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PostMeasuring Work Ethic (Henry Levin, USA, 03/07/14 2:51 pm)
To address JE's question of 3 March, work ethic is a very loose concept, because it depends on how it is measured as well as on context and incentives rather than assuming it is a reflection of national character. Those who cite Horatio Alger should actually read the Horatio Alger stories. He did not got ahead because of effort. In virtually all of the stories he gets gets his rapid upward mobility through a chance or lucky event, pure serendipity. For example, he returns a wallet that he finds on the street which puts him in the good graces of the owner which leads to an offer of favored employment. He is not a good example of success through the direct fruits of dogged devotion to duty, but more to looking down and keeping the eyes open when walking.
In academia there are large potential rewards to "work ethic." Students appreciate instructors devoting time to meeting with them, seriously considering students' challenges, and pursuing continuous attention to course preparation and improvement. Sometimes this commitment results in punishing hours and class sizes that are overwhelming in terms of grading and advising. But, there are intrinsic and extrinsic incentives as well in the academic environment in expressions of appreciation by students and enhanced possibilities for promotion and tenure.
There are also large potential rewards in applying work ethic to research and writing. These activities can serve to elevate reputation in one's field, attract funding for released time and travel, and improve prospects of promotion and tenure.
This situation may be quite different than most jobs. One must analyze the situational characteristics of an occupational role before trying to generalize about work ethic, especially in cross-national comparisons. Having worked at two universities in the US (Columbia and Stanford) for 46 yeas and having semester-length courses at universities in Spain, Mexico, Chile, Israel and China and for shorter periods throughout Europe, I can say unequivocally that all my observations suggest that US faculty work far longer hours than colleagues in universities of other countries. I would be happy to go into details for those who question this. But, this is not a complaint about US university work. If we are exploited, we are self-exploited for our love of what we do, though the financial payoff is paltry.
JE comments: Henry Levin started off with a discussion of work ethic, but ended with an inspirational note on the value of hard work in academia. Thank you, Hank: your words are a much-needed tonic! Moreover, as I go through the 111 boxes of Ronald Hilton material here in the Hoover Archives, I can say one thing unequivocally: Prof. H. had an unparalleled work ethic!