Psychologist declines nomination
‘Everyone who works this hard is lecturer of the year’
When the intelligent lockdown started, I’d just begun teaching my second-year psychology course theory of science. We were no longer allowed to enter a classroom. How were we supposed to properly teach 568 students?
I decided that a live stream, which would be a technological disaster with so many students, wouldn’t be very helpful. A bunch of slides featuring a little man in the corner trying to explain them would have no added value. Instead, I recorded a podcast every Monday in which I explained the slides to the students.
On Tuesday, when the class was scheduled, I hosted a live session during which students could ask questions. And instead of a multiple-choice exam at the end of the block, I made students do group assignments every week.
I have been teaching this course every year since 2010, but this time, it was different. The students and I had no personal contact, but they did send me their assignments every week. I employed two student assistants to help me mark them: there were ninety-six groups who each handed in two pages.
Some students emailed me enthusiastically, saying they were already looking forward to next week’s podcast. One person even said it was the ‘highlight of [their] week’. The positive feedback also showed up in the course evaluation.
However, the personal price I paid was high: I worked at least seventy hours a week between mid-April and mid-June. The block coincided with several publishing deadlines, one of which was for my new book. At the end, I suffered from intense RSI symptoms, with pain in my neck, shoulder, arm, and hand. I had felt it coming but pushed through anyway.
Obviously, I was happy when the psychology department head emailed me to say that my performance had earned me a nomination for the title of ‘Lecturer of the Year’. But after sleeping on it, I declined. Coincidentally, that same day, UKrant published an article about researchers who’d left the university.
This system is messed up. No matter how hard we work, every year the politicians thank us with more cutbacks. The only thing they haven’t cut back on is bureaucracy! Every year, they want us to do more while giving us less. Over the past few years, we’ve tried to talk to them, we’ve protested and marched, and some of us have even gone on strike. And for what? It’s a disaster.
I don’t feel the ‘Lecturer of the Year’ election is something a university should be engaging in. Besides, being nominated by your department is only a first step. After that, you have to face your colleagues, like gladiators in the arena, and fight them to become the top lecturer at your faculty. In the next round, you fight to become the best lecturer at the university. Where does it end, with ‘Lecturer of the Universe’? Don’t we have more important things to do? Especially now, when, as it was recently revealed, we collectively work more than ten thousand hours of unpaid overtime a week?
It’s often said that academia is all about collaboration. The charter the universities drew up for themselves, the Magna Charta Universitatum, also emphasises that we’re supposed to be a single, united community. The UG signed the statute in 1989, and it currently has been signed by nearly nine hundred universities from eighty-eight countries. The statute also says that universities should be politically and financially independent. I think ensuring this is an essential task the university should undertake. It shouldn’t be splitting up lecturers and researchers into their own little groups. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who works hard is Lecturer of the Year.
Stephan Schleim is associate professor of theory and history of psychology at the UG.
An earlier version of this article said that Stephan Schleim has been nominated for the Lecturer of the Year award, but the faculty has since cancelled the election.