I (Brandy) remember the first time I was considering graduate school and reached out to one of my favorite professors for advice. I expected feedback about where to apply and what to do or not do in my application materials. Instead, my professor spent the majority of the hour trying to talk me out of applying altogether. “If you could imagine doing anything else and being happy, do that,” he told me. I left the conversation a bit put off, but mostly I worried that that was the advice he offered to those he thought couldn’t cut it, those who weren’t smart enough to do an advanced degree.

I didn’t listen to his advice and went on to get my PhD. The professor wrote me what one of my PhD advisers told me later was a “glowing letter.” About a year into the program, I began to understand what he was telling me, an understanding that grew exponentially every year I got closer to being on the job market. I loved my program, my research, and my teaching, and I desperately wanted to be a professor, but I knew that the odds were not in my favor. Given the dismal prospects of a tenure-track job, it was hard to justify the work of grad school—the long hours and hard work for little pay, not to mention the deferred income and retirement savings. But I wasn’t in it for the money, and so I pressed on in the hopes that I’d be one of the lucky ones. As it turns out, I was one of the lucky ones. After six years in graduate school and two wonderful postdoctoral fellowships, I caught a golden ticket: a tenure-track job. 

During the latter years of my time in grad school, academic quit lit was growing in popularity. The genre consisted mostly of essays by brilliant, promising scholars who were exhausted by—and unable to survive in—the conditions of contingent labor. They were deeply tired of the ongoing cycle of a job market that continued to bear no fruit for them. Alongside those powerful and devastating pieces were another kind of academic quit lit article, the pieces from tenured professors who had decided to throw in the towel. This latter genre truly baffled me—these professors had arrived! They were the luckiest of the lucky! They had worked so hard for so long, and now they were secure, able to do the scholarship they wanted with a level of security that other careers only dreamed of. Why on earth were they quitting the academy?

Just as I had come to understand, over time, what my professor was telling me when he urged me to not go to graduate school, I am now—three years into my tenure-track job—beginning to understand why a person would leave their position as a tenured professor.

Burnout is real. It’s occurring across professions right now; we are seeing it in health care, the service industry, the corporate sector, and education alike. It’s been exacerbated by the pandemic—one report suggests a rise of over 40 percent—but its prevalence has also been shaped by the broader forces of our current era.[1] As John Malesic puts it, “Burnout is a malady typical of post-industrial capitalism, where the simultaneous imperatives of productivity and cost-cutting breed conflicting norms that workers cannot fulfill without risking damage to their inner lives.” In the introduction to The End of Burnout, Malesic shares his own experience of burnout in academia. He writes of how, despite all his hard work to get there, living the dream of being a tenured professor turned into a nightmare: the stress of institutional crises around finances and accreditation, the ever-increasing amount of committee work, the pressure to publish more and more, the lack of recognition from university leaders, and the lack of affirmation and engagement from students.[2]

Malesic’s experience of burnout in higher education is not unique. A recent Gallup poll found that college and university professors had the second highest rates of burnout in the United States in 2022. They outrank health-care workers (even two years into an ongoing pandemic) and are surpassed only by K–12 educators. An abundance of articles, surveys, and studies, with titles like “Burned Out and Overburdened,” “Locked Down, Burned Out,” and “The Great Disillusionment,” speak to the realities of burnout that many of us in higher education experience.[3] In one particularly poignant piece, an anonymous tenured professor “cries uncle.” Recounting their own experience of overwork and exhaustion, they note how “every year, the tenure portfolios get more and more padded and bloated, and the unspoken but always-legible list of what to do to ‘succeed’ gets ever longer.” Reflecting on how, driven by dedication to students and colleagues as well as by fears of putting our careers at risk, tenured and tenure-track faculty “just keep marching, even if off the cliff.” The anonymous professor appeals to their colleagues “for an academic Chapter 11,” a bankruptcy, a reset.[4]

Many scholars and thinkers are sounding the alarm on the problem of burnout, are analyzing and interrogating the factors that have led to its rise, and are exploring ways forward. As theologians who both engage significantly with the virtues in our respective scholarship and as professors who are not unfamiliar with the realities of burnout, we want to offer one more take on this problem.[5] In academia, we’ve mistaken the vice of excess as a virtue. In mistaking the vice of excess as a virtue not only are we participating in our own exploitation, but we’re failing in our responsibility to form students to be lifelong learners, responsible and rigorous scholars, responsible global citizens, and responsible humans.


