Sian Beilock

On November 16, President Sian Leah Beilock participated in a panel discussion hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education that focused on faculty members’ current stress levels and future career plans. She and fellow panelists examined the results of a recent survey of more than 1,000 professors and instructors that found a host of troubling developments, including that 70% of tenured faculty say their work-life balance has deteriorated in 2020. As senior leaders at colleges and universities, the panelists also explored how administrators can ease pandemic-induced burdens on their employees. Takeaways from the event were published in both a Chronicle feature article and the outlet's "Teaching" newsletter

Drawing on her background as a cognitive scientist, Beilock provided insights on faculty members’ increasing levels of stress and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic. She indicated that the lack of an endpoint to the pandemic has increased anxiety across the board but especially for faculty who are caring for children or elderly relatives. Beilock emphasized the importance of adapting and promoting existing resources, such as caregiving benefits, and brainstorming new avenues of support; for example, Barnard has deployed hundreds of work-study students to work either as class preceptors, helping professors manage the chat and other technical functions of remote learning, or as tutors for children of faculty. Some of these changes, she noted, may continue well after the pandemic is over to support a better work-life balance.

Beilock also addressed the disproportionate effect that extending the tenure clock has had on male and female professors — a phenomenon that extends beyond COVID-19. "Research shows that, where we thought the extending of the tenure clock for childbirth would be really beneficial to women, it turns out that it is [a] mixed [result] in that oftentimes men are able to use this to advance their careers [while] women are taking care of the children. ... It lays bare that these one-size-fits-all policies don't always work the way they're intended, which means that you need this sort of toolbag of approaches."

Some faculty have stepped into a more public-facing role, participating in media interviews that help citizens understand statistics and the various impacts of the pandemic. Beilock noted that professors have found joy in these contributions and that colleges should value this form of scholarship.

View the full video below.