A Preview of the Luncheon, Sort Of

3 April 2016 by Lisa Meloncon

service-softwareSo next week is the annual ATTW Conference, which immediately precedes or overlaps depending on your perspective) the annual CCCC convention. This year will be our fourth luncheon, and we’re looking forward to gathering together again.

The area that the luncheon will focus on is the third part of the tripartite division on which the vast majority of us are evaluated: service. A consistent theme in the data that we’ve gathered from all the participants at our events is that service is the squishiest of the areas in which we are evaluated and the area in which you wish you had more clarity. While I don’t want to spoil the activity at the luncheon, I do want to talk a little bit about being strategic in your service roles.

I have often used this term strategic when talking about this job because it’s important to plan in actionable and concrete ways. For me that’s what strategic means. Previously, I’ve written about how to say no and yes, and but I recognize that when it comes to service it’s so much harder to figure out what to do because it involves more direct interaction with people and politics.

(from McGill University, University Services page)

What makes service so squishy is that it is hard to determine exactly what it is. As we continue to work on the RPT project, I can tell you that preliminary results have this defined in more ambiguous ways than the other two areas (teaching and research). While faculty service is required by all institutions and is a vital part of our jobs and the institution’s mission, it does become problematic trying to figure it out.

Some locations make it clear. For example, here is an excerpt from a SLAC:

  • Service to the profession includes: administration of scholarly conference; reviewing books and articles for presses and journals; and involvement or leadership in professional organizations
  • University: sitting on standing or ad hoc committees; faculty senate; part of a university wide program (like service learning); recruiting, peer mentoring; major advising
  • Department: working on program issues; tasks assigned by chair; peer committees; attend departmental events
  • Community: must be related to expertise

So that list gives a pretty good, concrete idea of what service is. Here is another from an R2 research school:

University service includes participating in departmental, college or school, and University governance and committee work, assisting in the recruitment of new faculty, and developing and assisting in the implementation of new academic programs. Faculty should note particularly distinctive contributions to University life on the part of the candidate, including service to the candidate’s profession, such as offices held and committee assignments performed for professional associations and learned societies; and editorships and the refereeing of manuscripts.

While not as specific as the previous example, it does give some indication of what “counts” for service. (And this document has a separate section for outreach, which would be the equivalent to the “community” in the first example.)

In short, almost universally, service is typically divided into four categories

  • Departmental
  • Institutional
  • Community
  • National/Professional


I includ Professor Snarky’s unflattering tweet about service because I think many of us see service in these terms, as being meaningless and the implied, time wasters. It is true that not every meeting is productive. It is true that we have too many meetings that are too long. It is true that some of the documents we are asked to write are somewhat meaningless and few people will read them. But, that’s true in any organization.

Service can be meaningful and can result in direct changes that can improve your program or a program on campus or make a national impact. While I have few definitive answers and still struggle at times with this myself, I have figured a few things out.

You cannot let it consume your life. If you’re looking at your week and the majority of what’s blocked off are committee meetings and work time for those meetings, then it may be time to look at your commitments to figure out if you need to be doing all of them.

You cannot let it become a immediate gratification fix—something’s checked off the list, you can see the result, often brings satisfaction, others are thankful and tell you so. These are all good things, but if you are not tenured these are dangerous habits. If you are tenured, I encourage to examine what your priorities are and if an over abundance of service is where you want to spend your time. You may answer yes. (or you may answer no.)

You have to do service in your department. This is key to collegiality and key to a successful program (if you have one). But I would encourage you to limit your service tasks within the department to the essentials and to also find a service task at the university level.

You need to find a compelling university level service. This is a great way to build up connections for your courses or program and can give you the opportunity to meet lots of different folks from across campus. I have served on the advisory board for our successful service-learning component for almost the whole time I have been at UC. We’ve done lots of important work, highly visible work, AND it intersects with my own commitment to community-engaged scholarship and teaching.

You need to find discrete, national level opportunities. Having been fortunate enough to serve in some capacity in most of the field’s national organizations, I can tell you that they all need good volunteers. And most have a variety of things to choose from and/or will let you create your path. All you have to do is reach out. Heck, email me, I’ll find you the person you need to talk to and help you think through what you want to do and it can relate to the point in your career.

Be thoughtful when choosing community projects. We all have causes that are dear to us and that we are impassioned about. But, community service (all shapes and sizes) is usually time intensive to do right and to be fair to those in the community. Remember that opportunities will come around again so it’s not always necessary to jump at the first ones that pop up. Truly. Opportunities do come back around. So always be thoughtful about the time commitment to the project versus the time available in your life.

Professor Snarky is right and wrong about service. Start with your internal documents and how those things define service. Talk to trusted mentors. Think through the ramifications of decision in terms of politics (I wish I didn’t have to write that!). Then say, yes, to opportunities that match something that you want to do. Finally, be patient on those days when Professor Snarky is right and it all seems so meaningless. That’ll pass (and then come back and pass again,….)

I can tell you that I’ve been enormously thankful for many of the opportunities that I’ve had locally and nationally. Yes, some of them take up a whole lot of time—sometimes more than they need to or more than I want them to. But, I can honestly say I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made. And that is a total win.

For those going to ATTW/CCCCs, I wish you safe and uneventful travels.

I look forward to catching up with y’all!


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