Promotion. The tool used to focus us on what the employer wants done. The reward for doing a job well. An incentive to not leave.
Academic promotion at UC is based on achievement in three main categories: teaching, research and service. For many promotions, certain thresholds of high achievement must be met in either teaching or research along with performance in at least one other category. Elevating success in teaching to the same status as success in research has helped to better balance the academic role of teaching and research in the minds of many academics. However, it further distances service from our minds.
Service is a grab bag of activities. Many of them are ones that have little to do with most academics’ primary motivations. That is, it has lots of administration in it. Adding service to the menu for promotion is the employer’s way to get us to do the work we are least likely to want to do. Service is in general the least visible but often the kindest contribution we make to colleagues and students. However, most administrative duties are routine, requiring no particular specialty or scholarship to perform. Therefore, the service category is bolstered to include service to our specialty discipline (e.g., organising important research conferences, reviewing papers and grants, outreach) which does provide for a range of evidence beyond the ordinary.
Service, teaching and research are categories with significant overlap (Figure 1). As discussed elsewhere, supervision of postgraduate students engaged in research is credited toward teaching in the workload of some academics (for example, in Biology), while joint outputs with those same students is credited to research accomplishments in promotion. The same is rarely if ever true of our teaching of undergraduates. This has systematic effects that ultimately transfer the proceeds of some kinds of teaching to ever more career flexibility and research opportunity, even institutional power.
There is a gradient of ‘service’ in service. That is, some service comes closer to self-less than does other service. Serving as the head of a research unit whose outputs contribute significantly to your personal portfolio of research outputs and funding is not the equivalent of serving as the head of an academic department, or undergraduate advising, where the proceeds of a job well done are generally shared around.
In contrast, some forms of service are as special, rigorous and defining as any research activity. Placing them in the service category discounts them. By taking them out of research, an academic may not have the grunt in their application in either category of teaching or research despite having done the same work as those with recognised research outputs. Colleagues that are serving on especially intensive national and international bodies, like technical expert groups for international agreements such as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where their input requires them to apply their research skills and knowledge to policy relevant outcomes, are in no way less verified as spectacular academics than those who publish their work in a prestigious journal (Figure 2). Indeed, one can have a career publishing incremental work in solid journals and more easily move up the academic ladder than can someone who makes fewer but significant insights and applies them at the governance level.
What I’m trying to say is that work should be related to reward. The column in the promotion ledger used to credit outcomes of our work should also be where our work hours are counted in the workload formula. Those academics who do not reduce their undergraduate teaching workloads by counting their supervision of research students as teaching hours have less time available to them to achieve research outputs counted in promotion. While this kind of disparity in accounting persists, it shifts more and more research time to academics that achieve a high number of postgraduate students at one critical time. If I intend to co-author work done with a graduate student, that supervision time would be counted as research time. If I expect my graduate students to publish independently of me, then that supervision time would be counted as teaching. If my research centre exists to grow my research productivity, my administration of it should be research time rather than service. If I serve a research centre without significant linkage to my own research, say by advising graduate students who work in that centre, then that is my service, not research time.
Similarly, if the outcome of my scholarship is a trade-off of publications in journals, books or book chapters and speeches at conferences for more high-level contribution to the policy-research interface, that trade-off should not incur a penalty by being called service. It is applied research applied in real time. Being effective in a role at the interface of the highest levels of policy and my academic subject matter requires enormous dedication and achievement. Therefore, such scholarship is no easier to do well than any other form of applied research that lives to be read or ignored in a prestigious journal. It even may be far more important than a lifetime of work which may be cumulatively large, but built up from incremental steps and yet to be reviewed in the fullness of time.
What counts as teaching time should not be rewarded as research achievement anymore than what counts as service work should be rewarded as research or teaching achievement. Service that is applied research at the highest levels of impact, such as in the meeting rooms of government or international government meetings, should be seen as at least the equal of applied research published in journals. Importantly the service that counts as a benefit mainly to others should be better recognised, if not through promotion, then in the workload formula. The time for service that produces disproportional benefit to those doing the work should be counted as (usually) research time. To not do so only further subsidises the time available for research for a select few. The time needed for self-less service should count toward service hours in our workloads. That kind of distributed service is how others have time for their research and teaching, or creates opportunities for them to do more with the time they have.
I invite colleagues to imagine what a promotion system that rewards citizenship through service, and normalises accomplishment with available time, would look like. Make these ideas visible and inspirational to those who have the mandate to create such a system.
Figure 1. Venn diagram of the three main categories of activities measured in academic promotions. Yellow, green and orange activities should be counted to research achievement and the time for them be part of the research time for academics. Blue and red activities should count toward the working hours for teaching and service, respectively.
Figure 2. Parking is reserved for Nobel Laureates on the University of California-Berkeley campus (left). Recipients of the IPCC when it received the prize requested that the mark of respect not be reserved for parking a motor vehicle (right). But look which laureate showed up for work! Photo by author.