Tuesday, February 07, 2012

At the Chronicle: Good Deeds That Are Most Punished, Part 1

David Perlmutter's article "Good Deeds That Are Most Punished, Part 1" over at the Chronicle will have, I suspect, more parts than the History Channel's endless repetitions of the multipart series The World at War. (Maybe it only seems as though listening to Lawrence Olivier's narration of the series takes more time to watch than the war itself.)

Back to Perlmutter. Here's a taste:
What if everyone just looked out for No. 1? The entire promotion-and-tenure system—which depends on altruistic volunteerism—would collapse. Nevertheless, there are many situations where taking too much time, trying too hard to do good, or doing good for the wrong reasons or for the wrong person can lead to career trouble, or worse.
Absolutely true. Spending lavish amounts of time on teaching is a good way not to get tenured, or, if you're tenured, not promoted.

"Good deeds most punished" goes for service, too. If you're organized and at all good at service, like Dr. Crazy, your reward is . . . MORE service heaped on you, which makes less time for research. If you're disorganized, not terribly present, or just difficult to work with, your punishment is . . . LESS service and more time to write.*

Come promotion time, guess who gets rewarded? The one who served on committees, compiled assessment data, wrote reports, killed a writing day to watch someone's presentation, and organized and ran meetings? Or the "no service, no thanks" faculty member who did none of these things and spent the time on research?

I'll bet that took a long time to figure out.

I'm thinking back to profgrrrl's great advice earlier this year: she said that, just we're advised to do on airplanes, we should put on our own oxygen masks first before assisting others. If you don't take care of what matters to you first, whether in scholarship or in your personal life, the rest of your time is going to be eaten up by others' priorities, and nobody is well served in that way.

It's worth remembering, even on 12-hour days when the first minute you have to think about your own work may be during the 13th hour.

*My colleagues aren't like this, but still.


heu mihi said...

I think you're right on, but I must add that there's some institutional specificity here. Spending hours on teaching and being a good colleague (in the service/active on campus sense) is decidedly more important at my institution than having a stellar publishing record; certainly you won't get tenure if you DON'T teach well and engage in service or the life of the College. But we have plenty of tenured faculty who have never had an active research agenda.

However, there's a point of diminishing returns; e.g. serving on four committees won't get you any more tenured than serving on one or two. So the point stands, even with my qualification. (And you need some publications to get promoted to full, at any rate, though not a whole lot of them.)

undine said...

heu mihi, you're right: this does vary by institution. The law of diminishing returns definitely applies: being on four committees is not better than being on two. I'm not sure whether chairing a committee, with all the extra work, makes more of a service dent at the higher admin review levels, but it ought to.

Z said...

I've been told teaching was dangerous to spend time on since before I was weaned, and I am terrified to teach for this reason. I feel nervous and guilty about it; I envision the limbs I will have chopped off and thrown in the fire if it is discovered I made a handout for the students or anything like this. I am not exaggerating.

I guess some people are able to spend too much time teaching, but I never could - first, I was a graduate student and had classes and exams and a dissertation, so I only had a certain amount of time to spend on teaching, and then later I was a professor, so I had several classes and other responsibilities so still could only spend a certain amount of time on teaching.

I think most people have this situation. Why is it that we're constantly told to cut more and more corners on teaching?