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06/16/2021

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Senior Assistant Executive Vice President for Philosophical Effectiveness Best Practices

I agree that there's a lot of nonsense in academia but we have to be careful about just ignoring this stuff. Administrative bloat explains a lot of this. There are a lot of surplus administrators in most institutions, especially as you get toward the top of the ladder. These people want to prove their value or necessity and do so by cooking up dumb initiatives and other such busy work for faculty and administrators like the deans who actually have real work to do. Short of firing 80% of the people in every institution with "vice president" or "vice chancellor" or other such nonsense in their title I think the best we can do is just devote as little effort to this stuff as possible.
*But* faculty cannot and should not ignore this stuff. I find that figures like this often count on faculty apathy to ram through some thoroughly wrongheaded and often destructive changes. So keep an ear to the ground. And make a point of getting involved in governance committees like faculty senate or curriculum and instruction committees that have oversight in such things and are plugged in to changes that might be coming down the pike. Faculty really do have the power to stop these or ameliorate the damage they do in a lot of cases. The problem is that in a lot of cases faculty can't be bothered until it's too late.

Evan

Questions: Are these “meaningless” services necessary for tenure? Will not participating in them impede on you getting tenure? If you don’t have tenure yet, then I’d be cautious and muddle through until you get tenure. Also, I’d avoid saying that these services are “meaningless.” Everyone has different interests. Just be respectful of your colleagues interests and services. When you do get tenure, then respectfully tell them you’re not interested in them. Hopefully, they’ll respect you for it.

Pirate Pete

I second Senior's remarks. My former department screwed themselves over and over again because people were too lazy to serve on campus wide committees. They let a New Gen Ed framework get passed that basically made our courses unnecessary. It was a real shame. There was so much sleeping at wheel. I am glad to have jumped ship.

historygrrrl

Personally, I do not care about the trivial crap and endless committee assignments that faculty are supposed to do. I'd rather be left alone to do research.

One very good reason to get involved with the trivial crap is purely political. As Pirate Pete points out, if nobody in your department does so, your department might get screwed over.

My own approach was to take one for the team and become a 'specialist' in assessment. It is boring and usually unhelpful, but I can get through it quickly, and it keeps us on the 'good' list with admin. This means that they leave us alone, which implies less paperwork.

As Marcus mentions, some amount of busywork is common in every job, but hey, the reason they pay me is because nobody would do this crap otherwise. I also learned that complaining is futile. In my experience, when people complain, they just form a new committee and appoint the complainers to lead it.

Michel

I can't imagine very much that's more dull than philosophical work on reasons or powers, but... if that's what floats your boat, you're welcome to it! I think the same applies to the committees and service assignments I don't want to participate in.

I'd be curious to hear what counts as a "meaningless" service assignment, however.

Jakub

This is a topic I've been concerned with a lot. I agree with the most that has been written above. Most of this so-called "service" is a nonsensical crap. There are always people who like to do it instead of doing philosophy. I'm wondering why anybody would prefer administrative work over teaching, reading books, writing papers. Does anybody have any (psychological, sociological...) explanation? Do they like power over other people or just more money??

So, it is not difficult to hand over this work to others. However, there is a downside to this approach. These people focussing on administrative work change - step by step - the whole system to their advantage. In the end, one is forced to engage in this boring stuff.

Don't get me wrong. There is reasonable service - e.g. reviewing papers, organizing conferences and public talks, popularization...

Plato

Jakub
Some of the people get into such work because they are weaker teachers than average in the department. Some because they are weaker researchers than average in the department. So they are looking for a place where they can look good (at least to themselves). But some people do it because provides a way to move UP, to a higher ranking institution - they have a skill that is needed. I did it because I saw a trainwreck happening when faculty sit around and let non-faculty on their campus take over their work. (Think THE REPUBLIC)

Senior (well not really senior anything)

So after a little more thought I'd like to qualify or at least expand what I initially wrote. I think the truly hard thing with service is figuring out what's useful and meaningful and what's not. There is a lot of busy work that's cooked up by administrators to simply prove they exist. That sort of stuff is as I've said before best avoided like the plague. There's work that's cooked up by administrators that's kind of pointless but you need to be aware of because it might bite you if you don't get at least somewhat involved in it. Do as little as possible of that, but don't ignore it. But some committee work and such actually is important. I'm thinking here of faculty senate and various instruction committees. Faculty do have a pretty serious amount of power to shape policy at their institutions through the latter and can often do some good. Faculty senate meetings are deadly dull and I hate them with a passion, but I stay on it because I can already think of at least two occasions where we've bettered college policy. (I seem to remember Marcus writing about some changes their faculty senate had made that helped adjuncts as well). And on a less cynical note administrators do sometimes have promising ideas-- though in my experience it's usually the deans that do-- but then the ideas will get badly implemented because faculty won't do any work to help implement them. It annoys me to no end when faculty can't be bothered to do administrative work when that work is actually important. As historygrrl says it's part of what we're paid for. It's also vital to determining what higher ed will look like. Faculty self-governance being undermined by administrators who want to run academia like a business is one thing. But faculty self-governance eroding because faculty are too lazy or elitist to engage with the nuts and bolts questions about running the institution when they have a say in doing so is inexcusable. Anyway, I'll stop before I stop ranting, but I do think that one thing that might be useful on the Cocoon for new faculty is to say more about how to figure out what service is meaningful and important and what's not. There are some committees that will just flush your time down the toilet to no end, and some of them actually look important. Had one of my colleagues not taken me aside I would have gotten stuck on one of those myself.

Kris

I can chime in here in defense of philosophers emphasizing service over research. I, personally, have found that I enjoy teaching philosophy, but am really not very interested in research. I recently got tenure and I did so with an emphasis on teaching and service. What I do enjoy - and find that I am better at than most academics - is dialoguing between administration and faculty, curriculum design, gathering and reviewing assessment data, and advising students. I recently became director of an interdisciplinary program on campus, and it has been transformative for me. Gone is that nagging sense of research unfinished, or something else I ought to be reading.

People get into philosophy for all kinds of reasons and people change as time passes. I find that while I enjoy the inspiration of philosophy as a way of life, which is what brought me into philosophy in the first place, I am bored with most of the scholarly debates, and have trouble seeing their everyday relevance. I see much more direct impact on the lives of others through the administrative/service work that I do. It is rewarding to me to build a program, make changes at my institution, and lead groups of faculty through a project. I completely understand that many would rather focus on research, but I am so grateful that there are other paths within higher ed. I would MUCH rather be in a meeting than writing a paper.

historygrrrl

@Jakub: I've noticed people at the teaching schools where I've worked get sucked into service/admin in a few ways.

Some colleagues put so much effort into teaching prior to tenure that by the time they get it, they're burned out, but too far removed from research circles to produce high-impact publications. Service is a good way to work toward full professor.

Others have big visions for making the university genuinely better - improving the status of humanities in the institution, getting better jobs for students, reducing equity gaps and retaining students from underrepresented populations, and so on. They get sucked into service, where their big ideas get turned into paperwork.

Then, there are the few that are truly in search of a prestigious title and/or money. Some people like that kind of thing.

Finally, as @Plato points out, some colleagues want to move on to a place with better location, pay, etc. It's easier to do this, post-tenure, on the admin track.

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