Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Working (Out) With Students

At dinner with colleagues a few nights ago, the conversation turned to the topic of faculty use of the university recreation center. Most universities have well equipped exercise facilities, and the cost of using these facilities is far less than the cost of joining a fitness center. Although many faculty use the campus rec center, some faculty aren't comfortable going to a student-filled facility to exercise. As a result, some universities even have (or are planning to build) separate facilities for faculty and staff.

I suppose universities have done surveys to find out about faculty/staff use of rec centers and reasons for lack of use. In a small informal survey (by me), I find that the main reason for faculty non-use of the campus rec center is lack of time. That is certainly true in my case this year. I have used the rec center regularly in the past, but that's not possible this semester owing to my teaching load and search committee activities on top of everything
else. Search committees are important, of course, but very time consuming.

And that's OK! There's no way to guarantee that the time is well spent, but, according to some of my readers, because I am a highly compensated professor with a secure job, it's fine that I spend all this time with candidates who may or may not be 'serious' rather than spending the time with my family or doing research or sleeping or something, but that's the way the game is played and it's just business. But I digress.

Another reason given for faculty avoidance of student-dominated rec centers isn't so much not wanting to sweat on a treadmill next to a student, but rather not wanting to shower with their students. Some male colleagues (male and female) have complained about the lack of shower privacy options at their rec centers. A female professor acquaintance feels that putting her C-section scars and stretch marks (which are apparently so prominent that they are visible from space) might deter some students from ever having babies, or could at least ruin someone's day.


Yet another reason for faculty dislike of university rec centers is being uncomfortable about the "I can't believe my professor is here exercising!" response from some students, or various embarrassed or negative reactions by students who would prefer that the rec center be a refuge from reminders of their academic responsibilities and stresses. Some students definitely think it is cool to see their professors at the rec center, and are happy to chat about academic and non-academic things with faculty, but others would prefer to encounter their professors only in the classroom.

The "I can't believe I'm seeing my professor outside the classroom" response isn't confined to rec centers, of course. Most of us have had students exclaim such things when encountering us on the sidewalk of a main street near campus or in a store. I suppose it is strange to see someone out of context, but do they think that professors have secret professor tunnels that we use to walk from one place to another and special professorial means of acquiring special professor foods? (Of course we do have special stores for acquiring professor clothes, but that's another issue). For some faculty, this phenomenon can be a reason for avoidance of campus recreational facilities.

For faculty who use campus rec centers or would consider using a campus rec facility:


Do you use the campus rec center?
Yes, often, and I like/don't mind being with students
Yes, often, even though I'd rather not exercise with students
No, seldom or never; I'd rather exercise in a less student-dominated place
Free polls from Pollhost.com



For students:


What do you think about faculty use of rec center facilities?
I like it or don't mind it
It makes me uncomfortable to encounter faculty at the campus rec center
Free polls from Pollhost.com






24 comments:

Am I a woman scientist? said...

When I was a graduate student teaching labs for the ginormous undergraduate Intro class at Massive State U, my students were absolutely stunned to find me in the fitness center, at football games, or in local bars. It was always "OMG, I can't believe you're here!", as if I wasn't also a university student. And in my mid-20's. I wonder if their heads exploded when they saw their professors in these places....

Anonymous said...

Seems like there should be at least one more category for faculty, into which I would fall: "I exercise off campus because that gym is better or more convenient." I don't think mingling with the students would bother me, but it's much easier for me to use the gym near my house either before or after work (no toting around a bag of smelly clothes or wet swimwear!).

The nudity issue is an interesting one. I belong both to a YMCA (where lots of older adults work out, as well as people with kids) and to a 24-Hour Fitness (where the crowd is mostly young and single). In my experience, the women at 24-Hour Fitness are the ones who seem most concerned about nudity in the locker room. The contortions I've witnessed in service of taking off a sports bra without first taking off the overlying T-shirt would put any junior high gym class to shame. I much prefer the Y, where everyone lets it all hang out, regardless of shape, color, scars, or disfigurements. It gives one a very liberating perspective on the human body.

CAE said...

Ha! My parents are both high school teachers and would frequently encounter astonished students in town. My Mum would always say "yes, they do let us out of the classroom on weekends if we've been really, really good that week".

Anonymous said...

I used to get a kick out of loudly discussing research in the middle of the gym with the prof I worked for as an undergrad.

Phiala said...

I interviewed once at an extremely rural state university. A couple of the female faculty warned me during the interview about some of the problems that imposed, including the thrill of buying underwear from one of your students at the only department store within driving distance.

Anonymous said...

I want one of those secret professor tunnels.

EthidiumBromide said...

One of the PIs in my department (though not mine) is an absolute fanatic about working out. She goes every day to the gym on campus, takes classes, teaches a class, and tries to drag all her graduate students with her. Personally, I think it's great -- it's wonderful to see a PI who actually WANTS her students to make time to get out and go to the gym, rather than other PIs like mine who have fits if you step out of the lab for more than 10 minutes.

Dr. Lisa said...

When I was a grad student, I used the rec center all the time and only felt slightly squeamish if I encountered a student in the locker room. For some reason, though, the thought of my students seeing me in the locker room in various stages of undress as a professor really disturbs me. Illogical, I know.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Actually, Coworker and I go to the LargeU gym with The Boss on a regular basis, but mostly because The Boss likes to go during the middle of the day, so Coworker and I take advantage of this "approved" occasion to break up our day a bit.

But regarding nakedness....luckily the LargeU locker rooms are laid out such that there is quite a bit of privacy when changing, and the showers are individual stalls.

female social science professor said...

