So, today in a bid to get people to volunteer for college-level service, the committee on committees published a list of who had already volunteered, then broke it down by department. In my department there were no surprises: the same five midcareer women and one senior man. In five years, and in ten, the list will likely be substantially the same. That's one topic. But that's not my point here.
The big change: this year, I was on the list. And this gets me thinking about service, pre- and post-tenure.
When I hear about service as it relates to the tenure line, I tend to hear the same narrative: that one of the great things about tenure is that you finally get to say "no." In many places, junior faculty, in addition to heavy teaching loads and inflated publication expectations, shoulder a large burden of the service work in their departments. They don't say no because they are conscious of the fact that they are being watched and possibly judged – are they good department citizens? A leitmotif of these discussions is that what is true for junior faculty in general may be even more true for female junior faculty, and even more for mothers, who feel pressure (whether it's internal or external) to prove that being a parent doesn't mean that they can't do their jobs. So, once these junior faculty reach tenure, one of the things that they joyously do is start saying "no." Sometimes this means cutting back from an unsustainibly high level; other times, it means saying no to everything, figuring they've paid their dues for six years, and it's time to let someone else take over. They use their time for more research, better teaching, more time with family, or actually developing a more rounded life outside of academia.
Of course, the more negative way to view this is as faculty "checking out" after tenure, perpetuating a system in which the junior faculty who follow them are sentenced to the same six years of hard time that they were. But either way you view it, these faculty are exhausted.
My situation has been different: here, junior faculty are expected to do some service, but it's generally at the department level, with one or two college-level things thrown in over the course of the pre-tenure years. It is, in other words, humane.
And do you know what has happened, in my case at least? I find that I want to do more service, now that I have tenure. I have experience, I have some institutional memory, I have friends and acquaintances in other departments who I can build coalitions with to get things done, I know who the crazy people are, and how to avoid and/or appease them. So I've found myself saying "yes" more: yes, I'll serve on that university-level committee that meets twice a month. Yes, I'll be a mentor. Yes, I'll edit the online newsletter for organization X. Yes, I'll research grant opportunities for my junior colleagues.
So here's the thing: if you believe in faculty governance, sooner or later you need to step up. But isn't it better to let the greater burden fall on those of us who have a little less to worry about in terms of tenure (and who have toughened up enough to handle the disillusionment and frustration that goes with university-level service)? Wouldn't decreasing the service load on junior faculty result in less burnout and turnover? Do you think that tenured faculty would be more (or less) likely to take on a service load later if they had been protected from it earlier? Would this model work where you work?