Archive for April 7, 2010

Rewarding according to our traditional values

My colleague, Beki Grinter, recently wrote a blog post about a journal article that studied male and female faculty time allocations, with a special focus on service.

Focusing specifically on untenured faculty, we find that male assistant professors work slightly less, on average, than female assistant professors, but these same males spend almost three more hours a week on research than their female counterparts. If this average difference is maintained for 50 weeks each year, after 6 years as an assistant professor, the average male will have spent 900 more hours on research than the average female. This difference may have an appreciable effect on the likelihood of receiving tenure…

I wonder, frankly, whether service loads is part of the problem. The paper goes on to show that the work gap described above is commonly filled by time spent on service activities.

via Service in the Academy: Broadening Participation by Reconfiguring Participation? « Beki’s Blog (there’s an original name).

Beki suggests that we in academia should explore re-balancing service loads, so that men and women have similar levels of service.  I’m less keen on that solution.  Assigning service to a tenured faculty member ducking service will most likely lead to the service not getting completed.  People who are good at service tend to take on a good bit of it.  That’s a form of servant leadership that leads to success for organizations and communities.

I would rather see the academy reward according to its traditional values (the values for which it was created), not its visible values.  Visibly, we are still Universities in the Age of Enlightenment, valuing discovery beyond all else.  As early as 1900, scholars called for a different role for universities:

“however essential the scientific and scholarly work of universities, they must never lose sight of the fact that they are also, and above all, educational institutions…This is also the best way to demonstrate clearly their utility to the mass of the population. For if the ordinary people have constant dealings with universities, they will not even dream of asking themselves what purpose they serve and whether they are not a sort of luxury with which, if necessary, it is possible to dispense.”

Universities, especially American Universities, were created to be populist institutions, serving a ‘wider social mission’ (continuing to quote from the Robert David Anderson book linked above). “Professors should use their freedom to spread knowledge and make it an everyday thing rather than a mystery for privileged initiates.”  The 1862 Land-Grant Act aimed “to encourage states to build universities that would be open and affordable to the general public, not just the privileged elite.” By the way, MIT was created as land-grant universities, with this goal in mind.  Georgia Tech was not a land grant university, but was created in order to emphasize “theory and practice,” in contrast to the MIT model which was perceived to be too theory-heavy.

If this is why American universities were created — to teach the general public (not just the elites) and to serve a wider social mission — then that’s what tenure and promotion should be based on.  Teaching and service are our “traditional” values. We should reward strong service and teaching records.  And if we did, maybe some of that service would get re-balanced by itself.

April 7, 2010 at 10:30 am 11 comments

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