Sunday, August 30, 2009

On the Outcomes and Assessments Borg

On the Outcomes and Assessments Borg

There has been much in the blogosphere lately about Outcomes and Assessments and (mostly) how we should Just Say No. It's all Clio Bluestocking's fault. She started it. Then Historiann picked it up, and Sisyphus riffed on that, and then Dance offered an alternative. The shortest post I could make right now is to say, "Wait, people? you know that idea of Dance's that you all seem to like? that's a lot of what OA is when done correctly!"

Somehow, I think people might expect me to say a little bit more, given my lengthy comments elsewhere. So here are some reasons I think OA is not necessarily the Borg:

  1. As I just said, OA done well can be as simple as sitting down and thinking about what you are doing, what you want to be doing, articulating those things, assessing for the evidence of those things, documenting how your expectations fit what the students are doing, then going back and tweaking your teaching and/or your expectations the next time around, documenting that, and so on. It's about documenting process and goals. Having said that, there are people who want to use 'bad numbers' to beat us over the head. Those are the people we need to fight, not the idea. Self-reflection is not a bad thing, whether on a personal, departmental, or institutional level.

  2. Outcomes at the course level are good pedagogy. Too often we find ourselves building new preps in a hurry, and many new faculty who have not taught before, as well as some of their more senior colleagues, are wont to build the class based on coverage -- Look! a textbook that has the same number of chapters as the semester has weeks! we'll do a chapter a week, and then ... This is not a good way to plan a class, unless your idea of history is to teach a narrative via lectures, and then get the students to paraphrase your narrative on essay exams. I don't think that's what a good history class should be, even at the survey level. A university history class, IMO, should be teaching the discipline of history, as well as a (or several) narratives. So I'm all for thinking about what I want students to get out of my classes, and it's not a difficult step for me to translate that to course outcomes.

    But that's not really what we're talking about -- this is more department- and program-level outcomes. Well, honestly, I can't find any reason that my department shouldn't have a common set of ideas about what somebody graduating with a degree in history should know, and know how to do, when they finish. Since my department has a capstone course, something that, by the way, seems to make a lot of accrediting agencies very happy, if it's done well, it only makes sense that we sit down together and decide how to make sure that the students are given the chance to learn the skills for the capstone no matter whose classes they take. It also makes sense that people teaching the same course should agree on how they are going to measure the students' performance, rather than having one History 101 prof giving weekly quizzes, two midterms, a paper, and a final, and another giving a research paper and a final and a power-point presentation for the same course. And generally speaking, the students should be learning the same material, although obviously different people will focus more on their strengths and interests. But if there is such a thing as canon, then it should be taught in each section of a course taught by several people. It's only fair to the students.

  3. Speaking of departments, one of the things that Historiann and others have said repeatedly is that we are all professionals, and we already examine our teaching, and do the kind of self-reflection that OA is supposed to encourage. In a perfect world, yes, that's true. In the one where I teach? Not so much. I've never taught at a place where there was not at least one truly dysfunctional department, and usually a couple of faculty colleagues who weren't professional, weren't at all self-reflective, and were the pedagogical equivalents of a night on bad tequila -- the students can't help but vomit, and they can't bear the thought of getting near the subject again for years. Now, these colleagues are not going to go away, and these departments are not going to get functional, but the process at least allows the faculty who do want to teach in a solid program, and do want to serve the students who want to learn to work together more efficiently, document when their unprofessional colleagues are not playing nicely with other children to the detriment of the program and to its students, and let the students know what is expected of them.

  4. Students. They are not customers. But they do pay money to be allowed to study with us. Is it a bad thing to work together to make it clear to the students why we do things the way we do? to give them clearly articulated expectations and then demonstrate that we grade according to the expectations we say we're going to grade by? Is there anything worse than the perception that a faculty member is unfair (well, other than the things that are really worse, obviously)? But seriously, is it a bad thing to have an outcome that says that students will learn to differentiate primary from secondary sources, and use them to create a well-supported narrative or analysis? And then to say, "this is what we mean by well-supported"? Let me tell you, I've been in meetings where my very professional colleagues cannot give examples of these things, or even the characteristics of them, instead relying on the, "I have a PhD and know it when I see it," argument.

