Mary Beard writes a wonderful blog called A Don’s Life, and in a recent post (“What to Cut in Universities”) she gives a peek into the academic schedule, notorious for its many holidays and reputed 12-hour work weeks:

I wish he (or she) could have seen my, pretty ordinary, term-time day — which went something like this.

I was at work at home at 7.30 — emailing students, about things that had come in over night. I went to the Faculty at 8.15, to get some essay and lecture bibliographies together. At 10.00 I had a meeting about promotions in another Faculty (I’m the internal ‘external’ rep)….I was back in Classics again at about 11.45 in time to see five graduate students in a row, and get to my College, my other place of work, by 2.30…(I chose its gate for the picture at the top of this post by the way, in case you are wondering about the metal work).

After 5 minutes with my assistant (yes I know I am very lucky on that score….), who had done some industrial quantities of xeroxing, I saw each of the Newnham Classics third years for 15 minutes, to discuss their work schedule for the term (cutting it fine, and I got behind, but they are all coming to my home on Sunday evening, when the loose ends can be picked up). After that I saw groups of first and second years, a second year historian from another college who will be taking ancient history with me this term, and a third year whose dissertation I’m supervising….then a graduate I hadn’t met before, who is going to be doing some work on Jane Harrison.

I got home by about 7.00 …. husband had done supper, so that I could start going through draft exam papers. I’m an exam board chair and I needed to read over all the papers submitted for an examiners meeting tomorrow, looking for errors, duplications, typos etc. That took until 12.30… which I reckon is a 17 hour day, minus a half hour for supper.

The knowledge economy on overtime.

Clearly the most sensible cuts to make in tight economic times, therefore, are professors: refusing to open up new faculty jobs while making every effort to increase the student body, and furloughing the ones that are already there. Beard suggests deep administrative cuts in British higher ed, to the REF, which is according to many of the stories I’ve heard bloated and ineffective. She writes:

It isnt going to tell us anything we didn’t know any way… and it must cost millions. At least enough to save a few hard-working academics and departments from the axe. In other walks of life, this would be called pruning the bureaucrats and channelling resources to the front line (ie the teachers…).

I think that gets an amen. Administrative bloat is a problem everywhere, as schools become systems. If we’re going to run universities like businesses, let’s at least run them like smart ones.