By and large, service is often the least-emphasized aspect of a tenure portfolio.
When Michael Harris, Ed.D., author of How to Get Tenure: Strategies for Successfully Navigating the Process, talked with career faculty about their advice regarding service requirement for tenure, the standard line he received was “Don’t do it” or “Don’t do too much.”
But service has benefits beyond just fulfilling a tenure requirement. Done correctly, it can foster personal and professional growth, networking, and new experiences.
“What I say to faculty is, instead of ‘just say no,’ look for opportunities of service that can leverage your teaching and research,” said Harris, associate professor of higher education and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Here are three points to consider before accepting a service assignment:
Does it tie in with your interests? Brooke Elliott, Ph.D., department head and EY Professor of Accountancy at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill., said she thinks very carefully about service assignments for each faculty member and tries to align them with each person’s research and teaching, so they are synergistic.
“I always try to get to know my faculty well and ensure they know their responsibilities are aligned toward a single mission,” said Elliott. “Any time you are passionate about what you are doing, whether it’s research, teaching, or the service you’re being asked to undertake, the happier you’re going to be and the less you’re going to think about it as an obligation.”
If you aren’t offered any service opportunities that align with your teaching or research goals, you might consider asking for them, or even creating them.
“Higher education can’t operate without service,” Harris said, so reach out to administrators and let them know about the types of service that interest you. “Often,” he said, “people won’t turn down the help.”
He added that you don’t have to jump in and immediately serve on an editorial board or a big national committee; you can start smaller. Small roles often lead to larger ones, he noted, as they introduce you to wider circles of people.
Can it help you make connections? The best kinds of service will help you build up your research network, find co-authors, and get your name out there in your field.
For instance, reviewing for a top journal or working for a professional association are excellent opportunities for service, Harris said, “because they leverage your research expertise. You can make connections with others in your field, and if you are working for a journal, you can see what articles are getting reviewed and what reviewers are looking for, which could improve your research.”
Another good opportunity is putting on a workshop series where you invite faculty from other schools to present their work, said Daniel Beneish, Ph.D., an accounting professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. It’s a way “to get in touch with more senior people from different institutions, so they can start a conversation,” he said.
A potential benefit of university-level service is the opportunity to work with various administrators and gain a better understanding of how the university functions, said Brandis Phillips, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C. As part of his service requirement, Phillips sat on the Tuition and Fees Committee, which approves tuition increases for all students and fee increases in certain areas.
“I was able to meet most of the high-level administrators of the university, including the athletic director, CFO, director of housing, treasurer, director of food service, and the head of academic affairs,” Phillips said. “All of those people were in the meetings, so in getting to know them, I got to know how the university really works, so that’s pretty valuable.”
Will it be too much of a burden? Although service can be rewarding, you can come to resent it if it takes up an inordinate amount of your time. Consider the time commitment carefully before joining a committee that meets frequently.
Most faculty have a natural inclination to want to please their dean, department chair, and senior faculty, and it can be difficult to tell them no. If you need to decline, Harris suggested letting your mentors and other advisers be the bad guy.
“If your dean approaches you about doing service, don’t feel the need to say yes or no on the spot,” Harris said. “Instead, go back and talk to your department chair or mentor about the opportunity, and then you can go back and say, ‘I’ve talked about this with my chair, and given my other commitment, she’s recommending this may not be a good opportunity for me right now.’ I think sometimes we’re too quick to say yes without pausing and thinking about what else is on our plate.”
A note on equity: Considerable research reveals a disparity of service by race and gender in higher education. Data from the 2014 Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, a web-based national survey of 19,000 faculty members at 143 institutions, found that women, on average, took on 1.5 more service activities per year than men and performed 30 more minutes of service per week.
“To put it bluntly, faculty of color and women faculty get asked to do more service, and that’s across the board,” Harris said. Having too many service responsibilities can “complicate the work of pre-tenure faculty,” he noted. It’s something to keep in mind if your role involves asking others to take on service responsibilities.
Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.