How does one come to erroneously believe that a vice is a virtue? Linguistic frameworks shape the way we see and act in the world.[6] In this essay, we are—to be certain—not offering a linguistic panacea that will cure the brokenness of academia. However, we believe that using the rich conceptual tradition of virtue ethics will help academics better appreciate the complexity of their professional context. Before applying this framework to the context of higher education, it will be beneficial to revisit some of the basic concepts at the foundation of virtue ethics.

Virtue ethics is a tradition that describes human activity through reference to the qualities of a person’s character. More specifically, virtue ethics focuses on the habits that predispose a person to behave in a particular way. In this framework, a habit is not an activity; it is a stable disposition or tendency that makes a particular activity more likely to occur. All people have certain abilities or potencies that can be moved into action. When these abilities are repeatedly utilized for a certain type of activity, a habit can form. The result is a person who is more likely to use their abilities in that manner. For example, a professor may have the ability to ignore an email notification. The more often she exercises that ability, the more stable that disposition becomes. Over time, it becomes easier for her to ignore the notifications until it becomes second-nature, that is, a quality of her character.

Following what is arguably the most magisterial presentation of virtue ethics, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, virtue ethicists tend to classify these habits into virtues (i.e., good habits) and vices (i.e., bad habits). A virtue is a habit that seeks the good and serves the happiness and thriving of the agent and her community. To determine whether a habit is virtuous, Aristotle suggests that a disposition can be evaluated by its place on a spectrum that spans two extremes, one of deficiency and one of excess.[7] A professor can have a tendency to never ignore her email notifications, allowing herself to be constantly distracted from important conversations and tasks; this would be a deficient disposition. On the other extreme, she can also have a tendency to always ignore her notifications, consistently neglecting communication from students and colleagues; this would be an excessive disposition. These extreme dispositions are the bad habits known as vices. Each disposition, then, can have one of three qualities: a vicious deficiency, a vicious excess, or a virtuous mean between the two. So, for every virtue, there are two vices.

Becoming virtuous requires discerning the mean and acting accordingly. This is more easily said than done. In the treatment of virtue ethics in his Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas Aquinas points out that the virtuous mean is an ever-moving target that depends on the particular circumstances of the agent.[8] It would be nice if these virtuous means were the same for each person and in all situations—for example, a patient and fair professor always forgives the first instance of plagiarism and administers a standard punishment for the second instance. However, the virtuous mean shifts depending on the circumstances. A patient and fair professor may instead choose to punish a first instance of plagiarism as a way of helping a first-year student in a core course appreciate the gravity of academic dishonesty, helping them avoid this pitfall during their senior year when the consequences for their academic career could be greater. And there is no consistent frequency with which a professor should check her email. The ever-changing circumstances of her life will dictate what the virtuous mean is at any given time. The week leading up to final exams is a different circumstance than the middle of her sabbatical.

How, then, do we come to be virtuous? First, we need a virtuous community. All people need to learn from repeated exposure to examples. These examples can be seen within families, in literature and theater, in faith communities, and in nature, to name only a few. Second, when confronted with this plurality of examples, we acquire virtue through practice. Simply seeing virtue does not make us virtuous. Nor is understanding virtue the same as acting virtuously. As a habit, a virtue is cultivated through repeated activity; we must practice virtue to grow in virtue. According to both Aristotle and Aquinas, this journey begins by avoiding vice.[9] Usually, people want to fit in with their communities; we want to love and be loved. So, we avoid behavior that puts that belonging at risk. As we grow within that community, we shift from avoiding vice to seeking virtue. We learn the virtuous means that help us thrive. In short, living a virtuous life is an iterative process of evolution and devolution. At any moment, the quality of our virtue can be fomented by gratuitous blessings or shaken by unearned challenges. New, unknown circumstances arise within all virtuous communities, and the community must respond. In this way, moral traditions are forged and adapted as people seek to thrive. Virtue, then, is a dynamic and imprecise process of seeking happiness.  

