Faculty, Staff, and the Side Hustle | Learning Innovation – Inside Higher Ed

In some disciplines and fields, faculty can supplement their university salaries through consulting and giving paid talks.

Most universities encourage their academics to spend some portion of their time doing this sort of work. Why? Because through consulting, professors learn things that help in their thinking and research. Through consulting and speaking, academics translate and diffuse knowledge. The contacts and networks gained by consulting are leveraged to help students land internships and jobs.

While faculty generally control their time, universities usually have limitations on time spent on non-university work such as consulting. Sometimes, the institutional guidelines stipulate that outside employment should not take up more than a set percentage of overall working time. (Say 20 percent). Often, faculty are on 9-month contracts – leaving a quarter of their time free to devote to paid consulting work.

Not all professors have the luxury of garnering paid consulting gigs. The practice seems to be most prevalent in disciplines such as economics, business, computer science, and other social sciences. But enough professors have consulting side hustles that it is recognized as “a thing” in higher ed.

What about staff?

Where professors are first attached to their disciplines, and only secondly to their institutions, higher ed staff are firmly rooted to their employers. Faculty have autonomy over their time and their expertise. Professors own the intellectual products that they produce. Conversely, all of the time of professional staff is assigned to the institution that they work. (If they are full-time). The university owns any intellectual product created by staff on university time.

Historically, staff have been free to pursue side-hustles (such as consulting gigs) on “their own time.” This has traditionally meant nights and weekends. If a staff member wants to give a paid talk, she first takes a vacation day from work. If she wants to consult for an outside company, she does so outside of regular business hours. (And likely does not use the university issued laptop to do so).

How should academic staff think about paying side-hustles?

As most folks are working remotely, there is no longer “normal business hours.” In reality, the line between on and off the job time has been blurring for many years. Before COVID, most professional staff worked from home at least sometimes. Working at night and on weekends has always been standard practice. One definition of a professional is that they work on projects, not during set hours.

When academic staff engages in paid consulting gigs, they usually do so quietly. Staff are not explicitly encouraged to do this work, as is the case with (some) faculty. At most institutions, a culture has grown up that enables professors to engage in the wider world. As long as that outside work does not damage a faculty member’s teaching, research, and service obligations – then that work is viewed positively. (Or at least benignly). This has not been historically true for staff.

Will norms and expectations about staff side gigs begin to shift as the higher ed labor market evolves? Many academic staff have worked to carve out a place of recognized subject matter expertise (SME) and thought leadership. Social media has made it easier for academic staff to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise.

Perhaps support for academic staff side hustles will become a tool for recruitment and retention. Smart universities will set up programs to assist academic staff in setting up consulting practices. Thinking will shift so that academic staff are viewed as potential creators and disseminators of knowledge and ideas. Outside consulting gigs, if they don’t interfere with the duties and responsibilities of staff, will be understood as positive outcomes for the institutions in which staff are employed.

Could happen. Right? 

What is your side hustle?

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