My primary reason for going to the campus gym is convenience - it's the building next to my office - though i'll admit i'm a minority among my colleagues. But, as a female faculty member complete with c-section scars and stretch marks, even, i think it is also not a bad thing to demonstrate that, in fact, we ARE allowed out of the classroom now and then, and actually in fact, are humans.

Female Science Professor said...

If you exercise somewhere else because it is more convenient or if your favored form of exercise doesn't involve the kinds of things that require use of a campus rec center, alas, you are not included in this super-scientific poll, which is about how faculty/students feel about exercising together.

vodalus said...

How ironic that this was today's post, because today's bit of gossip at lunch concerns this same issue. One of the (male) professors in my department works out regularly at the university's gym. Evidently a few years back, one of the male grad students who also regularly frequented the university gym decided to peek on this professor in the shower. The conclusion and resulting gossip is that this professor is evidently quite "well-endowed".

I'm not certain that any professor wants the senior grad students to be sharing this sort of information with the first years. Of course, this is in some sense a uniquely male sort of problem. (About time that it was just them.)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

When I was an advanced grad student in a small college town, I ended up at a gym where a lot of my students went. They usually pretended not to see me. I always found this a little weird.

I didn't go to the rec center, but mainly because it was small and dingy.

ScienceGirl said...

3 professors I personally know well:

1) a prof that doesn't work out used to advise a student that was a workout partner. To this day, the professor says things like "if I didn't let the student graduate, I'd be in better shape now"

2) workout fanatic - puts the fittest students at the rec to shame, always encourages students to work out, and advertises in his classes that if anyone beats him in a marathon, him and his wife will take the student to dinner

3) a male professor who walks around the shower room in the rec stark naked. As a girl, I haven't personally seen this, but a few of my male friends have been shocked.

Anonymous said...

I once went with some work colleagues for an evening of badminton and relaxation. In Germany, it is common for men and women to go to the sauna and hot tub--naked--after an evening of sport. As a prudish North American you can imagine my horror to find out that our boss often came to this same sport facility. It's ok to share the same badminton courts with my boss, but I draw the line at hanging out naked in the hot tub with him!

Anonymous said...

When I was a grad student, they remodeled the gym and all the weight machines were moved really close together. One time I finished on the pull-up machine and found that one of my (very nice male) professors was on the machine in the next row with his face about three feet from my butt. That was fun.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the big deal - faculty and staff get to the university early. Chance of seeing students in the gym at 8 am: zero (well, pretty close).

But I understand the squeamishness as well. Nobody likes sharing one of those shower-towers with anyone, much less students/professors.

CookingWithSolvents said...

I also bumped into students (undergraduate) pretty frequently at the gym when I was a grad student. It never bothered me and in some cases I was GLAD. It seemed to help some of them think me as more of a person. It seemed to help my interactions with a select few for them to have some humanizing context in addition to "my TA, blah blah" type thinking. My boss in grad school also was (and still is, I hear) a regular at the gym, though I was never invited to work out with him. I never asked, either. . .he went pretty regularly at the same time whereas synthetic chemistry isn't always so forgiving for scheduling.

As for the nakedness thing, I haven't really thought about it much since high school. The rules in my mind go like this: you don't stare, you don't stare at the ceiling or something (which is more obvious, imo), you don't parade around (wear a damn towel) and you go about your business.

usually non-anon said...

Slightly off topic, but in the previous small town where I worked, there was a drugstore between campus and my house that had the cheapest price in town on condoms. Several times I walked in to buy condoms and walked out with orange juice or a greeting card instead, because one of my students was working the only register. (I was dating my current spouse at the time, but my students only knew that I was not married.) Another time I ran into a student in the grocery store when I was buying a pregnancy test. I don't know if the student noticed the box in my basket or not, but in a small town, there is simply noplace you can go and expect to be safe from running into a student.

Anonymous said...

On the flip side - as a grad student, I supervised a senior for her project in the lab. She seemed extremely uninterested in working, or doing the work herself. I saw her in the gym a few evenings, and she was utterly embarrassed and apologetic that I saw her there, as if she should have been in the lab at 9 PM (despite her daily absences). Strange.

b said...

I voted as faculty even though I'm a grad student, because I avoid our campus rec area precisely to avoid the undergrads I see entirely too often everywhere else. So if I ever become faculty I would continue to do the same.

Mr. B. said...

Hmm...

The rec center at MyU is a bit of a hike and the Y(WCA) is quite near my house.

Short and tall, young and old, black, white, Hispanic or Asian, we've got them all.

Although my university is diverse, I think the Y is even more diverse and no one gives a shit whether I am a professor or a milkman.

Somehow this makes me more comfortable.

Ciao,

Bono

Mikael said...

I wouldn't mind a second "No" option in that poll - I don't go regularly to the gym - but know that I probably should. However, my university doesn't HAVE a gym available in the way described, and I still struggle against my innate tendency to end up sitting still in a chair all day and all evening...

JaneEyreZombieHunter said...

For some reason, I'm totally ok with the locker room scene at my university rec center. I've had two children, I've got a nice big sunburst of stretch marks on my abdomen to prove it, and I have the oh-so-common "Academic's Belly" - you know, the shape you become when you sit and read & type all day, haha! And when women in their late teens and 20s walk around in the locker room, I feel a solidarity with both them and the older women who frequent the rec center: the younger set is working hard to maintain whatever they began with, I'm working hard to take off some extra & be fit, and the older women are working out for fitness as well. But I also feel a wicked delight in parading around naked as I really am, sort of forcing people to think more realistically about what a woman really looks like!