    This is the one that annoys me the most, I think. The idea that we are somehow above explaining what it is we do. There is an intrinsic beauty in history and its study, I think. And I don't really buy the idea that we should have to justify our disciplines to non-experts. But at the same time, we really don't live in a world where people think that way. And we are employees of universities and colleges. If they are public, well ... when does, "trust me, I'm the expert," work for us academics? Moreover, we have a glut on the market in the humanities these days. If you can't explain what it is you do, and how you grade to your own colleagues, then there are people who can do your job just as well who can and will.

  5. That last bit kind of brings me to my second-to-last point for right now. I'm a little freaked out by how authoritarian I sound. Because honestly, I'm all about good faculty governance, good contracts, and the tenure system (with regular post-tenure reviews). But I also see myself as an employee of my institution. There are things I am required to do as part of my job -- I have to provide receipts for reimbursement, I have to turn in grades on an A-F scale no later than the semester deadline, I teach history, and not English or Religion, I teach the students the university admits, whether or not I think they should be there, and I go to godawful meetings when I am supposed to. Sometimes I even teach a class at a time I'd rather not, because that's what the Dean has asked me to do. In exchange, I get to teach my subjects pretty much in the way I like, I get to teach courses I like, more or less -- as long as they serve the students and the university, I get support to travel and research (to some degree -- and lots of moral support!), and a paycheck.

    Having said that, I can't imagine the sort of top-down approach to OA that a lot of people are complaining about. The places where I've encountered something even in that realm are places where either the administration didn't take assessment seriously and are therefore cacking themselves because they have to try to come up with masses of data all at once, or where there was never a clear explanation to the faculty of why they needed to drive the faculty part of OA -- or where faculty are just so disaffected that they refused, and are now facing something that is not at all what they expected. No matter the reason, Clio N's experiences sound pretty abysmal, and I can see why she doesn't want to do it.

  6. Last point ... institutional assessment. I'd like to think that it worked. I'd like to think that Student Services, Admissions, Computing, the Registrar, Campus Life, Facilities, etc., were really assessing themselves the way good faculty do. Even if they aren't? I think that OA can help to support some faculty concerns, because my guess is that this is one of the places where number crunching can give a fairly accurate idea of what's going on.

It's dinner time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

carnivalesque update

carnivalesque update

Hey all, the newest Carnivalesque has been delayed due to laptop theft... It will be up in a couple of days.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It must be a wonderful feeling

It must be a wonderful feeling

Yesterday, as I processed in borrowed regalia, a junior colleague (in the sense of still a probationer, rather than age or time at SLAC -- there are several people who have been here as long or longer than I, but haven't gone up yet) said, "Ah, ADM, it must be a wonderful feeling!" "What?" "You have tenure (or its equivalent)! You have no more worries!" "You know? It's not like that."

I can't blame hir for thinking this, though. We're trained to think that we are simply jumpng a series of hoops, with tenure as the brass ring* -- oh, it will be great after coursework! No, it will be great after comps! No, it will be great after the thesis is done! Oh noes, everything will be fantastic as soon as I get a job! Oops! Maybe it will all be perfect when I have tenure and promotion!

Somewhere along the line -- I think about halfway into my probationary period, it occurred to me that the brass ring, didn't really exist. Instead, each hoop is a gate, or door, that grants us access to another set of possibilities, for success AND for failure. Before you think I'm going to get all self-help-y, don't -- I'm not about to start saying that we need to look upon stress as an opportunity for growth, or any of that crap. But anyway, back to the wonderful feeling.

