Beki Grinter

The Service Gap

In academia, academic management, women on January 14, 2011 at 10:13 am

On January the 11th, the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) released the results of a new study of Associate Professors. A study that reports that women are still taking on far more service than men, often out of guilt that if they do not do it it will not get done. As a female Associate Professor, I find this troubling.

There is some good news.

Compared with earlier cohorts, women are earning more doctorates, taking more academic jobs, and earning tenure more frequently.

Yay. We are making important and healthy progress on a more balanced academic workforce. A former Dean of the College of Computing Richard DeMillo likes to quote a colleague of mine, Professor (yes that’s FULL Professor) Elizabeth Mynatt, who told him that if he wanted increased people diversity in the College he should increase the intellectual diversity.

Whether or not you agree with that assertion (FWIW: I happen to subscribe to it) this report raises the important question of retaining that diversity. It’s discouraging to learn that still three quarters of all Full Professors in the U.S. are men. Where did all the women go? That, of course, has been the subject of other reports (and others here including a fabulous multi-institution time report), suggesting that women leave academia in far greater numbers than men. Some of it is attributed to external service, no I don’t mean serving on Program Committees, I mean housework!

It’s also discouraging to learn that Doctoral granting Institutions have the longest gap between the time for men to get promoted to Full and the time for women to get the same promotion. The report cites ambiguity in the promotion criteria as part of the problem (in combination with service loads). I certainly have some experience. I came to my current position as an untenured Associate Professor, and I remained in that category for just over five years. Typically tenure accompanies a promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. Some Universities decouple tenure and promotion, but the gap between one and the other does not last five years. Towards the end of the five years, I felt that the gap presented problems. While the lack of tenure (and its promotion criteria) drove me in one direction, being an Associate Professor and the promotion to Full increasingly demanded different behaviour. I was once told that the criteria for promotion to Full were to act like a Full Professor. In my case that would have been one without tenure. I still think that’s an absurd and unhelpful statement.

Recently, we went through a process of identifying and assessing the service that we do. We were asked to enumerate it and come up with a metric of how much time each activity took. There’s a lot of service work, and it was good to make it explicit so we could see what their was to get done and who was going to do it. I hope that activities like this will begin to balance workload, and I hope that in turn will lead to the more timely promotion of female Associate Professors.

This report encourages me to decline service, to remind and encourage graduate students to think about service balance, and most of all to continue to push for change through the example that I will try to be.

  1. Hey Beki,

    Could you clarify your remarks in the antepenultimate paragraph about the tenure process. I thought that the tenure clock at Tech was seven years. Wouldn’t getting tenure at year five be about right if one is hired in at the Associate level (more experience therefore shorter clock)? Are there general rules of thumb about how the tenure process works if you go into academia after years in industrial research vs. going straight into academia after completing the PhD? Also, are there general rules about the time it takes for promotion from Associate to Full professor? Is that promotion process similar to the tenure process? How does that process work? I guess I’ve never heard or seen discussion of academic promotion outside of the standard tenure process. Any comments or thoughts would be appreciated.

    • Hi,

      I think the normal clock is six years from Assistant, and I got a shorter clock because of my eight years post-graduate school, which translated into one year off. I’m not sure what the math for counting years of experience post graduate school is. And of course I was in industrial research. Also, when does my clock for Full begin? Immediately on becoming an Associate Professor or after tenure (isn’t the latter considered to provide some of the protection in order to encourage the types of risk required to become a Full Professor?).

      You ask great questions about whether there is a timeline from Associate to Full. To my knowledge, some Universities, do have a clearly defined process, using steps within rank to communicate to the person in the process where they are. Others are more ambiguous. Given that I’ll let you deduce where Georgia Tech is.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by James Landay, Nitya N. Nitya N said: Very interesting read on ambiguity in definition and impact of 'service' on tenure RT @beki70: The Service Gap: […]

  3. Beki,

    If you had it to do over again, would you have taken Assistant Professor without tenure or Associate Professor without tenure? Thanks.


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