Resilience is an Academic Job Requirement

It is an understatement to note that the past two years have been debilitating for all of us in higher education. Masking mandates, remote teaching requirements, disrupted research plans, and curtailed travel to events such as the one we are holding now in Barcelona have sapped much of our optimism and sense of attachment to our students, colleagues, and institutions. To say the least, many of us feel burned out.

I want first to validate and honour that feeling of resilience depletion. I have experienced it myself as I have worked through university financial challenges, student crises, and a variety of personal disruptions. Nevertheless, I do love my job and I want to offer here a gentle nudge back for all of us toward renewal and re-attachment to our academic passions and toward a reignition of our intellectual/pedagogical enthusiasm. Colloquially, we have to find a way to “get over it.”

Indeed, burnout and cynicism are not at all unique to the pandemic and post-pandemic academic world. They have been endemic for decades and more. Twenty years ago, in one of my early books The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual, I noted the prevalence of feelings of “burn out” throughout higher education, and in that book I worked to frame it as an inexcusable failure to meet our core job responsibilities—to generate new ideas through our research and to position our students for success in their lives and intellectual journeys.

In this talk, I will glance at some of the ways that the academic cynicism enabling burnout had become something of a cottage industry even before the pandemic and why such self-indulgence is indefensible. The pandemic further enabled some of the worst excesses of pre-pandemic cynical thinking. We have active choices to make—and I will emphasise the conjoined empowerment and responsibility that go with that concept of “choice.” In returning to some of the early voices of transformational pedagogy, such as those of Paolo Freire and bell hooks, I offer a few reminders. We in academia, however frustrated we may be with health protocols and zoom-based interactions, have chosen and have been fortunate to secure a career of incredible privilege. We of privilege have an implicit employment contract in which our mission, and our core job requirement, is to change lives through our teaching and research. If we choose the self-indulgence of cynicism and burnout, rather than outward engagement, we are, quite frankly, not doing our jobs. And there are many enthusiastic and optimistic under-employed and unemployed individuals (graduate students, public intellectuals, post-docs and others) who, quite bluntly, have a better claim to the positions that we currently hold.

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Posted by IAFOR