Monday, April 19, 2010

If I Have to Stare at One More CV This Year..

This year I somehow I ended up on four (4) committees that review Other Faculty and their research ideas, accomplishments, and/or productivity. This seems excessive to me, but there are at least 2 explanations for this turn of events:

1. The usual reason for senior FSPs: There are so few female full professors in the physical sciences-engineering-math that we get called on quite a lot to serve on certain committees. Sometimes I just say no because I don't have the time (or interest), but sometimes I feel that it is important to say yes. This accounts for one of the committees this year.

2. There is a very nice, competent, hard-working, smart, and generally awesome staff person in charge of organizing some of these committees, and whenever she asks me to serve on a committee, I find that I can't say no. This accounts for 2 of the committees this year.

I have no explanation for the 4th committee, other than I felt that I should do it so that I had a voice in some things about which I would probably otherwise have complained.

I sort of followed my "conservation of committee mass" rule of quitting a committee if I add a new committee. The only one I added without quitting another was the least time-consuming of the four.

In none of these cases, when asked to be on one of these committees (or when I agreed to be nominated for an elected position), did I think "OK, but I really don't want to be on that awful time-wasting committee". I was lucky in that, I guess. I felt that all these committees were in some way worthwhile.

I am pretty sure that I would have said nyet if asked to be a committee that I felt a great reluctance to join because I thought it would be even more boring than most committee assignments or because I didn't think it was a good use of my time. I suppose that is a selfish, but any guilt I might feel is completely assuaged by my awareness of how much time I devote to institutional service.

When asked to be on a committee, do your criteria for accepting vs. declining to be on the committee depend on your prediction of whether you would find the committee interesting and/or a good use of your time, or does your sense of duty and academic citizenship triumph over such selfish concerns?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

As junior faculty, I have never felt that declining was an option.

Here's another reason why you may be tapped for so many committees: you're competent. There's a long tradition among the senior faculty in my department to be so incompetent (or difficult) on committees that no one wants them to serve anymore.

a physicist said...

I've always regarded this as: there are so many different committees, that you get to pick and choose which ones you most want to be on. This works best if you volunteer for a committee that you're interested in, and then when you're asked to be on a boring committee you can honestly point to the one(s) you're already on and say you're too busy.

Of course, interesting committees often involve more work. But that does make it more credible when you turn down boring committees, if everybody knows you're working hard on the interesting committees.

So far I haven't been asked to be on any committee that was too boring, where I felt I had to say yes to be a good citizen.

Professor@State U. said...

Based on my impression of my colleagues, I would guess that "selfish concerns" typically trump "sense of duty".

Beyond the reasons you mentioned, I've seen several colleagues lobby hard to get onto "powerful" committees -- recruiting, tenure & promotion, etc -- in order to have power, say, to torpedo a particular person's tenure case or to hire a particular pet candidate.

I've also seen colleagues who serve on these committees out of a true sense that this makes the department / institution better. They are the exception rather than the rule.

I lie somewhere in between these two extremes. I avoid useless committees, and actively seek out committees where I feel the usefulness/time ratio is high. As you mention, sitting on those committees does involve reading a lot of CVs...

Average Professor said...

My sense of duty dictates that I devote some percent of my effort to committee work, but my sense of interesting/fun/worthwhile dictates which requests I accept.

It's nice to be able to say yes to something interesting and then feel totally okay saying no to something yucky because your plate is full already.

Kevin said...

I serve on committees only if I think that I can add something of value, and that the committee actually can accomplish something. I avoid "advisory" committees whose work is ignored and makework committees.

I willingly serve on curriculum committees (no CVs there, and far more important than whether someone gets a half-step or full-step raise), on faculty search committees, on thesis committees, and so forth.

When deciding which committees to serve on there are four questions to ask:

1) is the committee doing something worth doing? (That eliminates about half the administrative and academic senate committees.)

2) can I contribute meaningfully to the committee?
(That eliminates another half.)

3) do I have the time to commit that the committee requires? (Very few are left)

4) is the efficiency of the committee (work output/effort input) reasonably high? (This is not much of a filter if the first three are met.)

Kim said...

If I'm asked to be on a committee, I tend to accept based on a sense of duty. I volunteer to be committees whose work I think is interesting and/or important. (Since we've all got to be on some committees, volunteering for interesting ones can help me avoid being put on boring ones.)

Anonymous said...

I consider myself a "mid-level" FSP (not yet "senior"), but I already get asked to serve on so many committees, or run for so many elected offices, that I do not have time to do everything. So I pick the assignments where I want to make a contribution, which are usually the same committees where I am truly interested in the subject matter. And the involvement of an effective staff member definitely increases my willingness to serve, particularly if the subject matter is marginally interesting: there are now two staffers at my university (one in my college and another in the provost’s office) whose positive contributions to past committee assignments will now essentially guarantee my willingness to get involved with any future committees they organize.

Anonymous said...

"When asked to be on a committee, do your criteria for accepting vs. declining to be on the committee depend on your prediction of whether you would find the committee interesting and/or a good use of your time, or does your sense of duty and academic citizenship triumph over such selfish concerns?"

Surely you jest!!

The only exception is a useless committee tat only meets occasionally and protects you from other duties (I served on one of these for three years and it was great once I realized I wasn't actually there to give feedback but was just window dressing for faculty involvement. One meeting a month for one hour and monthly face time with the provost.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

Not quite on topic, but, noting a particular word in the text, I have a guess that the language that you often mention (that you are learning) is Russian. In that case I am somewhat surprised at how male-chauvinistic you find that country. I would say that such attitudes (e.g. a man would not speak directly to a woman) would be confined to academia, and only due to presence of extremely old and entrenched characters. Of course Russia is more male-dominated than USA, but outward disrespect for women in very rare.

And if I am wrong, then never mind :)

amy said...

What really gets to me is when I get asked to serve on an important committee, and it later becomes obvious that I was only asked to be on the committee because I'm a woman, and the other members have no interest in hearing my opinion about anything. This happened with a faculty search committee that I put a lot of time into; I ended up not being allowed to ask substantive questions at the interviews, and when the department was making the hiring decision they specifically asked for the other committee members' opinions and then took a quick vote without allowing me to speak. It really pissed me off.

Anonymous said...

On the Russian topic, I know of a Russian guy who was talking to me about marriage (I honestly don't know why but he's the third guy to have initiated that conversation with me..in the past two years and we've only known each other a week!?!) but apparently Russian girls marry young and with me being 21 then and still in academia, albeit still being a student, was considered an old single (He was 20 by the way) and too clever for a woman if I was Russian (his words not mine!). Still, to foreigners he's not too bad (or maybe my threshold's just high??). Maybe that will explain somethings...I don't know. Oh yeah, rural Germans are kind of like that too!! Maybe, not that rural (Bonn)!

Anonymous said...

Jesus H. Christ. Anyone who has seen a James Bond movie knows what nyet means. It means rien.

Doctor Pion said...

My decision is a mix of good use of my time and academic citizenship, but that necessarily means I won't consider something where I know I have nothing to offer or I have learned that my input will be ignored. I once resigned from a committee when it became clear that we weren't advising anyone: the decision had been made and our meetings were mere cover for that fact.

But I really have to praise the attitude that you sometimes decide to serve "so that I had a voice in some things about which I would probably otherwise have complained". Way too many faculty do the exact opposite, spending more time complaining than it would take to serve and get it done right.