It's not like that. I mean, it's good to know that, unless I truly screw up, I now pretty much have a job for as long as I want it. And it's nice to have the decision made and the reassurance of the new contract. perhaps it's not really sunk in -- or maybe it's just that I haven't worried much about my employability for a very long time. Mostly, though, there's also the knowledge that I am now at Associate level based on a book contract and one accepted article (scholarship-wise), and that I am less marketable if I want to change jobs than I was last year.

That sounds a little ungrateful, doesn't it? I don't mean it to. But I'm looking at a backlog of work, and some projects that I really want to get on with, and no sabbatical in sight. So for me, the promotion, etc., doesn't feel any more than a confirmation that I am an actual working academic. My responsibilities haven't changed, and now I am qualified to be on more and harder committees! Honestly, though, I feel under more pressure to produce and to be good at my job now than I did before. It's a different kind of pressure, but pressure all the same.

A year ago, or even two, I felt like I had to show I was good enough so that I could keep my job. That's stressful, I admit. As I write this, though, I have remembered that the President commented in our 'welcome to the fold' meeting that one of the things zie appreciated about me was that I have always contributed and spoken my mind, even when zie didn't agree with me. And that is true. The junior colleague does not speak up, and frequently gets others to speak for hir, because they are 'better' at it or they are senior. I have an idea that zie thinks this will all change, once zie is in my position. Perhaps it will make a difference for hir, but it didn't for me.

When I told the colleague I felt under more pressure, though, zie boggled. The thing is, I feel that I have to live up to being senior faculty. I feel that I have to set an example for why tenure and permanent contracts are not bad things. I feel that I have to get the damned book done and get on with the next, and in the meanwhile send 10th Medieval the article abstract I just realized was due yesterday, and then I need to write the bastard thing! And I have to keep working on my teaching, and try the things I want to try to make the courses better. There are new projects, speakers to arrange, freshmen to advise, piles of journals to get through ...

And no, it's not to keep my job anymore. It's not (much) about thinking towards the next promotion. It's not (much) about keeping myself marketable, because I might want the option -- or need it, depending on my personal life -- to be able to move to a different job (with luck with a *slightly* lighter teaching load). It *is* to some extent about getting myself in a good position to apply for fellowships, especially for my sabbatical in 4? years (or a really good one that allows me to take a semester leave before then!).

But really, it's about knowing that there are no more hoops, or doors, and that it's pretty much all down to me about whether I am the sort of grown-up academic I want to be, and gaining -- and keeping -- the respect of my friends in academia, as a person AND as an academic. It's not about getting the job, or keeping the job anymore: it's about doing the job and being the person that is, in the end, the real brass ring.

Or at least that's how it strikes me at the moment :-)

*does anybody else remember brass rings (and I know that they don't fit the metaphor of hoops, except that one finds both at carnivals/fairs)? Do they have them outside the US? When I was a kid, we would sometimes go to the boardwalk at Santa Cruz and ride the carousel (the one in Sudden Impact, as it happens). If you sat on one of the moving animals on the outside, you could reach out at a certain point and grab a little ring out of a track that fed the rings to just within arms' reach. Most of the rings were grimy steel, but there was an occasional one made of brass. If you got that, you kept it and gave it to the guy who ran the carousel, and got a free ride.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

pre-season jitters

pre-season jitters

So it's that time of year -- almost new year's for me. Like many others, my years tend to start at different times. The important new year for my mind is the beginning of the academic year. My intellectual clock tends to run with that. My emotional and physical clocks have been moving away from my intellectual clock as I've got older, though. For those parts of me, the year begins about a week after the Winter Solstice, and I don't feel myself till about halfway to the Vernal Equinox. Yep. I am a person who reacts to the sun, but also to the dark. So I am happiest around the equinoctes, and sort of non-productive and disgruntled around the solstices. Too little light at one, too much (and not enough sleep) at the other. But it's new year.

Usually, I look forward to the beginning of the academic year. This year, I have mixed feelings. I've never been so secure in a job before, and I think I have some of that post-tenure ennui going on. I have a TON of projects, some unfinished, and some new. I've fortunately been given permission and encouragement to work on them as much as possible -- a good thing, as my publisher likely hates me at the moment. Good thing I talked up the project at Leeds, because now I have more pressure to get the bloody thing finished.

And yet ... I'm trying to find my feet as 'senior' faculty. Nothing's really changed -- I have always been outspoken, so it's not like I'm suddenly going to find my voice. And yet I'm feeling a little lost. Part of this is because I'm finding myself comparing myself to colleagues more and more. This isn't me. At least, I don't think it is. For most of my academic life, I've assumed that people who got good things deserved them, because they were hard-working and smart, and whatever. And I think that's for the most part true. This year, and maybe even since last semester, I've been going through a lot of 'why not me?'

I think I'm going through an identity crisis. Leeds was hard for me in many ways, because (as my friend at 10th Medieval and Magistra can tell you, as they put up with a LOT of whingeing) I was going through major imposter syndrome. Over here, I've never really felt part of any group of medievalists except those I met through blogging and sort of socially. Berks helped with that, and the early medieval dinner a couple of years ago gave me the chance to hang out with a bunch of early medievalist women, but there's a weirdness to being one of the token early people in most circumstances. I'd met a few of the other Carolingianists out there, but since I didn't work with a Carolingian specialist, I never really got included (or the chance to be included) in what seems to be a growing group of us over here. I never did Leeds, so I missed out on that group, too. So at conferences, I tended to hang more with the people I knew through my DV and Legal Historian -- the Late Antique folk and the Anglo-Normanists.

This summer, I've met a lot more people in the field, but still often feel that I don't quite fit in with the Americans, and won't really fit in with the Europeans (including the UK folk) till I get a couple more papers and at least one publication in my field under my belt.

At least, that's how I feel today. Coming home from the Leeds dance, I'd have said otherwise.

I think part of the crisis is the normal part of switching from research mode to teaching mode. One of the things I have yet to learn is how to balance teaching and administration/service duties and writing. Yes, it's hard with a 4-3 load. But people do it. I need to learn how. Unfortunately, part of that is finding the part of me that knows how to make myself a priority in a productive way. It's the part of me that needs to learn how to say 'no'. But one of the things, and I think I alluded to this a bit in my last post about service, is that at places like SLAC, it's very easy to fall into a mentality that sees research as being selfish, and it can -- at least for someone like me -- go the way of getting to the gym: it gets pushed aside because there are umpteen other things that need doing, that no one else seems to be willing to do. So here I am, in my head thinking about research, and writing, and scared to death to even work on my syllabi (and yeah, I need to get those done!) because I worry about getting sucked into teaching and losing the research.

And that's sort of silly. Or at least, it seems silly till I look around me. One of the things that I've noticed about SLACs and even Rural Us is that there can often be a culture of comparison. There's a lot of questioning as to why one person gets one thing and another doesn't. As I said above, I have generally thought it was usually down to people actually deserving things -- and I was perfectly satisfied that I couldn't know everything that all my colleagues did. I've found part of that to be even more true since being department chair, because you find out on a different level that there are things that happen on campuses that most people don't know about, because there are things that can't be spoken about publicly, because laws like FERPA prohibit it -- and yet people have things to deal with.

Also, I've always felt that I had no reason to complain. From my undergrad years on, I have been taken care of. I have had wonderful mentors, and patronage, to some extent. I know I've said before that I never realised how lucky I was, that I was pretty clueless about how much was given to me -- or in come cases that I earned, but basically, it's hard to see just doing what I do naturally as earning things. I do wish sometimes that people had told me, or maybe told me more clearly, that not everybody got the things I was getting, and I might have done better to appreciate them more. But it didn't really occur to me to think I'd done well when I got a big fellowship (or more...). It's weird -- when I didn't get things, I assumed it was because I'd failed in some way, which was only natural. When I was awarded something, I don't think I ever thought once about me deserving it more than anyone else, because it honestly never occurred to me that I was competing with anyone else. Seriously - how clueless was I?? I never really got that particular idea till I was on the job market, but even then, I had a hard time seeing myself as competing against anybody. What -- like I'm going to try to fix the odds against somebody? Nope. I can only do what I do, and try to make myself the best candidate. But you know? I know people who have been hired for jobs I applied for, and honestly? Can't argue with the choices.

So what does all this navel-gazing have to do with identity crises, etc.? I think it has to do with the fact that I'm now in a position where the real luxury commodity is time for research. Just as I'm finding my feet in terms of who I want to be as an academic, I'm in a situation where there's also a shortage of that commodity. I'm not the only one -- nor is SLAC the only place it happens. At least one other friend who has got tenure in the past couple of years has said the same thing -- as soon as one is associate, there are all sorts of new duties for which one is qualified. For the first time in my academic life, I feel that I am competing with colleagues for something. In this case, it's the freedom to have a personal life and to do research and write -- not in that order. Ok, inasmuch as the gym counts as personal, yeah. But I digress slightly.

The competition -- or maybe just competitiveness. On the one hand, it's trying to justify yourself to others. As someone who studies Europe, and especially medieval Europe, I've always had friends and colleagues react to my research trips in a variety of ways, but it's generally a form of, "gee, must be nice to *have* to go to Europe," or "I don't know why you're complaining, you just spent a month in a place I never get to go to," or "How did you manage to pay for that? Must be nice!" Yeah. Well, remember back when you were an undergrad and decided to be an Americanist/other field-ist because you didn't want to learn languages/wanted to make more money? I learned the languages, buried my nose in German historiography, and now work an extra job in the summer to pay for the trip. I earn it, and in exchange, I don't get to take those fun little weekend getaways, or trips to Bali in the summer, or buy a season pass for the local ski lifts. There are trade-offs. But still, sometimes you feel it, the competition. It shows up in other places. There's the weirdness of having colleagues who haven't gone up yet acting as though my success has somehow prevented theirs -- even when they are not yet done with probation. There's the sniping one hears about who has time to do research, and what they aren't doing in order to get their writing done -- they must be cutting corners, right? My guess is that yes, people do cut corners. But not the same ones. Some cut their personal lives, or give up TV, or the gym. And some others really do avoid doing anything they don't have to, or focus on courting the 'right' people.

Honestly, I don't want to be one of those people who are trying to game the system. Even more, I don't want to be seen, or even give reason for people to think, that I'm one of those people. And yet, when I see people who are good at it, there's a part of me that wonders if it's a skill I should learn. Because sometimes, those people seem to have more time, the commodity for which we all compete. So that's part of the identity crisis, too. What if the competition is part of a game I *should* be playing, and just don't know? I have turned into the sort of person who thinks through the internal and external politics of a situation more and more, but the idea of actively trying to work the politics? Do not want.

And yet ...

So yeah. The identity crisis -- no longer just one of whether I'm a teacher, scholar, or goddess of service. Now it's about whether I'm missing out by not wanting to be something I don't respect and pretty much detest in others.

Put that way, it sounds way lamer than it did in my head before I started writing. Carry on, people. Nothing to see here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

it's baaack!

it's baaaack!!

Well, so all of a sudden I realised that I had crunched all of our assessment numbers, but hadn't actually entered them into the computer to be stored forever into our accreditation records. Interesting thing. Turns out the numbers I crunched don't match up to what we say we're tracking. So ... I'm guessing I have one more task to add to my increasing OMG, the semester hasn't started and I haven't worked on the book, I now need to write an article draft by the end of the year, I owe a book review that is so late it may have been forgotten, helping organize a panel for K'zoo and an abstract for Leeds, and syllabi?????


It does not help that I've been going through that 'oh, wait, I am now senior faculty, wth?' thing since I got back.

so yeah, assessment.

Still, one of my goals this year, along with getting to the gym and getting that personal life that Superdean suggested I might want? is to blog a little more thoughtfully, and a little more often. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh, FFS.


Via Bitch PhD, anti-abortion activists aren't calling for violence, they're just hanging out with murderers and supporting the acts after the fact.

And according to TPM, some people are encouraging others to use firearms to fight dangerous health care reforms.


And this shit is being stirred up by people paid to report and comment on news. Instead, they are creating it, and then denying responsibility. I'm looking at you, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Bill O'Reilly, you cowardly assholes.

And btw, Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow? Shame on you for playing a similar, yet non-violent version of the fact-distortion game. You aren't helping. Really.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Charters, did you say?

Charters, did you say?

I've been thinking about my book project, which keeps getting pushed around for things like conference papers and now possibly an abstract for an extended version of my Leeds paper to see if it can be published. In many ways, this project, the paper/article, and the next project are all pretty closely linked, which is a good thing. Even better is that they don't overlap too much, so I won't be covering lots of the same ground over and over, and citing myself ad nauseam.

But I'm having to do a fairly heavy-duty re-think about the projects, largely because a knowledgeable manuscript person offered me tons of advice, but also some very public questions, about why I was wasting my time with an edited collection from the 19th C., and one that has its failings, when the larger cartulary from which this collection and another are drawn. Because, you see, apparently there are now facsimile mss available. And of course this sort of freaks me out, because I'm supposed to be a medievalist and all, and I am now senior faculty (although a junior member of senior faculty!), and I have never dealt with real manuscripts because ... everybody uses this edition. It's been pretty standard for lots of us for a very long time. And I have a sort of contract to work specifically with that bunch of documents. I think that will not be so much of a problem, in that I can add caveats about the documents and their edited version to the final product, and then people can go and check the mss in the cartulary if they choose.

But there is another issue. Much of what I work on depends on witness lists as much as anything else in the charters. I'm not, nor have I ever claimed to be, an expert in charters -- just someone very familiar with this particular collection. And I've done a fair bit of reading in Personennamenkunde and Verfassungs- und Verwaltungsgeschichte, where witness lists are generally used as evidence. If I could (or better, if one of you could) remember, I could even cite a couple of places where I've read that witness lists are important, and that the order that the names appear is also important. Even without that, I'm pretty sure that's something people agree on. But one of the things I didn't know is that witness lists were often added at times and places other than where documents were drawn up. That's awkward. But I'm also not sure how important it is. That is, even if the names were added later, the names were added for a reason, and so we can use the evidence for either what was true, or to show what someone intended, and maybe even what people were thought to have been important to a particular case. And this is one of the cases where going to the original (for values of original) ms and checking to see if the witness list was part of the original document makes a lot of sense.

A second question is whether or not people signed themselves or whether they made a mark next to their names, or whether their names were just listed by the scribe or notary. Again, at this remove, I'm not sure how important it is. I'd have to look at a charter with a witness list made up of signatures to see if they are all in different hands -- but would I be able to tell? Also, is the lack of actual signatures evidence of anything other than local custom and/or a population that may not have written very much? Again, I'm not sure.

My final question is probably the toughest: my colleague claimed that in later versions of many cartularies, and probably mine, the compilers often discarded the witness lists on purpose. This may even have been especially true when the names of women appeared in the witness lists. Hmmm. First, I have a big bunch of charters, many of which have witness lists, and I have no way of knowing whether or not these documents ever had such an element. I think Wendy Davies said in her presentation (or someone at Leeds did) that often donations by people who weren't all that important didn't warren witness lists, because the stakes were pretty low and the power to prove a document was often weighed in favour of the receiving ecclesiastical institution. Now, many of these charters are definitely short and don't have witness lists, and don't list much in the way of donations. So I expect that we can make a reasonable assumption, other things being equal, that the donors were probably not all that important in the world of Carolingian politics.

Here's the real clicker, though. If something doesn't exist in many cases, does the lack of existence prove that documents were deliberately edited to remove the lists, or does it merely prove that there is a probably lack of evidence? And if we know that there is evidence missing, does it negate our ability to use the evidence we *do* have, as long as we use accepted forms of caveats to frame our conclusions? And where do things like notitia, when there are no supporting documents, fit in?

I'm just asking because these seem to be questions that are really important, and yet I am not sure they are so vital that we should all stop using specific source collections just because they are problematic, rather than false.

Oh. this was going to be longer, but I seem to have fallen asleep while writing. Carry on. I'll be back to re-read this and edit later!

PSA -- jobs

PSA: Jobs via H-Net

OMG!! Assistant Prof at GW (not so good now that I'm an associate ...)

This one at Hamilton College ... I applied there about three years ago and didn't even get an interview. Guess their hire didn't work out? Also Assistant Professor

This assistant professorship at Amherst/Mt Holyoak. The dates start at 300, but the text is pretty much weighed towards a Central/High MA person

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Some thoughts on Service

Some Thoughts on Service

As the semester crawls ever nearer, I'm starting to get into the usual panic of not having accomplished enough with my summer and worrying about not being able to get any writing done during the academic year. It would probably not surprise any of you that one of the things that I see as getting in my way is service.

Like many small colleges and universities, SLAC counts service in a big way. Although this is changing, many 'teaching' colleges and universities often used to count service and teaching as important -- or even more important -- than research and scholarly publication. This seems perfectly reasonable to me, to a point. After all, I have colleagues at SLAC, and know people who have taught at similar institutions, not to mention friends at community colleges, who were hired to teach 5-5 loads (that is, 15 lecture/seminar hours a week). Often that includes 2-4 different preps. It's a lot of work. Add to that service, and really there's not time for anything else.

That was then.

Now, faculty are increasingly expected to carry a somewhat balanced load of teaching, research, and service. That is true at all institutions, I think, at least according to my colleagues at research universities. I have a friend who can tell stories of merit increases denied to faculty who didn't do all three things. It's just that at research universities, there are generally larger numbers of faculty to share the work (maybe), and the teaching load is considerably lighter. At any rate, I'm going to try to focus on the smaller institutions, the ones that are in the process of redefining themselves, taking advantage of the glut of PhDs who still want to do research to boost their own prestige as they grow.

What is service? There's service to the profession and service to the university, right? The service that counts most is usually service to the university. But what does that mean? Well, for some of my colleagues, especially the older ones, and the ones at more isolated universities, service includes community service -- establishing strong connections between town and gown. LDW once told me that he was talking to a young colleague who taught at a very small SLAC in the deep South who was allowed to count coaching one of the town's little league teams toward his service. I think that that sort of thing is going by the wayside, although I know that we at SLAC are encouraged to join local service organizations and get on the boards of various non-profits, etc., but it no longer counts towards tenure and promotion... just some sort of nebulous good will. And that works for me.

Then there is service to the profession. For example, I have a couple of colleagues who serve on the editorial boards of journals, another who is the main review editor. I'm on the council of a professional organization. None of us get course release time for these duties, although I think that the people who run major journals do -- in part because they are at research universities that have a system for such things. Anyway, this doesn't count for us as service on our load evaluation, but it does count towards promotion. And it's appreciated by our administrators.

