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Faculty Service

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.

3 thoughts on “Faculty Service

  1. In my department, associate professors have indeed borne the brunt of service obligations, which have been exacerbated by the appointment of full professors who are lured to the department with the promise of no administrative obligations. On top of all this, you have instituted an extraordinary merit policy that completely discounts service in favor of research only. This has created a bulging middle of associate professors who continue to fall behind in pay, research productivity, and morale. Therefore I respectfully ask you to allow merit recognition of faculty who dedicate a significant portion of their time and talent to the invaluable service on which you and this University depend.

  2. The way an old colleague phrased it (and justly so), service is one of the three legs of the table on which truly good scholarship rests. If any one of those legs is less strong than the other two (the teaching and research legs) then the table gets wobbly and can even fall over. I think most of my colleagues at Georgetown view it that way, and strive for tripodal balance, however, the reality is that tenure and promotion rests primarily on research, so how can we fault assistants and associates (who have careers to build, families to support, etc.) for paying attention to reality ? Another reality is that there are particularly difficult service needs both in and outside a research University that expose faculty performing those functions to negative repercussions; often the only people that can do these things are full professors well buffered by particularly strong professional standing. To many faculty then, service often entails more risk than reward. The reality is that often there is no (immediate) reward for service work. The rewards take longer, are often abstract, and by definition benefit others. But isn’t that the point ? Not to be preachy about this but since when did service become a capitalistic endeavor ? It’s a privilege, like most other things faculty get to do … that said, if the institution is worried about faculty service contributions, it is up to the institution to define criteria for tenure, promotion, and merit that rest on performing good service. Currently there are none that are clearly espoused.

  3. Georgetown’s total operating revenue in FY 2016 was $1.168 billion. Of that, $583 million or 50% came from “tuition and fees, net” (monies paid by students and their parents for educational instruction). Only $214 million or 18% came from “grants and contracts” (monies paid or contributed for research).

    The faculty promotion practices Professors Cho and Roepe describe are significantly out of alignment with that revenue structure. Sooner or later, that is going to cause us problems.

    A rebalancing of the weight given to all three legs of Professor Roepe’s metaphorical table–teaching, research and service–would seem to be in order, with particular attention to the one that pays most of our bills.

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