Workaholism on the University Level

As a graduating senior from Biola University with a qualifying GPA, I was eligible to apply for Epsilon Kappa Epsilon, our honors society. Here’s an excerpt from the email I received regarding applying:

Each spring semester, Biola inducts up to 7% of our baccalaureate graduating class into EKE. Eligibility is based on high scholastic achievement (3.75 cumulative GPA or above) and the completion of 80 academic credits at Biola prior to this semester. In addition to academic achievement, the final selection criteria generally includes evidence of Christian character, service, and contribution to the Biola community as a whole.

The application required that I list out the scholarships and awards I received while attending Biola, my participation in extracurricular activities, various community service or church volunteer work, and my on- or off-campus employment during the eight terms I was a student (and only during those eight terms; Interterm or summer employment was disqualified). In essence, induction to EKE centered around maintaining outstanding academic achievement in addition to cramming schedules to bursting with extracurriculars, volunteering, and student jobs. While EKE is an award—as in, students are being recognized and praised for their above-and-beyond contributions to Biola as a whole—I’m not sure it’s something I want to be awarded for. My application for EKE was clocking in 10-15 hours of employment, 3 hours of volunteering, and 6-10 hours of extracurriculars per week during my upper-division years at Biola—while I also maintained a Summa Cum Laude-level GPA. I wouldn’t call this impressive, I would call this being overworked—and being praised for it.

Workaholism in the university setting is one of the most neglected and unidentified issues of workplace unhealth in our modern era. In organizational culture, a good employee is expected to work a 40-hour work week. Sometimes busy seasons demand more, but on a consistent basis, 40 hours is the appropriate and expected amount of work a full-time employee should be working. Those employees that clock in at 60, 80, or more hours a week are either overworked or possibility exhibiting workaholic tendencies. But, you say, that type of work ethic is necessary in order to advance in a company—to land a promotion or even to retain the position you currently have. I would agree, these things are necessary in today’s work climate. But that doesn’t make them good.

I identified workaholism in the university setting as a workplace issue—and I meant it. Being a student is a job. There’s a reason doctor’s offices or banks allow patrons to mark “student” under the employment section on their forms. Universities even adopt organizational language when referring to their students as “part-time” when they are taking 1-11 units, or “full-time” when they are taking 12-18. Except that “full-time” university students are far past 40-hour weeks when all is said and done.

You’ve probably seen this graphic before, representing the “Choose Two” college dilemma:


Later a disgruntled student updated the graphic to this, much more accurate, decagon:


It’s definitely funny, because it’s so true. Even though we recognize this graphic as accurate we don’t bother doing anything to change it. How many times have I answered people asking how college is with “Busy,” and they respond with, “Yeah, well, that’s college.” I even had a friend report to me after he graduated and spent a few years in the workforce that “Half of getting an undergrad degree is just proving to your future employers that you can survive.” Equally sad has been one of my professor’s constant plea to us all semester to “Take one day off a week. I know you don’t think you can, but for your own health, take one day off.” Employees in the workforce are given five evenings and two full days for rest; university students are lucky if they can one afternoon a week off. Taking an entire day is so laughable that my professor had to constantly remind us all semester that it was actually a good idea. And if we do report that we “didn’t do any homework on Saturday,” other students or parents or adults have actually commented, “Was that the responsible thing to do?”

This is also coming from a Biola student, who is required to take an extra 30 units of Bible courses as well as attend over 250 hours of chapels over my eight semesters. In order to graduate in four years, Biola students need to enroll in an average of 16.25 units per semester as well as dedicate 30 hours of their semesters to chapel attendance—which, in unit-language, is an additional 1-unit class. On average, then, Biola students are taking 17.25 units per semester in order to graduate on time. That’s just 0.75 units under the maximum units you can take—and that does not include any extracurricular activities, student jobs, or volunteer work.

So this brings us back to EKE. At the culmination of Biola students’ careers, they are given a chance to express just how overworked they were throughout their eight (+/-) semesters—and then, if they prove to be the most impressively overworked, they are given an award. I did get into EKE, but I don’t know how happy I am about it. I’m proud of all I accomplished in college—academic, extracurricular, social, and work-related, among other things—but I sincerely wish it did not come at such a high price.

I don’t want to hear anymore that “that’s just how college is.” Ridiculous. That’s how college is because no one is willing to admit how unacceptably we are treating our university students. As a graduating senior who still has one more paper between her and graduation, and who will undoubtedly hear in the next 24-hours, “You had time to write a blog post during finals week?”—something needs to change.



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