Real academics don’t take vacations?

Our recent post “Help Dr. X take their vacation” received many spirited replies.

Some offered practical suggestions for Lecturers like Dr. X who teach three terms a year:

  • Post online content instead of class instruction for two weeks. How would chairs feel about this? What about students who listen to the online content and then email with a question or ask for help? Would the answer “I’m on vacation and will get back to you” be satisfactory?
  • Get someone else to cover your classes for two weeks. This sounds great, except … who would that be? Would you regularly take on extra work to “cover” for a colleague on vacation?
  • Take a holiday during fall break and reading week. Since many faculty use the “break” to mark or to prepare, a holiday at this time would take very careful planning. And some faculty have been called out for not being available to students or for not answering work emails during these times.

It’s also worth noting that Lecturers are far more likely than Professors to be held to the requirements of Memorandum of Agreement 11.2.3: “Vacation shall be scheduled at a time or times which are mutually satisfactory to the Member and the Department Chair.”

But some replies to the blog, both in the comments and elsewhere, hinted that vacations weren’t really the “done thing.”

Do academics even take vacations?

A recent meme suggests that eschewing vacations is a particularly North American phenomenon.

Could the “American” attitude also be the normal academic one? Do we dismiss the very idea of taking time away from our jobs?

If so, what are the costs of an academic culture that values, not just work, but overwork? What, for example, are we modelling for (and expecting from) our graduate students if “no vacations” is the accepted norm? Is this healthy—physically, socially, psychologically?

What are our families missing out on if we can’t make time for vacations with them? And what are our neighbourhoods and communities missing out on if we can’t make time to enjoy and participate in activities and events?

Vacations are part of a healthy workplace

As we pointed out in our last post, Waterloo’s Strategic Plan states that the University should “Be a people-centered institution committed to genuine care, concern, respect, inclusivity and well-being for all.” Included in the recommended “Health and Lifestyle Practices” are those that “foster personal development and supportive environments for mental health and resilience, physical health, social inclusion, belonging and spiritual well-being.”

Vacations can play an integral role in all of these—and thus in making UW a healthy workplace. We should each do our part taking our vacation time and encouraging colleagues to take their vacation. Taking time away from work means that we can come back refreshed, energised, and ready to again engage in our work as scholars and teachers.

One of the issues that the FAUW team is hoping to address in Policy 76 (Faculty Appointments) and Policy 77 (Tenure and Promotion of Faculty Members) is workload, one component of which is a regular non-teaching term for teaching-intensive faculty. This non-teaching term greatly affects lecturers’ ability to take their full vacation allotment. Learn more about our Policy 76 and 77 goals on our website.

One thought on “Real academics don’t take vacations?

  1. I’m just back from a one-week vacation. Fortunately, as a tenured faculty member teaching in 2 of 3 terms, this is fairly easy to schedule.

    I’ve noticed that in New Zealand, 1) colleagues are far more likely to be co-teaching and 2) the government required universities to actually track faculty vacation time as of a few years back. I’m not sure I like change (2) but (1) can certainly be helpful and occasionally exists at Waterloo.

    Also, being influenced by the US system isn’t great here. I believe many faculty contracts there make it really difficult to take (paid) vacation, since they are 9-month contracts and then grants cover some, but not all, of the other 3 months. That is just a really weird system.

    I’ve had Canadian mentors at McGill who always took 3 weeks off in July/August to go to the cottage so it seemed pretty normalized for me. I also call the quiet time at the end of August “Deans’ Vacation Season”, as no one seems to be around.


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