July 18 2018

Work-Life Balance and the Black Professor

by James Logan, Earlham College

I arrived at Earlham College in the fall semester of 2004 as an assistant professor of religion and African & African American studies. Upon arrival I quickly learned that requests to serve my institution beyond the routine requirements of a tenure-track professor—teaching, publishing, academic advising, and committee work—would be a staple of my vocational life. Like most Black professors employed at predominately White liberal arts institutions, I was predestined by the circumstances of history to routinely make decisions concerning the degrees to which I should, and would, serve Black students (at my own institution and others) as all-‘round life coach, cultural advisor, counselor, family friend, and intercessory oracle. And all this while navigating within an institution developed, from its inception, for the intellectual and spiritual advancement, and social-cultural comfort, of European American peoples. And, of course, I need to continually face such complex concerns in the context of the profoundly important life goal of close care and support for my family, both near and far.

In the context of all this, my struggle to secure a reasonable work-life balance has always been in a continuous state of becoming. What follows are some of my strategies for maintaining work-life balance:

I have a habit of teaching classes at times that allow me to get home within an hour of my teenage boys arriving home from school, and truly being present and available to them.

I keep Friday nights free for family pizza and movie night. Sometimes it’s sushi though.

Make sure that we parents only very rarely miss our children’s sporting, musical, public-academic, or other events.

I do not feel any requirement to respond to student e-mails in twenty-four hours or less.

I have relinquished my very strong propensity to micromanage every detail of my increasingly complex working life. I now accept that administrative support professionals can, for example, arrange conference flights and hotels, and negotiate some speaking engagements on my behalf. They may also enter grades, set up my library reserve materials, set up office hours, and answer some questions on my behalf, etc… Whew! This has been a hard (partial) submission for me.

I have learned to not write academic, employment, or internship references for students who wait until the last minute to request these. I just need more time than “the last minute” to write a well crafted reference. I needed to resist the temptation to let student emergencies of this sort become an emergency for me.

I politely decline attending every very important social justice event or action on or off campus (especially) in the evenings or on weekends (even when students insist I bring my family with me when I need to be at home instead). I must go home to my sons (one of whom is now in college). I have learned, well, that my sons have many other things that they would like to do (of their own choosing) with their father (and mother). The more I teach, the more this kind of situation presents itself.

On Monday evenings, I play saxophone for Gospel Revelations, a 150-voice student, faculty, staff and community choir. Relaxing as hell, this is.

I don’t feel like I need to accept invitations to every faculty committee, reading group, student judicial hearing, emergency gathering, or special event that involves race on campus.

I do not accept that I have a supreme duty to teach White persons or institutions about Black people (as if I could do this on behalf of every Black person), even as I do welcome, and participate in, many discussions concerning the complexities of human associations—including race matters.

A couple of times a week, I drive up and down the highway for no particular reason; I just enjoy thinking while driving.

I love getting on my mountain bike and negotiating trails and street traffic like a chess match. I ride hard, but I don’t ride stupid.

I spend many evenings around bedtime just talking and laughing about all sorts of random matters with my sons.

I sleep at a reasonable hour, get up early, and get any writing I am doing closer to done, and, finally, done…


James Logan, PhD is professor of religion; professor and director of African and African American studies; National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies.