Being a Woman · Nature of Academia · Tenure

What’s the Deal with Service?

jerry-seinfeld-whats-the-deal

 

I am not teaching this summer.  You’d think that would mean time for research and maybe even some well deserved R&R.  But no.  I said yes to one too many committees.  Committees that exist for a purpose in the university or department but still provide essentially zero personal benefit for me.

Research exists that shows that women do more service than men and get less credit, and from my experience, this is absolutely on the nose.  And I think it’s worth taking a moment to think about both parts of that statement (do more, and get less) and how they relate to our experiences in political science.

1.Women do more service than men.  

In my department, administrative and service requirements are disproportionately left to women.  There are, of course, men who hold administrative positions in the department and serve on committees, but those are the “sexy” committees that do things people care about:  research, graduate education, maybe faculty senate if they like being in the spotlight and/or want to run for real office one day.  The boring jobs, like assessment, undergraduate curriculum, or scholarship committees are left to the small number of women in the department.

Research has also shown this is true of student groups and graduate advising, so-called “care work.” When I look around at who advises Pi Sigma Alpha, or who advises the College Republicans, I see a lot of women in those roles. A lot of times they’re just handed to people- “oh, hey, so-and-so retired so now we need someone to advise PSA”- but also a lot of  times, students approach female faculty to advise their groups because they think female faculty are more likely to say yes. Additionally, graduate students tend to drop by female faculty’s office hours more often to discuss issues they’re running into, again because they believe the female faculty are more likely to take the time to talk to them.

Why is this the case?  Some of it is probably due to subtle sexism, where women are expected to do the “chores” at work just like they’re expected to do them at home.  Also, women need to be more available and nicer to students than men do, or they’ll get shitty student evaluations. But I’m not going to shirk all of the responsibility for this; I say “yes” far too often, when I should say “no.”  We are more likely to be asked to be on the university Beautification Committee, and we should say, “No, I am spending my summer on research, not on selecting art for the library.”  But we don’t.  Or at least, I don’t.  I say yes.  And why do I say yes?

Well, I don’t want to be a Problem.  The Unhelpful One.  That’s not a good reputation to have.  In addition, this work needs to get done. Somehow, we have to decide what art hangs in the library, and nothing at a university can be accomplished with a Working Group. Also, while we’re being honest, part of my type A personality enjoys being a part of big decisions affecting general education, or knowing that everyone is going to see a painting that I chose- I feel a sense of (small) power that is rare to feel in higher education. And, of course, I say yes because I want to get the credit for it.

But wait…

2.Women get less credit than men.

I put my service on my C.V.  Maybe not the Beautification Committee, but the university strategic planning committee? Sure! Of course!  I’m spending my summer in biweekly meetings for that committee, you better believe I’m putting it on my C.V.

But no one actually looks at my C.V., and I get the sneaking suspicion that no one in my department actually knows I’m on the committee at all.  I’m representing our department at the university level, making decisions that will absolutely affect our recruitment and advising internally, but no one even knows or cares that it’s happening. It’s that classic problem the hospitality industry has- if you do a good job, no one says anything. It’s when you mess up someone’s order (get known as the Woman Who Said No) that people leave scathing reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor (say you can’t be tenured because you aren’t “collegial”).

When you get a publication and tell your colleagues, you might get some recognition, a congratulations, a mention on the department’s social media page.  When you make a decision on the QEP Committee, you might tell your colleagues. And they’ll go, “Oh, there’s a QEP Committee? What does that stand for?”

3. If we count service, where should it count?

Like I said before, these decisions have to be made- someone has to serve on these committees, and someone has to make sure student groups don’t run amok.  This is a mandatory part of higher ed.  But these things aren’t valued.  I’m not arguing that it should be as much a part of a tenure decision at a major research university as research, obviously, but it should count for something. We’ve started a culture of “Cite Yoself!”  Can we work on a culture of “Brag On Your Committee Achievements?” (Maybe someone can make it more catchy, though…?)

Someone has to be on committees and do administrative work. Women do more service, and we aren’t getting credit for it.  I’m going to try to say NO more often.  And when I do pick the library art, I’m going to email it to every member of my department. YES, in fact, I DID select that lovely lighthouse print.

You’re welcome.

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