Before turning to a discussion of how a virtue ethics framework helps us better understand the role of professors in the context of higher education, one more distinction will be helpful: the distinction between good/bad, on the one hand, and right/wrong, on the other. Too often, someone who misses the virtuous mean and acts viciously is labeled a bad person. Similarly, if someone acts in a way that meets the virtuous mean, they are labeled a good person. However, in his analysis of Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, James F. Keenan argues that Aquinas has a more nuanced, pastoral approach to evaluating a person’s behavior.[10] Good and bad can be used to refer to the quality of the intention behind an activity. In other words, if someone desires and strives to be virtuous, they are being good and should be praised for it. However, simply striving to be virtuous does not actually make one virtuous. We are all capable of misreading the context or of being misled by our examples. Well-meaning people can still cause harm. On the other hand, right and wrong can be used to refer to whether an activity actually meets the virtuous mean. If a person is able to determine the mean and act accordingly, then she has acted rightly. However, that does not mean that she intended to be virtuous. We are all capable of doing the right thing out of harmful motivations. So, to be truly virtuous is to be good and right.

Why make these distinctions, you might ask? Most communities are confronted with circumstances that are unclear and morally precarious. The virtuous mean (i.e., the right thing to do) evades our efforts, as we encounter barriers that come from ignorance, trauma, oppression, and myriad other human conditions.[11] The preceding framework of virtue ethics is meant to help us acknowledge this complexity and the challenges it presents. To further illustrate the benefits of virtue ethics, we will now return to our discussion of academic culture and the pervasiveness of burnout.


Publish or perish. The phrase—or, to put it more accurately, the ultimatum—is well known in academia. Publish original research or risk your reputation in your field (at best) and your job (at worst). This pressure to publish has increased significantly in both degree and scope over time. As one biochemist reflecting on the pressure notes, in “1958, when James D. Watson worked his way up to the rank of associate professor at Harvard, the young biochemist had on his curriculum vitae 18 papers,” whereas, today “the bibliography of a candidate facing a similar climb often lists 50 or even 100 papers.” The pressure to be prolific begins early, largely motivated by the aim to be as competitive as possible in the ever-shrinking tenure-track job market (read: by the desire for stable, gainful employment).[12] Those who succeed in this aim must continue, at the same or an increased pace, in order to demonstrate high achievement and continued promise in scholarship. Those who continue to excel on this front continue to be rewarded, not only with tenure but also with various accolades and awards.

In addition to the demands to publish, faculty also, of course, have teaching responsibilities and must show clear evidence of success in this area for promotion.[13] For those of us in teaching-oriented institutions, teaching is our primary, though by no means sole, responsibility. We teach three or even four courses a semester. Sometimes we will teach that many sections of the same course, but often (and most time-intensively), we teach three or four distinct courses each semester. And we have to prepare for those class sessions, which involves crafting lectures and creating lesson plans, and assess the progress of our seventy-five to one-hundred-plus students in meeting our learning objectives (read: grading). We also meet with students regularly outside the classroom (read: office hours), offering advice and assistance on assignments and clarifying key concepts. And we are on the front lines in addressing a wide range of student concerns, from personal crises to plagiarism. Although the demands of teaching have always been high, the COVID-19 pandemic took this to an even more unsustainable level: navigating the technological and instructional challenges of an abrupt transition to online learning followed by the challenges and disruptions of hybrid learning, supporting and teaching students in light of the impact of the pandemic on their academic skills and mental health, and dealing with the impacts of COVID on our own lives and careers.

Finally, in addition to our research and our teaching, we have a variety of service commitments to our institutions: serving on university committees about curriculum, accreditation, faculty welfare, or Title IX; chairing departments or programs, advising majors, and serving as advisers for student clubs, and so on. Outside the universities that employ us, academic guilds entail their own service: organizing academic conferences, serving on editorial boards, reviewing articles or manuscripts, chairing interest groups, serving on steering committees, nominating committees or professional conduct committees, or—you get the idea.

During the course of working on this essay, I (Brandy) decided to keep track of all of my working hours for the month of September. Using a time-tracking application, I kept track of activities related to teaching, research, service, and other office or communication work (e.g., the juggling of emails). In the first two weeks, I attempted to track how much time was spent on leisure and relaxing, but for the sake of real leisure, I stopped this practice. It’s worth mentioning that none of this recorded time includes commuting or errands, and it’s likely that a weekend phone call or evening email session escaped my tracking efforts here or there.

