Faculty Service and Workload Equity in CAHSS

May 27, 2021

Photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels

By Ingrid Tague, Associate Dean, CAHSS; and Keith Ward, Director, Lamont School of Music

For an institution to move forward, its members need to step beyond a transactional relationship to the university. There is a unique balance between the university serving us and our serving the university. The latter speaks to a shared purpose of supporting our academic home through service.

Service is part of building a culture of stewardship. It is the glue that holds us together as an institution and as a community. It contributes to creating a greater good, bringing us out of our silos to sustain something bigger than ourselves. Our challenge is to devise ways to approach service equitably.

There is no magic formula to assure service assignments will always be equitable. Career trajectory, type of faculty appointment, academic rank, and other factors play roles. Additionally, not all service is the same. Serving on a search committee, for example, is different from serving on an awards committee that requires less time or whose work is less complex. Chairing a committee, compared to serving on one, also carries a different level of involvement.

Across the College, faculty have been engaging in conversations about how to consider equity in service, conversations that have gained new urgency because of COVID, and new direction thanks to recent visits from KerryAnn O’Meara and her colleagues (view video recording). Working with the CAHSS DEI faculty director and ODEI faculty fellow, Ingrid organized an extended discussion of these issues at a recent chairs and directors meeting. The dean’s office is also working to make information about elected service positions more transparent—both the workload involved in these roles and who is filling them—through our Portfolio site.

Given that most faculty work in CAHSS is organized at the department level, and given that the recognition of service begins through the chair’s annual review of faculty, chairs and directors have a particularly critical role in supporting service equity (something the dean brings up during his annual orientations for new chairs). CAHSS chairs and directors have been taking a variety of creative approaches to foster equity; one example is Keith’s dashboard for service in the Lamont School of Music.

The dashboard Keith uses in Lamont attempts to quantify types of service in ways that seek fairer, more equitable service participation. Using a holistic approach, it weighs different types of service, while also accounting for both departmental and university service. When making assignments, Keith is mindful to avoid the tendency for women and faculty from underrepresented populations to perform more service, and he tries to prevent pre-tenure faculty from taking on heavy service assignments. Keith has shared his dashboard with other chairs, who have adapted it to their specific contexts.

While the dashboard contributes to a healthier balance, there are challenges. How can we account for a colleague who, in a particular year, carries more water than others? How deeply can we engineer service assignments? Circumstances, needs, personal choices, and interpersonal issues can play a role. Should there be a systems-approach to account for informal service work? As the year progresses, the balances achieved in September’s assignments do not hold across the board for a variety of reasons; needs arise or evolve.

These and other issues mean the dashboard is not perfect, but we should not let “perfect” be the enemy of the good. The dashboard provides a framing instrument that pushes us closer to equitable participation.

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