Academics are often evaluated on three performance criteria: teaching effectiveness, research impact, and service. The metrics used for these three vary somewhat over schools and fields. Some colleges solely devoted to undergraduate programs tend to emphasize teaching performance more than research. Some university units place almost sole weight on research impact of the faculty.
Measurements on these three criteria are necessarily subjective. For example, the research impact of work often itself ebbs and flows over the years after it is completed. Judging impact of a journal article just completed versus one of several years earlier necessarily uses different evaluative information. Most of academia runs on collections of subjective judgments by peers.
The service criterion is an interesting one. Most academic units are organized to manage themselves with relatively few hierarchical features. The work of curricular operations and student assessment for degree progress is distributed among the faculty in the unit, and faculty committees are a common tool of service to the department of degree programs. The value of this service is locally situated, at the smallest unit of aggregation of the university.
In addition to service for the department or program, however, shared faculty governance creates service opportunities to the larger institution. These include elected offices and university committee appointments to offer advice and recommendations to the university administration. The value of this service is a strengthening of the university decisions affecting the academic qualities of the institution.
There are also service activities that lie outside the campus. Some of these fall under the larger mandate of a university to serve the common good. For example, some are direct actions to improve the lives of residents of the local community surrounding the university (or even more globally). Students and faculty are active in teaching basic skills to local youth, offering social support to the disadvantaged, and providing pro bono legal and health services to the poor. Often these involve joint participation of faculty and students, working side by side as equals. The value of such service is a strengthening of a feedback loop between the university and the larger community. It reminds the university that its mission goes beyond classrooms and laboratories. This kind of service helps concretize the contribution of the university as an institution to the society in which it is situated.
Another service opportunity is to one’s profession. Every discipline and most subfields create professional associations. They hold conferences that allow faculty to present their latest work, for dissemination but also for critique. These professional associations are critical in sustaining the intellectual culture of the field. Attending the meetings has the value to the faculty member of staying current in the field. But service to the association strengthens the contribution of the field to the larger society.
Unusual service in such a way involves holding national offices with administrative duties for the association. Associations often divide themselves into sections representing subfields. Each subfield has an elected group guiding its work; the overall association has executive councils and national leadership. The value of this service to the university is potential influence over the development of disciplines and fields.
Another form of service to a profession involves reviewing manuscripts for journals or university book presses, and research proposals for funding agencies. This is part of the deep commitment to peer review as a tool to determine the best scholarship in a field. Extraordinary service of this form would be serving as an associate editor of a journal, an editor of a journal, or on an editorial board of a book series for a university press. The greatest value of such service is to the larger profession, working to advance the scholarship within the field. But the value of this service is often to the reviewer her/himself — reviewing new work gives insight into the latest developments in a field.
A final service opportunity involves government service. As a university located in the nation’s capital, Georgetown faculty are especially attractive to government agencies. Georgetown faculty serve on presidential and congressional advisory committees, scientific advisory committees of mission agencies, and review committees of programs. For deeper involvement, the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) permits an agency to offer a university staff member a fulltime appointment of duration no more than four years. Most all universities place some limits on the length of such service, with a two-year leave being common.
This type of service is distinctive among those above because it requires the full-time commitment of the faculty member, taking them away from their department, their students, and colleagues. It is extraordinary service, often negatively affecting the faculty’s research output in the near-term but enriching both their teaching and research afterward. The value of such service is to the larger society, by more quickly and effectively bringing new findings into practice within the government.
Universities must serve the larger society. The work of the faculty is key to fulfilling this mission. It is proper that we evaluate faculty on their contributions to that mission.