give us TIME.
1. 40 emails per morning @ 5 minutes each = 3.3 hours per day = 16 hours per week = two full working days per week on email alone.