Recently, there have been a spate of articles discussing “quiet quitting,” which should raise questions about the nature and expectations of the job itself in higher education.
Some have characterized quiet quitting as slacking off on the job or disengaging completely from the work, while others say it is about creating boundaries. When we bring this concept to higher education, some believe that quiet quitting has a negative impact on instructors and students. Rebecca Vidra wrote that “‘going above and beyond’. . . seems to be just what’s required to do well and advance in academe.” For Vidra, quiet quitting involves recycling educational materials without updating them, meeting with students only during office hours, and developing simple rubrics to make grading less time-consuming.
Vidra falsely claims that faculty cannot succeed in academia if they create boundaries. Faculty can have boundaries and be effective by working smarter, not harder. Instead of recycling educational materials, faculty can identify areas for update on educational materials by making notes as they teach. This makes incorporating small differences between iterations of classes easier and quicker.
Instead of only meeting students during office hours, faculty can create different opportunities to meet students that do not encroach on work-life balance. For example, I devote class time to meeting individual students students during certain class sessions. This is part of, rather than separate from, my teaching because such meetings help to bolster their learning experience. If you are teaching large classes, you could meet students in groups. And it is not about whether the rubric is simple or not; it’s about what you want students to know or be able to do and using a tool to determine that. A simple rubric can achieve that if you are looking for students to demonstrate specific skills or knowledge. More faculty work does not result in greater student learning. When faculty manage their expectations and are clear about their teaching goals, they can maintain boundaries.
Let’s not romanticize teaching: it is a labor system that can be subject to exploitation. Ed Zitron, CEO for a media consulting startup, “believes the term [quiet quitting] stems from companies exploiting their employees’ labor and how these businesses benefit from a culture of overwork without additional compensation” (Kilpatrick). This is exactly how some view higher education, valuing those who “go above and beyond” for recognition that may or may not come. Quiet quitting is encourages us to think about our expectations of our jobs in higher education. The faculty job should not be defined by going above and beyond all the time, for all time. This mindset has more of a negative impact for some. Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt refers to the 2019 HERI survey which reveals that “faculty of color and female faculty disproportionately experience stress due to discrimination and feel they have to work harder than their colleagues to be perceived as a legitimate scholar.” This means that women and faculty of color need to go twice as high and far to do the job, which often has devastating impacts on their heath and their ability to do their job.
We really need to examine the premise that going above and beyond defines success in academia. Instead of downplaying strategies where faculty do what they can to improve their working situation, we should encourage faculty to establish boundaries that allow them to support student learning, achieve their research goals and have a life outside of the job.
Amina Kilpatrick. “A Look At ‘Quiet Quitting’–And Whether It’s a Good or Bad Thing.” NPR. 22 Aug 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/08/22/1118843708/a-look-at-quiet-quitting-and-whether-its-a-good-or-bad-thing
Rebecca Vidra. ” ‘Quiet Quitting’ Isn’t the Solution for Burnout.” Inside Higher Ed.” 30 Aug 2022. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2022/08/30/quiet-quitting-wont-solve-problem-burnout-academe-opinion
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt. “In Our Own Words: Institutional Betrayals.” Inside Higher Ed. 6 Mar 2020. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/03/06/underrepresented-faculty-members-share-real-reasons-they-have-left-various
Quiet Quitting and ‘the Job’ in Higher Education by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.