Because of a situation that came up recently, I've been thinking about the difference between service and servitude in academe. We all perform service for our departments or institutions, and we're supposed to pitch in with the service needs of the profession at large (chairing and organizing panels, serving on committees, and so on).
Service to the profession at large is more complicated, however, because you're not reporting to an academic hierarchy (chair/dean/etc.) and you're all on the same level ground, meeting as professionals in the field.
In this situation, it's service when there's a collaborative effort involved and everyone pitches in: "You do X and I'll do Y, and then we'll get together with the result." In this case, you say "yes" and get on with it.
It smacks of servitude, though, when one person tries to get others to do the work: "You're so organized; can you contact these 200 people and find out X?" or "You're so good with computers; can you look up this information and get it back to me?" or "I'm so busy right now with some writing; can you do X for me?" In these cases, the polite answer would be "No." The impolite answer would be "You may be busy or inept, but that's not my problem. Do your own work."
But some people seem to have difficulty in separating service from servitude. Let's keep this hypothetical: say a Beloved Senior Scholar (BSS) contacts you about a scholarly project that you've worked on successfully but that he is now taking over. You're at a peer institution and have been a professional on your own for some years. Yet when you've worked with BSS before, you had to deflect suggestions like this: "Why don't you go through the MLA Directory and see if all the institutional affiliations for our membership lists are correct?" or "I'm really busy with a writing project right now, but why don't you contact all the people who have published on this subject in the last five years and ask them if they would like to join our organization?" To this, you suggested that you were yourself very busy with a writing project and that he should hire a research assistant to do those tasks or do them himself. You also extricated yourself from the professional partnership as soon as possible.
BSS, it seems to me, confuses service and servitude. I don't know whether it's a generational thing or a gender issue, or maybe both. If it's a generational thing, it may be complicated by the idea that incompetence at and disdain for understanding machinery (i.e., computers) was a status marker of a Deep Thinker in the Liberal Arts back in the day. If it's a gender thing, well, maybe the traces of the "wives are there to type our papers" school of thought are coming out in these suggestions. Or maybe he's just one of the many academics who have a hard time seeing beyond their own research interests and recognizing that other people have their own necessary work to do. All I know is that when I hear from BSS, I start thinking of graceful ways to say no and stay calm before I even hear the question.
Do you know people like this who confuse service with servitude? What have you said to them?