September 30, 2022 | Mona Oates

Invisible Labor in Academia

The most recent generation of college freshmen/-women started their first semester with mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety about their future. The past 2.5 years of their schooling was mostly remote or in and out of classrooms. The constant uncertainty about their future and their lack of hands-on, reading, and writing capabilities are noticed by higher education faculty. Now as well as during the height of the pandemic professors provide highly demanded emotional and invisible labor in academia.

Emotional Labor in Academia

But what is Emotional Labor? Emotional Labor includes caring acts, roles, and emotions. It is a professional skill, where personal feelings are suppressed and are replaced with work-related and socially acceptable emotions. Paid or unpaid emotional labor can lead to fatigue, frustration, being overwhelmed, and burnout.

Importance of Invisible Labor in Academia

Invisible and emotional work constitute to the core of many jobs including higher education. Emotional labor is expected but not rewarded. This type of good academic citizenship contributes to the safeguarding and improving quality, and efficiency of academia. Women and faculty of color and minority groups engage heavily in making academic institutions a better place, which prevents those groups from leaving. This additional work includes researching for and writing official reports, increasing mentoring, and serving on committees. However, the labor stays unrecognized and is heavily burdened on assistant professors and those starting their academic career.

Undervalued Labor in Academia

Professorsā€™ time is a multitude of task which expand beyond the prescribed workhours and are often not rewarded. Much of the academic structure has a gendered reward structure. Teaching and services, such advising, are often valued less and require more emotional labor. Typically, these tasks are brought onto women and underrepresented faculty. On the other side men take up much of the administration and research work, which is promoted with tenure and other career advancing rewards.

An Indispensable and Unrewarded Resource

From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic emotional labor became an indispensable resource for students who tried to navigate the new learning structure and their fears about health and the wellbeing of their community. This phenomenon even 2.5 years later reigns on, even with in-person classes since students missed crucial time to learn and network while attending school online.

Research has shown that groups involved in invisible labor do not advance quickly in their academic careers. However, there is some positive changes. Underrepresented faculty represented 11% of tenure track/tenured faculty in 2013, which improved to 12% by 2019, while women jumped from 41% to 43% respectively. White faculty had an overall decline of 5.67% on tenure track positions and 3.9% reduction who were tenured. This decline could also represent a trend in neoliberal institutions lowering the overall tenured faculties.

While the inequities always existed the Covid-19 pandemic made the issue more visible, despite some resistance to discussion in higher education. Administration seems to listen but does not offer much actionable support.

A rebranding of tenure is necessary, where service, teaching, and other invisibleĀ labor in academia are credited. It is time to recognize and reward the crucial elements of invisible labor in their own category and apply it to the qualifications for tenure.