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Faculty Service: How do we fulfill our service obligations?

Man touching a service concept on a touch screen with his fingers

Faculty service stands as an important component of academic life, encompassing a broad range of responsibilities vital to the functioning and vitality of academia in general as well as our home  institutions. While teaching and research often take center stage, faculty service is included in most statements of faculty responsibility. Faculty service entails contributions beyond the classroom, laboratory and community engagement, covering various domains that collectively enrich the academic community.

The nature of what is considered faculty service is diverse and dynamic, reflecting the unique needs and priorities of different academic fields and institutions. From committee service to faculty senate participation, engagement with professional organizations, mentoring, departmental administration, and outreach initiatives, the avenues for service are multifaceted. Committee involvement can range from shaping curriculum to hiring decisions, while faculty senate activities involve advocating for institutional policies and representing faculty interests. Engaging with professional organizations may offer opportunities for networking, collaboration, and knowledge exchange and creation within one’s field. Mentoring responsibilities extend support and guidance to students, junior faculty, and colleagues, nurturing their professional growth and development. Administrative roles within departments or academic units contribute to organizational functioning and strategic decision-making. Outreach and extension may include components of service to integrate academic knowledge with broader community decision-making and action for mutual learning and societal impact.

While most faculty positions come with the expectation for service, undertaking that work comes with its share of challenges, including time constraints and the need to balance service commitments with teaching, research, and extension obligations. However, the intrinsic rewards of service are many. Engaging in service activities offers opportunities for professional development, networking, a sense of community, and leadership growth. Moreover, it provides a sense of fulfillment derived from contributing to the collective mission of advancing knowledge and fostering academic excellence.

The nature and expectations of faculty service vary significantly across roles, departments and colleges. While certain fields may prioritize committee work and faculty governance, others may emphasize professional engagement or community outreach. Recognizing these differences is essential for deciding which service opportunities to embrace, as the choices should be tailored to align with personal interests and career goals.

Effectively managing faculty service obligations requires strategic planning and mindful prioritization. A key consideration when evaluating service opportunities is how the service fits with your current career stage.  Early career tenure-line faculty will want to protect their time to focus on promotion and tenure requirements. Setting boundaries, identifying areas of personal interest and expertise, and cultivating collaborative partnerships can help streamline service activities and maximize impact. By approaching service with intentionality and purpose, faculty members can fulfill one of the many requirements of academic life while making meaningful contributions to their academic communities.

Laura Nelson, OFE Faculty Fellow and Associate Dean and Director of Academic Affairs (CVM)

In my faculty career, I found service work to be a great way to both learn how organizations (my department, college, professional organizations, etc.) worked and to contribute to decision-making and change.  Acknowledging the constraints and competing demands of faculty life, service work gave me a real sense of agency and connection.  The opportunities to work outside of my small team introduced me to mentors and friends that I would not otherwise have met.  It also gave me an appreciation for the ways that faculty leadership can positively impact institutions.  

In my role in the CVM, I deeply appreciate the importance of the service work that faculty do as part of committees, working groups, and as advocates for change and innovation.  The engagement of faculty with issues around curriculum and learning in the college—my area of responsibility—has contributed to work that has had a positive impact on our students and on our ability to recruit and retain new faculty. Faculty service makes our community stronger and better. It is also a way that the unique talents and interests of faculty members are made visible to the larger community.  

That said, service work can be very time-consuming—I agree with others in this post that it is wise to consider what service opportunities will contribute most to career or personal goals, particularly in the earlier years of an academic career.  As someone who has been susceptible to this, I strongly recommend not just saying “yes” to the first opportunities that are offered.  Wait twenty-four hours before agreeing to anything, keep career goals handy, and be realistic about the time commitments that these engagements can require. Being choosy with your time is a life skill. 

Diane Chapman, Executive Director & Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Development, Teaching Professor (CED)

As a professional track faculty member, service can easily get confused with the administrative work inherent in many professional track positions. It is important to have discussions with one’s department head as to what will count as service and what is part of one’s primary responsibilities. There is never a lack of service opportunities and this can easily get overwhelming.  My advice is to focus on the service opportunities that align with your other work and with your career goals, be that your scholarship, your teaching, extension work, academic leadership, etc.  The goal is to have your service complement your primary responsibilities as much as possible.  For example, committee work can be time consuming, but if it’s aligned with your primary role, it can actually help you in your career success.  Service work can also help you uncover unknown pathways to career advancement and shine a light on the skills you have to offer. I credit service work with preparing me for academic leadership roles. For example, serving on university standing committees and accepting leadership roles in task forces helped people see what I had to offer, notice my potential for other responsibilities, and provide me with the connections needed to advance in the university.

In the words of Oliver Burkeman, “the core challenge of managing our limited time isn’t about how to get everything done—that’s never going to happen—but how to decide most wisely what not to do, and how to feel at peace about not doing it.” 

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