The results were illuminating, though by no means surprising. As Figure 1 shows, during the weeks without a holiday, I worked an average of fifty-three hours. Teaching occupied nearly half of my workweek (at about 40 percent), followed by service at about a quarter of my time. The remainder of my time was fairly evenly split between emails and other work administrivia on the one hand and research and writing on the other hand.[14] The hour-tracking exercise allowed us to understand in more real terms the distribution of where we are drawn day-to-day, but to what distribution should we aspire? What is enough?

Beyond the practical demands of the reported hours above, the emotional toll is real. Faced with these data, one initial response might be (and was indeed for me) shame for not working enough or, perhaps, not working enough on the right things in the right ways. It’s embarrassing to see reading and writing consistently last on the list or to see email taking up so much time, even when we still owe so many people email replies.[15] Self-doubt and a strong desire to do ever more can throw one into a spiral of second-guessing and recrimination on bad days. As Caralena Peterson and Nan Keohane have suggested, the voices in our head say, “Perhaps my problem isn’t the vice of excess but, rather, failure at time management,” or “I’m clearly just bad at my job.”[16]  

On better days, though, can we see these thoughts as evidence of how we’ve been malformed by academia? Although these responsibilities of research, teaching, and service are the requirements of our career, there is a culture within academia of overperforming, of rewarding overwork in pursuit of so-called excellence. For many of us, at least those of us who have had to navigate the job market in the era of Reaganomics, especially after the Great Recession, we’ve needed to compete in this culture in order to even stand a chance. And even then, those of us who have made it did so due to a great deal of luck and, for many, privilege. We then face high expectations that we must meet to earn tenure so that we can keep our jobs and pay our bills. All of this is weirdly mixed in with the fact that we spend a great deal of time on teaching and service because we are deeply passionate about our subjects and deeply care for our students and our communities.[17]

In the end, we decided there was, in fact, nothing else we thought we could be happy doing. In some important ways, our vices of excess in academia are what Lisa Tessman calls burdened virtues: traits that make it possible for us to resist, or at least survive oppression, but that also interfere with and impede our well-being.[18] Or, to return to Keenan’s take on Aquinas, we may be pursuing the good but that does not mean we are being virtuous. To be virtuous is to act rightly, in accordance with the golden mean.

Although our excessive pursuit of academic excellence may be well-intentioned and make it possible for us to survive, it is nevertheless vicious. That is, it impedes our flourishing. As we navigate what may seem to us like impossible choices—get home in time for dinner or spend an extra hour discussing conversational tactics and community resources with a trans student who has been deadnamed by another professor? Finish that project on your home or accept an offer to contribute to an edited volume? Attend a friend’s birthday dinner or accept an invitation to speak that evening?—there needs to be an acknowledgement and personal prioritization of a better virtuous mean. And yet, when asked to serve on X committee, to write Y article, or to serve as adviser for Z club, it is nevertheless incredibly difficult to say no. The fear is that we will miss a chance for a promotion, that we may be replaced. This desire to just keep pushing forward makes for a striking image when we pair it with the anonymous professor’s apt framing of the academic life, in which we all become like lemmings, “walking off a cliff of overwork.”[19]


How, then, do we avoid vicious excess? To quote Aristotle: “It is hard work to be excellent. For in each case, it is hard work to find the intermediate.”[20] In other words, achieving excellence is not a matter of supererogatory work ethic that, like an athlete striving for a world record, pushes the limits of human capability. Pushing the boundaries of human ability is not what Aristotle means by “hard work.” Rather, being excellent is hard work because it is so easy to do too much or too little. Virtue is difficult not because it takes immense strength but because it requires an intimate knowledge of and deep respect for one’s limits and one’s unique context over a prolonged period of time. To avoid vice and grow in virtue, we need a virtuous community to help form us through teaching and practice. Understanding and respecting our strengths and limits cannot happen without help from others. Here, we will suggest some possible ways to cultivate an academic culture that knows how to recognize and avoid vicious excess. 

