Here’s a Facebook discussion I had with some friends and colleagues about academic service. I thought it might warrant a wider audience.
The discussion started when I shared a blog post on “Overcoming Post-Tenure Paralysis.”
Me (quoting the post): “Believe it or not, the biggest threat to midcareer professional success is often too many service commitments.”
Uh, damn right I believe it.
Friend: The more government services are cut, the more “volunteer opportunities” are created. The present fascist government would like nothing more than for the 99% to give up political affiliations and actions entirely because we are too busy with “service commitments”. Volunteer less, and protest more. Join a political party. Choose a candidate in the next election and become active in their campaign. (I know I’m preaching to the converted here, Mark, but hitting “like” seemed insufficient this time)
Me: the related story inside the increasingly corporatized university is that the professoriate is asked (or pressured) to do both more and less service: more service to protect collegial governance from corporate-style management, and, in the process, to shoulder governance work the administration should take responsibility for; and yet also less service, in committee work and related commitments that comprise “consultaganda,” giving the barest veneer of legitimacy to the administration’s decisions that it really doesn’t want to genuinely consult about. the documented inflation of senior management roles in universities does not then spell less service for faculty, but more: it becomes busywork to justify administrators’ similarly inflated salaries (thus too is documented) and – coming to my point here – it keeps critical scholars and teachers like me from doing the critical research and teaching that are themselves vital forms of political action.
Friend: Hear hear!
APO colleague: The buzz word I got fed for my job”academic effectiveness”. The moment you start trying to measure whatever the hell that is, you’ve forgotten what the hell a University is there for in the first place.
Contingent academic colleague: …so the tenure track do all this ‘service’, get course releases, then sessionals are paid next to nothing to teach the courses but can’t do research or service work so they also stagnate…. seems like the only people who get mid career success are the admins, what do they do again?
Me: How’s this for a telling symptom? The new issue of University Affairs, which is a national platform for university & college administrators, has a “career advice” article for post-tenure professors – and the advice is, literally, Service, Service, Service, and Service:
Contingent academic colleague: I found a niche that doesn’t involve tenure or service, but it took ten years and some serious soul searching… now I teach 50% of the time and work for publishers for the other half, but it’s all on my terms so I’m actually very happy. Decent income, no committees!
Faculty Association staff member: Some ‘service’ work is often downloading work management should be doing and more often doing work that gives the appearance of faculty involvement in decision making. Look for that pesky word ‘recommend’.
Tenured academic colleague: Consultaganda. Just the word I’ve been looking for.
Note: Credit for the “Consultaganda” coinage goes to AU labour studies prof Bob Barnetson.