In a couple of posts now, I've talked about certain activities, which to this point are not on the cv, as "real" service, or as what service "should feel like." Prefer Not to Say noted this recurring theme, and asked me to say more about this Platonic Ideal of Service that seems to be rattling around in my head, and after thinking about it a bit, I figured this topic warrants its own post.
Now, I should say that I've been aware of service as part of the Big Three on which we are evaluated since I was an undergraduate, and in even in graduate school I did a couple of service-y things to enhance my cv. So it's not like I was surprised by the service aspect of the job when I started on the tenure-track. "Service" is ultimately what keeps universities running, and I'm committed to doing my part with that aspect of the job. I think that it is both unrealistic and irresponsible to act as if the "service" part of the Triumverate of Activities is insignificant and that I could be a "professor" if I focused all of my energy on teaching and research.
That said, "service" is the part of my job about which I am most ambivalent, which provides the fewest personal rewards, and which my colleagues (both at my university and elsewhere) recognize the least. That said, during the academic year, "service" takes up HUGE quantities of time, and given that this is the case, shouldn't it be a bit more rewarding? Shouldn't one receive just a teeny bit more recognition?
Now, I received good advice before embarking on my first tenure-track job, and so I was very careful about the service that I agreed to take on, at least initially. I understood the value (or lack thereof) that service would have in how I was assessed, and so I did try to maintain my primary focus on teaching and research. That said, institutional culture can erode even the best of intentions. In my department, and at my university, the service expectation for individual faculty members is quite high, particularly for those who do not have tenure. In my department, there are a number of faculty (mostly with tenure, some without) who engage in the bare minimum of service-related tasks, and everybody looks the other way (though I suppose they don't get the highest merit raises). But not everyone (tenured or untenured) has that luxury. Somebody has to do the heavy lifting - not everyone can opt out.
I'm now a little more than halfway to tenure, and in going on the market this year, I acknowledged for the first time just how much "service" I've done (am doing), and I've realized that I couldn't care less about most of it. And it occurs to me that if that is how I feel, then I'm probably not particularly effective in the work that I do related to those activities. But the thing that I've learned is that it's not really possible to take one or more of those activities off my plate. And yes, one can vow to "say no" to future "opportunities" that come one's way (but is something really an "opportunity" if one thinks it's bullshit?), but whatever vows one makes, one can be bullied (or flattered) into changing that "no" to a "yes," so making vows really doesn't fix the problem.
The problem is institutional, and one person doesn't have much power to resist the overwhelming expectations of an institution. If one cares about one's work and one's department, one says yes when one should probably say no, at least sometimes. And if one wants to be seen as collegial and a team-player, one says yes with a smile on her face.
I think it's that hypocrisy that is the problem. On the one hand, we're supposed to say yes with a smile on our faces, because isn't "serving" something that indicates personal volition? But I don't feel like what I'm doing is voluntary. I feel like a lot of it is coerced. And then I do a crappy job, and then I feel bad about doing a crappy job, but then if I didn't do a crappy job there really isn't anybody who would do a better job, so isn't a crappy job better than nothing at all?
It's not that I feel this way about every single service activity I do. There is some service (even on my cv) that does matter to me. But the percentage of service that does matter to me is probably 10%. The rest just feels like a burden. And so then I feel like I should definitely not take on any other "service-like" projects, but then this reading group falls into my lap, and here I am, saying yes again. Except for that I'm actually excited about leading the reading group, and I want to do this service. So of course I'm going to do it, right? But in the end, it is going to go on the cv in exactly the same section as serving on Useless Committee #472, which just sucks to me.
I think another issue is that at my institution, while service is simultaneously compulsory and unrewarded, some kinds of service are privileged over others. The kinds of service that I care most about - service to my profession, service to my department, service to students - are lower on the totem pole than service to, say, the community or the university. Service to students doesn't really exist because somebody had the bright idea to put advising under teaching in terms of how it's evaluated. What this means to somebody like me is that I can't just do service that I care about because other people don't care about it. At the end of the day, it all just makes me feel disgruntled and unappreciated.
To me, there should be some sort of a system in place in which people can play to their strengths in service - just as they do in teaching and in research. And so when I talk about my idealized vision of what service might mean, that's what I'm talking about: activities that do good while at the same time providing both tangible and intangible rewards to those who serve. I imagine a time (and this might only be imaginary) in which that's what service felt like in this profession, which is how it got the name "service" instead of "administrative duties."
I'm not saying that I expect to love every service activity that I do, but shouldn't the ratio be reversed - 10% bullshit work that just needs to get done and 90% stuff I'm good at and care about? And shouldn't all kinds of service be equally valued?
But that's not the world in which I live. I think it is a world that exists at other institutions - or at least I think that something closer to that exists at other institutions. So for now, I've got three possible options: 1) keep doing everything and hating it (not really an option); 2) get another job (not an option entirely within my control); 3) the moment I get tenure, quit everything I don't care about and then add back in activities always keeping in mind my personal commitment to them (the only option that I really have total control over implementing).
You know, I don't want to be departmental dead weight, but I am sick of lugging around other people's dead weight on my back.
4 years ago