First, we cannot treat everyone the same and expect to achieve virtue. Virtue ethics dictates that the particularity of each agent should be taken into account when trying to achieve the virtuous mean. The intersectional identity of each agent must be recognized as a part of the particular circumstances that dictate the virtuous mean. Especially when an institution has shown itself to be preoccupied with its own mission and identity, which is of particular concern at schools with religious affiliations, it can become easy for mission language to serve as a litmus test that obfuscates the lived reality of a diverse faculty. This, of course, need not be the case. For example, at a Christian institution, to what extent are the religious calendars of Jewish and Muslim colleagues taken into consideration when establishing productivity expectations? In fact, if we accurately understand the deep cultural and ideological pluralities contained in nearly all religious traditions, we also come to recognize that it is necessary to celebrate plurality in order to successfully achieve our missions. 

Second, by definition, a virtuous mean cannot be accomplished by applying the same metrics year in and year out. Especially with the proliferation of technology, the landscape of academia is rapidly evolving, and standards that were appropriate ten years ago cannot be uncritically adopted today. “This is how we’ve always done it” does not lead to virtue. We must encourage and seek diverse expressions of excellence within our institutions, and examples of this diversity must be explicitly named by leadership. One’s scholarship ought not be reduced to peer-reviewed academic writing. One’s service ought not be reduced to standing committee membership. One’s leadership ought not be reduced to serving as chair of a department or committee. On this point, John Henry Newman wrote, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”[21] As our contexts change, so should our vision for excellence.

Third, we need to be careful about the language we use to evaluate one another. Words like prolific, rigorous, and distinguished are often used to denote a form of excess that misunderstands virtuous excellence. If these words are uncritically adopted, they serve to maintain competitive popularity contests that do far more harm than good to the health and productivity of a community. Likewise, language like family and vocation are used to impose vicious expectations of self-sacrifice. This type of language is often used to intentionally obfuscate workers’ rights and administrators’ responsibilities. Perhaps, paradoxically, it is the wealth of goodness (in the sense explained above) in academia that allows it to be so vicious. As institutions find themselves under more pressure to cut expenses while competing for a shrinking pool of applicants who can afford to pay tuition, administrators are more and more likely to exploit the good will of their employees.

I (David) often find myself in conversations with colleagues who share their frustration at having to do so much work for so little compensation, recognition, or gratitude. I ask these frustrated colleagues, “Why would our managers spend the extra money to hire more colleagues, when we are so willing to do the work for free?” The response is almost always some variation of, “Well, this is too important to simply let it fail or go undone.” In other words, most employees care deeply about their work and want to see it done well. If a dean or provost decides that a writing course can have its cap raised by three students, the writing instructor almost never distributes her previous amount of labor evenly across the new, larger number of students. After all, the students are paying the same price, why should they get penalized? Most employees in higher education are much more willing to shortchange themselves than their students. It is precisely this wealth of good will that serves as the fertile soil for the seeds of vicious excess. Administrators should recognize this fact and set clear labor expectations, especially for salaried workers.[22]

Fourth (and perhaps most obviously), we should begin systematizing the use of language that explicitly refers to excess as a harmful reality. Like many professors, I tell my students that there is a minimum and maximum length to the essays I assign. If they write fewer than one thousand words, they fail the assignment. If they write more than the two thousand words I have requested, I will stop reading when I get to two thousand. In essence, I give them a clear mean to achieve. Could rank and tenure committees do something similar? Instead of being judged on everything we have accomplished since being hired or since our last promotion, we could be invited to submit the two to four publications that best represent our scholarship. We could be invited to describe the two to four service projects that best represent our participation in the life of the institution. Only naming a minimum sends the message that a maximum doesn’t exist. A culture without recognized maximums encourages vicious excess.

Lastly, it’s important to note that vicious cultures cannot always save themselves. If our academic cultures are indeed as vicious as we are claiming, perhaps we need to humbly look for help elsewhere. When new staff, administrators, and faculty members arrive on campus, it can be helpful for them to be encouraged to find non-academic communities outside of the university. They should all be warned that the life of a university can easily dominate one’s time. Having responsibilities to other communities can help us better recognize the excessive demands of academia. Furthermore, maintaining these other relationships can provide examples of virtue that can be imported into academia. If someone wants to live a life that is solely about their academic or scholarly identity, that is not intrinsically vicious. However, that person’s academic achievements—especially if they are being celebrated for being prolific—should never be used as a measure of virtuous excellence for others. Employees whose entire lives are constantly consumed with scholarship, teaching, and service are most likely failing to recognize the vice of excess.


