Alt-Academics and Committee Work

Why we want to serve on committees, task forces, working groups, and search committees.

April 13, 2017

As a sociologist, the research findings that women bear a disproportionate load of the campus internal service (committee) work strikes me as well-aligned with overwhelming body of research on gender roles in the workplace. (Including the academic workplace).

As a partner to female faculty member, my N of 1 conclusions are that the research conforms with my personal observations.

The discussion around Relying on Women, Not Rewarding Them has been - well it has been intense. (Over 100 comments as I write now). I’m not sure I have any additional insights to contribute to that particular conversation.

My question to you is about internal service / committee work for alt-academics. Could alt-academics be one possible solution for the need to take care of the academic family?

Let me explain my thinking. Then you can tell me where I’m wrong.

The idea is that us alt-academic - folks like me who are in non-faculty educational, research, and institutional roles - actually like and want to do internal service work.

Let me say that again. We want to serve on campus committees.  

Why? Because our careers are less determined by external disciplinary recognition (although that is changing), and more by internal institutional contributions.

Effectiveness on a university campus is all about developing and nurturing a network. As alternative academics, the quality of our institutional relationship will determine we succeed or fail in contributing to the mission of centers, departments, institutes, organizations and schools.

The reason that we seek out internal service work is that it is through committees, task-forces, working groups, and search committees that we form these campus relationships.

Getting a seat at the table alongside our faculty colleagues, as collaborators and partners as opposed to occupying a support role, is a goal that we alternative academics always hope to achieve.

But what about faculty governance?

Isn’t one of the reasons to have faculty serve on committees is to operationalize the principals of faculty governance?

Yes. Definitely. I think so.  

But keep in mind that alternative academics share the values and cultural orientations of traditional faculty. Many of us come to our alt-ac roles having been trained in an academic discipline.  We see ourselves as educators and knowledge creators - contributing to academia through our non-faculty roles.

My hope is that faculty see non-faculty educators as not only peers - but champions of faculty autonomy, status, and security.

The odd thing about occupying an alt-ac role is that we don’t see ourselves as administrators.  We see ourselves as educators, and we think the people who we have the most in common with our tenure, tenure-track, and contingent faculty colleagues.

This suggestion to place alt-academics in roles of ’taking care of the academic family’ does nothing to address the problem that Guarino and Borden identify in their research. Creating space for alternative academics on committees does not balance out the structural bias inherent in unequal gendered work roles.

What I hope is that this idea will perhaps offer one (admittedly partial) solution to the ongoing challenge having too much campus work to be done with too few people to do it.

Are you an alternative academic? What do you do?

What has been your experience with campus service work?

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Joshua Kim

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