But really for me, service = university governance. I believe strongly in faculty governance. Without faculty participation, faculty governance cannot work. There are lots of things that can get in the way, but that's a basic necessity. Faculty senate committees, task forces, search committees -- they have to be driven by faculty. That's true even in places where the administration regularly overturns or ignores faculty input - and that can and does happen in many places. Still, if faculty don't serve, and serve well, they can't complain if things are taken out of their hands. The problem is, there is a different kind of university service, too. Running institutes, putting on conferences, setting up programs that make the university look good ... these are all important, and they take time, but they can also be self-serving. Say a person gets course releases or even release from all other service to run an institute or conference in their field. No one is denying that it's work, nor that it's good for the university in a very general sense. But the only faculty who receive a direct benefit are the ones directly involved. In many cases, faculty turn their personal hobby horses into a service boondoggle, making sure their service also ties directly into their research. In many ways, I say, "good for them." But not in others.

I have mixed feelings about this sort of service because other faculty end up carrying more of the governance work. That work can impinge upon their own ability to get research done, and thus have a negative impact long-term. There's a certain unfairness in that, I think, although not as much as there is with people who do their best not to do a damned thing. There are those as well, the colleagues who just can't be bothered. Moreover, at all of the institutions where I have worked, and according to many of my colleagues this is true for their institutions as well, big or small, what ends up happening is that a small core of people end up serving over and over again -- and often on a disproportionate number of service assignments at a time. Good department chairs and deans will try to keep people from being overloaded, but even they will start to go to the same people over and over ....

It's a situation that pisses me off for a number of reasons, one of which, I freely admit, is that I am one of the people who often gets chosen or nominated to committees, often by people who are serving on no committees because they are doing 'important work.' More importantly, though, is that I think it breeds resentment among faculty and helps to create situations where talent can be overlooked. Faculty who feel overburdened start to resent the people who seem not to be carrying their own weight. Some of the people who aren't performing service, or who think what they are doing is a valid substitute, feel the resentment and withdraw because they are uncomfortable. Some may even start phoning it in even more than they were before. And, because we always think we know more than we do, we start to respect some of our colleagues less.

It goes beyond losing respect for our colleagues and the ways that that affects our work environment, and perhaps even our students. It also tends to make some of the people carrying the load start to think that they have to be involved in everything, and they voluntarily take on additional service, because after all, nobody else will do it, right? Or because the committee looks interesting or important, they want to be on it because they deserve it to make up for all the crap committee work they already have. Meanwhile, there's still the issue of people who aren't serving. Or those who haven't yet had a chance to serve. And yet, sometimes when members of the former group get put on the right committee, they get sucked in. And they do good work, sometimes becoming the experts on whatever that committee does. But the resentment against them for years of non-participation is hard to get over. The only way to change it is for people to actively point out that Colleague X is really good at thing Y -- which is annoying and patronizing in its own way (and I'm not even going to get into whether or not people get into these messes themselves or deserve the resentment -- it's not productive, and shouldn't be the point). For the latter, the new faculty, especially the really junior people, it's hard not to get sucked into the dynamic when you're just trying to keep afloat with the transition from grad student to faculty member. After all, you want to emulate the people who seem to be 'in' on how the university works.

I haven't got any bright ideas on how to fix these things, by the way. I've only just started to recognize them myself, and then only because I have been thinking about where I want to start to focus my own service work in a very general way, because now that I have tenure (or values thereof), I want to work a little harder at carving a niche for myself, and putting my service talents where they can do the most good. I mentioned this to a friend, specifically pointing to a new project that is very much in line with things I have done in the past, and which is something I've always been interested in. And the friend, already spread thin, and in charge of a couple of fairy large initiatives, said that they really needed to make sure they were also involved in the steering of this project. And I thought, "wait. This is somewhere where I have expertise and you don't. Why exactly do you feel you should be taking a leading role on top of everything else?" And I realised that this is the environment I have seen so often before. And I felt as though my competency were in question, even though I know it wasn't, and that this colleague would consider me a member of the people who shoulder a heavy service load very well. In fact the colleague often comes to me for advice. But it's symptomatic of this whole cycle, and I wonder, if I can feel that way knowing that it's not meant to belittle my skills, how the newbies or the people who are somewhat marginalized (sometimes because of their own inaction) feel.

Like I said, no answers, just some thoughts.