In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled “Keeping Tenured Professors Engaged,” a number of strategies are discussed, including peer-to-peer guidance and modifying the allocation of faculty’s responsibilities among teaching, scholarship, and service. It’s unlikely, however, that any institution has been more creative in addressing this issue than Stanford University, which will initiate its Noble Slumbers program in September 2018.
In a press conference held on Thursday, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne noted that “historically, Stanford has been a leader in research on the functions of sleep, as well as sleep disorders. And, like other schools, we face the challenge of dealing with tenured faculty members in their late 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s who, quite frankly, are sometimes no longer able to consistently ‘get the ball over the plate,’ if you know what I mean. Increasingly, our students complain about professors who nod off while delivering lectures, resembling horses that doze, standing in their stalls, before they’ve finished their hay. This is an incredibly awkward situation when you have 300 students sitting in a large lecture hall. It’s not unusual to have a student in the back of the auditorium yell, ‘Is he dead? I’m pretty sure he’s dead. If he’s dead, can we leave?’ Almost always, the answer to the first question is NO, and the professor is profoundly embarrassed.”
In the Noble Slumbers program, any tenured professor who is 55 or older can fulfill his or her teaching load by serving as a subject in a sleep study conducted by a Stanford researcher. Four days a week the faculty member will come to campus at 9:00 am and go to bed in one of the University’s sleep labs. At 3:00 pm he or she will be awakened and allowed to go home.
The offices of these professors will be assigned to adjunct faculty, so that the latter will no longer need to hold office hours in Stanford’s small number of uni-sex bathrooms scattered around the campus. In the words of President Tessier-Lavigne, “This is a win-win! No more faculty-student discussions of term paper topics while toilets flush — or even worse, don’t flush — in the background!”
Most of the tenured faculty who are eligible to participate in Noble Slumbers are excited at the prospect. As Stanley Grosk-Yippen, a 73-year-old chemistry professor who hasn’t discovered a new element for the Periodic Table since 1981, observes, “I admit that my days as an academic wunderkind are in the distant past. This new program will give me an opportunity to………….”
May the REM cycle be with you, Professor.