Tenure-line faculty at US universities have multiple duties. They are key drivers of the curriculum design and instruction, they are core to the research and scholarship produced by the institution, and they provide key service as part of the shared governance process of the university.
Service incorporates membership on unit-level committees on student curricular processes, faculty merit review, etc., as well as university committees evaluating new initiatives. There is previous research that found a positive link between service to one’s university and commitment to that institution. That is, there seems to be a virtuous cycle when faculty contribute their time to making the institution better. Service also incorporates activities in support of one’s professional affiliation, often through membership on local, regional, or national committees of a professional organization. There has also been some commentary that the role of service varies over a typical academic’s career, with more attention to service and perhaps more fulfillment from service later in one’s career.
I recently came across an interesting piece that combines data from self-reports of 4,400 faculty at 13 research universities, based on the COACHE survey of faculty. About a quarter were assistant professors, a third were associates, and the rest were full professors.
There was a fairly consistent pattern of results, with the associate professors less satisfied than assistant or full professors with the amount of committee work, time spent on those tasks, the attractiveness of the assignments, the equity of assignments, and other aspects of service work. The associates were most likely to report less satisfaction with juggling the demands of teaching, research, and service.
The discussion in the paper noted a common tendency in research universities to shield assistant professors from service obligations, as well as a commensurate increase in service work performed by associates. At the same time, the analysis showed that full professors are more satisfied with their balancing teaching, research, and service. A clear question is whether the associate rank is shouldering a disproportionate share of the administrative duties.
The use of associate professors in burdensome administrative roles is something that Georgetown is trying to reduce, in order to provide an environment for their continued scholarly growth.
Georgetown faculty have participated in two editions of the COACHE survey. In the 2014 version of the Georgetown survey, we noticed a pattern of lower career satisfaction on average among associate professors, and that led us to probe what underlay the findings. As a result of faculty focus groups, we mounted a faculty-led effort to improve the clarity of promotion criteria from associate to full. We also mounted a program that encouraged new mentoring of associate professors.
However, we haven’t actively addressed service obligations of the professoriate at Georgetown. The analyses from other universities has made us more sensitive to the service side of the associate professors’ lives. I’d be interested in the community’s reaction to this issue.