Saturday, May 1, 2010

Service: Before Tenure vs. After

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?


clio's disciple said...

I think that effectively *is* the model where I work. At my SLAC, we have strong faculty governance, so everyone (except for first-year faculty) is expected to sit on some committee. It is the tenured people, however, who end up with the most, and most time-consuming, responsibilities, as far as I can tell. Although I don't have a formal committee assignment yet, I am on two interdisciplinary program committees, and I've been advised not to volunteer for too many things.
It's interesting to compare how service works at different places.

Dr. Crazy said...

I think the greater burden *should* - especially for critical university-wide service sorts of things - be on tenured faculty. And in my department, that is definitely the case, but with this caveat. It seems to me that the people who get called on after tenure to "step up" in that capacity (or who respond to that call) tend to be those who "stepped up" with a lot of less critical or visible service tasks prior to tenure, rather than just jumping through the bare minimum of service requirements. So, while I was one of like 5 people tenured in my department last year, I alone have "stepped up" to do that critical university-wide service after tenure, and I was more likely to do the less important and yet still essential service pre-tenure.

So I guess the joy of tenure for me, comes in being able to pick and choose what service I do. To realize that if I take on X task that is really time consuming or politically treacherous, that it's entirely reasonable for me to say no to tasks y and z. Prior to tenure, I felt like everything I was asked to do was so stupid that I couldn't actually say no to any of it or I'd be branded a slacker, if that makes sense. So on the one hand I find service MUCH more rewarding now, and the service I'm doing is much more substantial. But on the other, I'm also saying no a lot more frequently, and I'm recommending that others get asked to do those things that I say no to in order to try to spread things around a bit more fairly (something I did NOT feel comfortable doing before tenure).

Susan said...

As someone who does more than her share of service, I do my best to protect junior people from overload. (Because of our peculiar context, it's hard, but anyway...) There are some things that only tenured faculty can do (tenure reviews), others that tenured faculty should lead (ideally, hiring committees), and others that we would like to shelter junior faculty from (the committees that meet twice a month, for instance.)

At the senior level, the problem is the people who are deliberately incompetent, or who alienate everyone so no one wants them on the committee.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

At my medical school, junior faculty are protected very well from institutional service tasks. At the departmental level, those junior faculty who are doing very well with their research are brought in to service and teaching, while those who are not doing so well with their research are given a break. Of course, in a medical school promotion and tenure is all about research and not being a total complete douchebag. We receive only marginal credit for service and teaching.

Janice said...

We've moved to a model where we try and protect the junior faculty members from heavy service demands so that senior faculty take up more of these. Of course, there's also some service that only senior faculty CAN do (tenure & promotion committees being the most obvious examples).

When I came on board in my department as the first woman faculty member, I defacto became very active in service, sitting on every personnel committee (until we hired first one other woman and now there's several!) and serving as graduate coordinator before I was tenured. It worked out okay but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as doing that while developing new courses and maintaining a research program is more than challenging!

squadratomagico said...

At OPU we also protect the young'uns from significant service. We do give them some light departmental service tasks, which helps acculturate them to the environment of the department, meet colleagues outside their own immediate research areas, and learn the ropes. After tenure, we are expected to pick up more work across the campus as a whole, but we also are allowed to have a certain ebb and flow with this. When I first got tenure, I did tons: In addition to "regular" departmental service, I directed an interdisciplinary program across the Humanities; was vice-chair of my department for a while; and served on three search committees (heading two of them, actually) in two years. Then for a while I was recruited for a series of significant program reviews and high-level administrative searches. But eventually, as I got more traction on my second book, I managed to slow down with the service and beg off; people seem to accept this ebb and flow of service commitment in good humor. I expect that I'll get back in to the thick of it again once this project is complete.

The administrative review and then search was fun, as was heading the interdisciplinary program. But I am impatient with service commitments that involve enforcing rules and bureaucratic procedures. I'd never make a good administrator.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Interesting discussion, all. Janice's comment about women on committees got me thinking about the plight of the "visible minority" faculty member who ends up having to shoulder more work so committees can claim diversity. This always struck me as sadly ironic: a well-intentioned unwritten mandate ends up adding extra hurdles for those who have had plenty of them already.

@ Susan: Deliberate incompetence. Yep. We've got one of those in our department, too. Dodges committee work by being a disaster (for example, not showing up) whenever we try.

@ CPP: This sentence gave me pause: those junior faculty who are doing very well with their research are brought in to service and teaching, while those who are not doing so well with their research are given a break. I recognize that things play out differently in the sciences, but I read this as rewarding incompetence. So Faculty Member A busts ass in the lab, and gets hit with more work as a reward, while Faculty member B flounders around, and gets another course release? Please clarify, because this can't be right.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

I have to wonder, after reading your post and the comments, whether the model you cite (exploit jr. faculty with overloads of service, then they turn their backs on the U. after they get tenure) is one of those academic myths that flourishes despite being totally inaccurate.

At Unnamed U., we also protect jr. faculty from service and most of the major university-level service gets done by tenured faculty. I completely agree with Dr. Crazy's observation: "the people who get called on after tenure to "step up" in that capacity (or who respond to that call) tend to be those who "stepped up" with a lot of less critical or visible service tasks prior to tenure." If you've shown yourself to be even moderately good at organization, interacting with others, getting things done -- you are bound to get asked to do some serious service after tenure.

On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense -- for all the reasons that Crazy and Squadrato mention -- it also means that jr. faculty labor like crazy during their tenure period to publish, then get to keep working at that insane/inhumane rate, but in admin. jobs. That's what I have to look forward to, at any rate.

medieval woman said...

Just a quick comment - here it seems to be the same as where you are - Jr. faculty are protected from major university/college service until after tenure and then they take on more major service assignments. Sadly the bulk of the service gets done by faculty within 3-4 years of achieving tenure, the full profs (who should be stepping up) often don't do squat!

Joe said...

I have a question, only because I am ignorant of the situation. What do you mean by service? I am curious about this because I understand this only from a primary or secondary school point of view and don't know if this is similar to the university level.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ Joe: "service" generally means committee work. Committees might meet on an ad hoc basis (grade appeals committee), intensively for a couple of months (student awards committee) or regularly once a month, or once a week (academic senate). In between the meetings, there's work to be done for them. It's part of what we call "faculty governance," where the faculty run their own university for the most part. The alternative is to cede this work to paid administrators, but this means taking decision-making power out of the hands of the faculty.

To BSG & others: I'm starting to come to the same conclusion. And I did like Dr. Crazy's way of putting it, about those who do lots of pre-tenure service being those who are likely to be most active in service post-tenure.

So the next question is: do we lean on the slackers?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

By the way: it's not completely a myth -- I do have one good friend (pretenure) who has committee work four days a week. But her problem is indeed exacerbated by a few faculty members who were of the type that Dr. Crazy describes, so perhaps it's a combination of factors?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I recognize that things play out differently in the sciences, but I read this as rewarding incompetence.

Well, if you consider not being asked to do departmental or institutional service as a "reward", then yes this is rewarding incompetence. I think the idea is that if you are having trouble with your research, you might need some extra time to devote to it.

Regardless, all of academia "rewards incompetence" in that people who suck at doing service work--either because they truly suck or because they pretend to suck--get asked to do a lot less of it than people who demonstrate that they are good at it.