Disparate Institutional Service Workloads- Recognizing and Addressing the Problem

Faculty Governance and Academic Freedom Requires Committee Work

“Because faculty self-governance is integral to the effective functioning of law schools, and because that self-governance requires productive committees, the “reward” for efficient and strong faculty service work performance is often more service work. The opposite is also true. Faculty members who demonstrate lack of competence or responsibility when engaging in committee work are not called upon to serve.”

This quote comes from Addressing Social Loafing on Faculty Committees, an article Professor Mary Lynch and I recently published in the Journal of Legal Education.  The article identifies an institutional equity problem with significant career consequences.

Some Colleagues Do the Work While Others Reap the Rewards

As we note, “Socially responsible faculty members who fully engage in committee work help sustain a robust system of faculty governance. However, they do so at the expense of time available for their own scholarly pursuits. By ensuring the work gets done, they also provide some colleagues the freedom to disengage and focus on individual career-enhancing scholarly endeavors with no penalty and potentially significant individual rewards. This can create significant institutional inequities.”

The time spent on legal scholarship frequently  results in significant rewards.  Merit raises often depend largely upon scholarly productivity.  Prolific scholars get speaking invitations and enhance their national reputations, leading to potential additional job prospects.  Productive scholars also often get course releases, and some are light-loaded on committee work.  These workload releases allow faculty members the opportunity  to enhance their scholarly productivity and continue the cycle of rewards based upon that scholarship.

These benefits seldom inure to those who engage in the institution-sustaining work necessary to support faculty governance and the academic freedoms it protects.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Stellar committee work performance often results in additional committee work assignments, thus cutting ever more deeply into time available for scholarship.

Women Faculty Shoulder A Disproportionate Share of “Institutional Housework”

Institutional inequities when it comes to allocation of committee work and other internal service activities also raise potential gender equality issues.  Although many men do more than their fair share of committee work, multiple studies have found that that the lion’s share of what some have dubbed “institutional housework” falls on women faculty members’ shoulders.

For example, one study found that although both male and female undergraduate associate professors averaged a sixty-four-hour work week, institutional service work and other institutional commitments resulted in the women professors having 220 fewer hours than their male counterparts to devote to scholarly endeavors during the academic year.   Another study  found women undergraduate faculty at all levels of their career, and across disciplines, on average, spent more time on internal service work than their male counterparts.

I don’t know of any formal studies focused on legal education.  However, over ten years ago, Nancy Levit gathered anecdotal evidence suggesting that law schools are not strangers to “institutional housework” gender equity issues.  And, those equity issues may be on the rise.  At many schools, committee workloads have increased due to rapidly changing legal education models.  Some schools also have seen a reduction in faculty.  Thus many schools now look to clinical and legal writing faculty to take on significant committee work responsibilities. This inclusiveness in faculty governance is important.  However, clinical and legal writing faculty members are disproportionately women.  Asking these faculty members to shoulder a growing share of the institutional housework means they have less time to spend on the external work and scholarship upon which their promotions, and their academic reputations, often hinge.

Proposed Solutions

Disparate workloads often are not about who is assigned to particular committees, but rather they exist in context of who actually does the committee’s work.  In Addressing Social Loafing on Faculty Committees, we explore some of the potential reasons for internal committee workload disparities and propose some solutions.  For example, we suggest using “committee work contribution evaluations to highlight communal responsibilities, set clear expectations, communicate that certain behaviors are valued and important, and motivate change by setting normative standards for committee work participation.”   The article provides a sample rubric faculties could use to set normative expectations about committee work contributions for all faculty members.

We also suggest recognizing committee workhorses with more than a round of applause at a faculty meeting.  We encourage faculties and deans to consider the contributions to faculty governance made by committee workhorses and to reward those who perform outstanding service with release time from committee work to ensure they have time to engage in scholarship.

These are just two potential solutions. Many more likely exist.  The question is not whether there is a way to address the workload inequity problem.  Rather, it is whether deans and faculties are willing to openly admit the problem exists and to take the steps necessary to remedy it.

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