Stop glorifying UC Berkeley’s workaholic stress culture

CAMPUS ISSUES: On this college campus, professors and administrators must encourage learning — not academic burnout

A student looking stressed in lecture looking at their schedule
Alex Hong/Staff

A recent tweet criticizing a UC Berkeley electrical engineering and computer sciences professor’s proposed 80-hour weekly academic workload has outraged many community members. But this incident is symptomatic of a larger issue: the toxic work culture on this campus.

The tweet exposed the professor’s “perspective on your time,” dictating an hourly schedule that leaves no room for work, mental health or extracurricular activities. This mentality feeds into the myth that students must work solely on academics and nothing else to succeed — it can give students who fail to live up to this unreasonable expectation impostor syndrome.

While the professor outlined these unreasonable expectations in a 2014 lecture, this isn’t an isolated incident. This unhealthy attitude is pervasive in science, technology, engineering and math courses — and beyond that, across campus departments.

The Academic Senate places restrictions on how many hours students should designate for homework specifically for this purpose, stating that course “units shall be reckoned at the rate of one unit for three hours’ work per week.” These guidelines exist for a reason — to protect students’ well-being — and professors shouldn’t be allowed to micromanage their students’ time.

How can all students be expected to follow a specific workload breakdown when students have vastly different lives outside of classes? A 2015 study by Georgetown University found that nearly a fourth of students in the United States go to college full time while working full time. And a large portion of these students come from first-generation and low-income families and must work to afford the cost of college. These students must be encouraged, rather than punished, for pursuing an education.

UC Berkeley students who come into college with no prior experience in computer science or other similar technical subjects are immediately faced with daunting GPA caps, restrictive workloads and a lack of resources in lower-division courses. These reductive measures are not conducive to learning, and students who choose to explore these majors in their first two years should not be made to feel like impostors.

Students shouldn’t have to compromise their health in order to succeed academically. A culture that values academics over well-being harms students’ abilities to thrive on this campus. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that 30 percent of college students reported stress that negatively impacted their academic performance, and stress is a risk factor for many health issues, including depression and chronic pain. The campus must actively work against perpetuating stress rather than contributing to it.

UC Berkeley is often stereotyped as the “workaholic” UC campus, and it’s time for the community to acknowledge how harmful that title really is.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.