Wednesday, September 14, 2011

At your "service"

Given that I am applying for tenure this winter, I prob'ly should just keep my trap shut about this, but then StraightMan starts talking about this new book that has him in high dudgeon - Randy Martin’s Under New Management: Universities, Administrative Labor, and the Professional Turn.

In particular, he reads me this passage, from an interview with Randy Martin that appeared in Inside Higher Ed - on the meaning of academic "service":

Indeed, service has a connotation of voluntary or unpaid work, which associates it with the raced and gendered divisions of labor on many campuses–those who serve the academic mission, from clerical staff to food and maintenance workers. Service as a category of labor is also connected to unpaid domestic work and slavery. Devaluing service not only makes it easier to take for granted all these jobs that allow campuses to operate, but also takes attention away from the increasing administrative work that faculty are asked to do and the growing purview of decision-making claimed by senior administrators — whose own work is becoming more generously compensated. Academic freedom, doubtless a value that cannot be taken for granted, pertains to faculty governance, a domain that is being eclipsed by university governance over which administration holds sway, especially when it comes to priorities in collecting and disbursing funds or investments. Faculty will be well-served to recast service as administrative labor, both to give value to an increasingly consequential aspect of their academic lives, but also to come to recognize the knowledge they possess as to how to run the institutions of which they are a part.


Until I started teaching six years ago, I had never even heard the term "service" before - I know that in graduate school, I heard professors grumble about meetings and committee work, but I never heard it discussed as I do now. On my campus, there are faculty members who seem to think one cannot do enough service and that it, along with teaching, should be all that counts toward tenure - and then there are others who think there is already much too much demand for faculty to do service (and that there are clearly individuals flouting their obligations and placing the burdens on their untenured colleagues). Which always has caused me to wonder what exactly everyone means when they talk about "service" in the first place. Do the former just love meetings and committee work that much? Do the latter simply tell their students to piss off?

The distinction that Martin makes between faculty governance and administrative labor helps me make a bit better sense of what I see around me. When the service that you do is the work of faculty governance, it is meritorious and rewarding. However, when it is indeed administrative labor - here, I am thinking particularly about the development of academic program assessment that is phrased as created by and for faculty, but comes clearly as a managerial mandate on campuses across the nation - it is work for which you are uncompensated.

You feel even that your work as a professor is being held hostage by "service."

Yet, the administrative labor being absorbed by faculty as service could and should itself be work that a support staff could perform (even more ably than faculty) for pay. There is plenty of work to be done, and there are workers out there looking for it.


  1. And this is one of the many reasons I like being an adjunct...

  2. Yes, Adrienne, I look back to my days as an adjunct and miss that aspect. And on sabbatical, I sure don't miss those horrible committee meetings. Even if they are serious governance, they can be a pain in the neck. And who went into academia because they wanted to sit for hours in meetings and haggle over beans?