One of the most difficult aspects of envisioning a virtuous culture is that virtue cannot exist without a concrete, particular context. In this essay, we have shared our own experiences and offered suggestions based on our own context. However, our experiences and contexts are unique to us. Therefore, our suggestions ought not simply be adopted into another context. Our goal, rather, is to provoke others to self-reflection that asks: What vicious excess is my community celebrating as virtue? What cultural changes are most needed in our institution?

As we said above, the brokenness of academia cannot be reduced to one problem. Burnout is fed by many systemic problems. Our hope is that by adopting the language of virtue ethics and highlighting the danger of vicious excess, it will be easier to recognize the excesses that have become pervasive in higher education. A virtuous community is, by definition, dynamic and diverse. We hope that this virtue ethics framework can be a tool that helps higher education thrive and more successfully fulfill its mission. What that success will look like can be determined only in ongoing conversations with our colleagues and our students. But those conversations will require the courage to honestly explore how expectations are pushing us beyond our capabilities and toward burnout. Together, then, we can support one another in naming and maintaining virtuous boundaries so that we might better recognize and avoid the vicious excess of an academic life.

[1] See Kristy Threlkeld, “Employee Burnout Report: COVID-19’s Impact and Three Strategies to Curb It,” /LEAD, March 11, 2021, https://www.indeed.com/lead/preventing-employee-burnout-report.

[2] Jonathan Malesic, “A Burnt-Out Case: Aquinas and the Way We Work Now,” Commonweal, December 14, 2017, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/burnt-out-case. Turning to the research of psychologists Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter, who identified company/employer patterns that commonly lead to high levels of burnout (the key among them being demanding and excessive workloads, inadequate rewards, and limited employee autonomy), Malesic muses: “In other words, everything that seems like it will make a company more profitable—pushing people harder, getting them to focus on their tasks and not idle chatter with coworkers, assessing everything all the time—comes at an incalculable human cost. We can think of burnout as a negative social externality: a cost of doing business that, like pollution, is borne not by companies but by workers, their families, and their communities.” Also, see Malesic, The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2022).

[3] See Stephanie Marken and Sangeeta Agrawal, “K-12 Workers Have Highest Burnout Rate in United States,” Gallup News, June 13, 2022, https://news.gallup.com/poll/393500/workers-highest-burnout-rate.aspx; “Burned Out and Overburdened: How to Support the Faculty,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 2021; Chris Smith, “Locked Down, Burned Out: Publishing in a Pandemic: The Impact of Covid on Academic Authors,” DeGruyter, December 15, 2020, https://blog.degruyter.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Locked-Down-Burned-Out-Publishing-in-a-pandemic_Dec-2020.pdf; Lindsay Ellis, “The Great Disillusionment: College Workers Are Burning Out Just When They’ll Be Needed the Most,” Chronicle of Higher Education,August 25, 2021, https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-great-disillusionment

[4] “Academe, Hear Me. I Am Crying Uncle,” Inside Higher Ed, April 22, 2022, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2022/04/22/burned-out-professor-declares-academic-chapter-11-opinion.

[5] See, for instance, David Farina Turnbloom, Speaking with Aquinas: A Conversation about Grace, Virtue, and the Eucharist (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2017); Brandy Daniels, “Chrononormativity and the Community of Character: A Queer Temporal Critique of Hauerwasian Virtue Ethics,” Theology and Sexuality 23, nos. 1–2 (2017): 114–43, https://doi.org/10.1080/13558358.2017.1341208.

[6] Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, there have been many iterations of the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis that all make this point in one way or another. See, for instance, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

[7] See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 3rd ed., trans. Terence Irwin (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2019), 2.9.

[8] See Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, “In actions and passions the mean and the extremes depend on various circumstances: hence nothing hinders something from being extreme in a particular virtue as to one circumstance, while the same thing is a mean in respect of other circumstances, through being in conformity with reason.”

[9] See Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 2.9.3; and Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, and

[10] See Keenan, Goodness and Rightness in Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1992), 137–38.

