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Teaching or Service?
April 10, 2011 - 10:00pm

I am a full-time instructor. At my institution, this means that I have a heavier teaching load, but it also means that I have no service responsibilities whatsoever; no committees, no advising, no curriculum reform, no administrative duties, nothing. My department allows for me to participate in departmental committees and tries to ensure that we, the instructors, are properly represented, but at the end of the day, we are not required, nor do we receive any credit. In fact, our yearly evaluations are restricted to speaking about our teaching. In other words, even if we have served on committees or performed other “service” duties, it will not be mentioned.

The problem becomes when the lines are less clear. Where does teaching start and service begin? If I am working to, say, help revamp how developmental writing is taught, am I in fact acting as a teacher or an administrator? If I am doing it for myself, then we expect individual teachers to revise their courses, thus making it a part of my responsibilities as a teacher. But, when it crosses over to program-wide changes…

Here is a rock and a hard place where I currently find myself: change is coming, and as an instructor, I can either have the change done to me by those who clearly have the responsibility of service, but often don’t actually teach the courses in question, or I can participate and potentially get sucked into a service role that I will not be rewarded for in any way. Neither option, to me, is particularly appealing.

When we talk about research not being a requirement, there is a clear benefit to both the institution and the individual if the instructor chooses to continue doing research. My institution would seem to understand that link by making available funding to go to conferences, do research over the summer, and other activities. For me, it helps my C.V. and, depending on my research, makes me a better teacher, not to mention a more satisfied employee. For the institution, they receive the prestige of their name appearing in conference programs or publications and happy, “cutting edge” instructors.

Service becomes a much more problematic proposition. Who really benefits from the service the faculty (tenure and non-tenure track) provide? What is the benefit of excluding instructors from the service requirement, and thus the administrative process? For me, the only real benefit is cost; an instructor is paid less than a tenure-track faculty. In some ways, not being required to perform service duties is a gift; more time for teaching, less time in endless meetings. And it is the benefit the university supplies me; we’ll pay you less, but we’ll also expect less from you.


With the ever-increasing number of faculty who are off the tenure-track, the people who are running the university are becoming more and more disconnected from the people actually doing the teaching. As an instructor, I go to departmental meetings if only to have my face seen by the tenure-track and tenured faculty: I am here, I exist. It is all too easy to “forget” that instructors (and adjuncts) make up a large piece of the teaching puzzle when they are never at the meetings or events. We never learn the inner-workings, nor do we have any say. I want to help rework the way we teach developmental writing because I don’t want it done to me; I don’t want to be implicitly told, you’re good enough to teach the classes, but not good enough to have any say on how they are taught.

We are hired by the university because we have the proper credentials and experience. We are approved by our (strict) accrediting board. But because of a decision to save money (among others), we are excluded from the larger process that takes place within the university. There is extra money to be had for those who look to do research, why isn’t there a similar pool of funds to support instructors who are or want to perform more service or administrative duties? What is so sacred about the tenure-track that says those of us who aren’t on it can’t take on official leadership roles?

This is another reason why I am so discouraged about the direction and future of higher education. For an institution that claims to value inclusiveness, it sure goes out of its way to make sure a majority of us receive the message that we aren’t welcome at the grown-up table where the decisions are made, at least not if we want to eat.

Kentucky in the USA

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a PhD from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a regular contributor at University of Venus.


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