Service and the Untenured Professor

Feb 10 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Service ranks even lower than teaching on the MRU scale of goodness and Things To Do For Tenure. Service tends to be tolerated as a criterion, but wink,wink, nod, nod, we don't take it too seriously.

Of course women, people of color, and most assuredly women of color get asked a lot more "to just do this little thing" than white men by administrators who need to point to their commitment to diversity. "See! Look!  every single one of our committees has a brown  face on it".

At my new MRU, they take service a bit more seriously. The med school is small, very small, incredibly small compared to my old MRU.  Everyone has to do something or things wouldn't get done. Not the make work things, but the things that have happen for science - like  IRB and IACUC and radiation safety.

One of the things my current department chair (may he have a long, healthy life and continue to if not enjoy, at least tolerate, being chair for another five years) sees as his role is to find service for people, both old and young, that is age-appropriate, and something they might care about, and thus find not quite so onerous. This to me is leadership - he knows that the good scientists hate admin meetings and hate service but things need to work, and requirements for tenure need to be satisfied. He makes sure that there is something for them, something to which the dept tenure committee will say "check" and the university tenure committee (that makes the hard decisions) will find just right - not too much, not too little time. He is one of the best chairs I've ever seen, in part, because he wants the junior faculty to get tenure, he wants the faculty to succeed and he will do what he can not just to support them but to protect them as appropriate.

He and I agree that for junior faculty the regulatory committees such as IRB and IACUC are good things. They are rule-bound, so no hard decisions, no chance to lose sleep over stuff. They are relatively self-contained in that the work can take place mostly during the meeting, and there is not a lot of out-meeting stuff. They are also very important to scientist-faculty as They Must Happen for continued goodness of life (but don't get me started on regulation stuff). Finally, everyone (as in tenure decision making everyones) knows that they are a time commitment and that the junior person has Done Work for the University.

Anyway to make a long story even longer, when I came to almost-MRU the chair said to me: what do you want to do and what don't you want to do. I  said work with junior faculty is good, and anything that involves curriculum development for medical students is not so good. I had nearly the same conversation with The Dean of the Medical School, who is actually a kinda nice guy and not too slick. I talked with him about setting up a women's council for faculty, something that had been variably effective at other unis I've seen, but with potential.

I've been here, at almost-MRU, for a while now. The Women's Initiative Network (WIN, get it?, and needless to say not my choice of name, but that's what writers call dramatic foreshadowing) is off the ground, has a budget and is now dominated by administrators. They are faculty, yes, but not tenure track. Whether these strong, intelligent and hardworking women are part of MRU's academic mission is a function of how you define academic mission. Some are women of color, and they have survived more prejudice, condescension, and general horribleness to get where they are than I have, and they are a lot younger than me. I respect them, but their degrees are in education and English and business. They are not tenure track and spend their days in meetings and in Organizing Things. I think I would slit my throat before I did their jobs.

But this incarnation of a women's group isn't to help junior women get tenure and navigate the treacherous waters of being an academic while female. They have become a group to "build networks" and "reach out to the community" and do things that I am not sure help one get tenure, let alone things that a young scientist would chose. Or should chose. These are not limited and circumscribed tasks: organizing a women's community healthy heart event. If one wants to be a community organizer (a worthwhile endeavor), one needs to square this with the largely incompatible task of becoming a tenured research faculty at an MRU.

I have listened carefully to the female ast profs I mentor, and it seems they are more outspoken about this than me (you go Millennials). The most succinct comment was "fuck that shit, I want a grant writing workshop".

So last week I spoke with the Dean, and today I meet with the woman in charge of faculty development (one of the aforementioned strong women). They've become Hadassah, or Jam and Jerusalem, or the Ladies Chamber of Commerce. Part time clinical faculty have time and energy for this. Women on the path to tenure don't.

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