[11] For further examinations of competing virtues, see Keenan, “Proposing Cardinal Virtues,” Theological Studies 56, no. 4 (1995): 709–29, https://doi.org/10.1177/004056399505600405; and Lisa Tessman, Burdened Virtues: Virtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggles (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[12] Biochemist quoted in G. L. Elmer, “Research Publications in Biotechnology: An Appraisal,” in Annual Reports on Fermentation Process, vol. 5, ed. G. T. Tsao (New York, NY: Academic, 1982), 313. In a similar vein, in an interview in the Guardian, Peter Higgs, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist and professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, noted that he believed “no university would employ him in today’s academic system because he would not be considered ‘productive’ enough” (quoted in Decca Airkenhead, “Peter Higgs: I Wouldn’t Be Productive Enough for Today’s Academic System,” Guardian, December 6, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/dec/06/peter-higgs-boson-academic-system. For more on the publish-or-perish phenomenon, see Imad A. Moosa, Publish or Perish: Perceived Benefits vs. Unintended Consequences (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2018). As one scholar who left academia, Ashley Ruba, aptly put it on Twitter, “I spent ten years in academia. I published fifteen first-author papers. I won two dissertation awards. I had a prestigious post-doc fellowship. And yet, no one could guarantee that I would get an academic job. This is the state of the job market”(@ashleyruba, Twitter, June 17, 2022, 7:04 a.m., https://twitter.com/ashleyruba/status/1537798335008059393). The nearly 9,000 likes and 1,000 retweets point to how Ruba’s experience is not an isolated one.

[13] It’s also worth noting that, for many of us, teaching is a big part of why we got into this profession, and so we devote a great deal of time to this aspect of our work.

[14] Perhaps the most surprising bit of data was the amount of time spent on email. This included correspondence with students, various forms of service work for guilds (e.g., discussing schedules, handling logistics for conference and editorial work, and reporting on guild activities), and departmental and university administrivia, among other things. The desire to track workload led to a count not just of hours spent working but of how many emails were sent per day—the numbers ranged from one to twenty-seven, with an average of fifteen per day. The volume, especially given the length/complexity of many of the topics academics tackle using this tool, was a surprise. One insightful voice on the role of email in the modern work world comes from the academic-turned-journalist-and-cultural-commentator Anne Helen Peterson; see Peterson, “How Email Became Work,” Culture Study,October 25, 2020, https://annehelen.substack.com/p/how-email-becamework; and Sarah Marshall, “How Email Took over the World, with Anne Helen Peterson,” April 10, 2022, in You’re Wrong About, produced by Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall, podcast, 60:10, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-email-took-over-the-world-w-anne-helen-petersen/id1380008439?i=1000556947297.

[15] It is strikingly ironic that on multiple occasions, this essay, critiquing the vice of excess, was worked on late in the evening after a full day of teachings and meetings. Also, we would like to apologize to Andrew, Claire, David, Jazryn, Jess, John, Jon, Jordan, Karen, Karma, Lara, Melissa, Michael, and so many more—we really are sorry, and we really do plan on replying soon.

[16] Peterson, The Effortless Perfection Myth: Debunking the Myth and Revealing the Path to Empowerment for Today’s College Women (New York, NY: Ingram Spark, 2022); and Nannerl O. Keohane, “Women’s Initiative Report,” 2003, https://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/10161/8410/WomensInitiativeReport.pdf.

[17] Note that those faculty who are a part of one or more marginalized and/or underrepresented communities—people of color, women, first-generation college graduates—often bear an especially heavy burden here. See, for instance, Audrey Williams James, “The Invisible Labor of Minority Professors,” Chronicle of Higher Education, November 8, 2015, https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-invisible-labor-of-minority-professors/; Social Sciences Feminist Network Research Interest Group, “The Burden of Invisible Work in Academia: Social Inequalities and Time Use in Five University Departments,” Humboldt Journal of Social Relations 39 (2017): 228–45, https://www.jstor.org/stable/90007882; and “My Journey with Department Service,” Inside Higher Ed, February 2, 2018, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/02/02/costs-minorities-performing-service-work-academe-opinion.

[18] See Tessman, Burdened Virtues.

[19] “Academe, Hear Me. I Am Crying Uncle.”

[20] Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 2.9.2.

[21] Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 6th ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 41.

[22] Note that adjunct instructors are often the only faculty members with clear maximum limits set on their work. Some institutions limit the number of hours these underpaid contingent faculty are expected to work in order to ensure they do not make less than minimum wage. In other words, the one time administrators do articulate a maximum, it is not a matter of caring for the well-being of adjunct instructors; it is communicated to ensure the institution isn’t violating state wage laws.