Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces
Michelle A. Massé & Katie J. Hogan, eds. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2010; 298 pp; ISBN: 978-1-43843-202-1, paper $24.95 USD.
Reviewed by Tatjana Takševa
The issue of academic service — how much of it, what kind and how to measure it — remains a topic of debate in academic circles. After reading the 18 essays that comprise Michelle Massé’s and Katie Hogan’s edited volume, Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces, I am left with the overwhelming impression that most American universities and colleges treat service as “invisible” labour.
This labour, often unacknowledged by either administrators or faculty themselves as intellectual work for which they should be compensated, is rather seen as a work of “care,” “moral obligation” or “ethical virtue.” Moreover, Massé and Hogan claim that “for most U.S. faculty” service is “often framed as a labor of love instead, akin to the caregiving tasks women perform for their mates, children, places of worship, or community groups, rather than as work for which they should be paid or acknowledged.” (p. 2)
I have always understood my own service to the university and the wider community as a form of intellectual work that may or may not be implicated in the ethics of care, and thus far, it has been acknowledged as such. However, I see widely applicable value in the overall aim of this volume — to critically analyze service as a significant dimension of academic work, and expose the actual labour of service particularly for women, racial, ethnic and sexual minorities in order to show how this labour “becomes a gendered activity considered appropriate for all workers in the group.”(Ibid)
The editors hypothesize that “just as women fill the less prestigious ranks of language and literature units, so too women and minorities are proportionately overrepresented when we start to tally who’s doing the institutional housework.” (p. 7) This hypothesis is supported by the majority of the essays as well as my anecdotal knowledge. In a general cultural and economic climate informed by market values, which encourages us all to compartmentalize our lives into neat, easily “marketable” packages, it is no less insightful to point out that “such work, even if it earns one tenure and promotion at one’s home institution has no exchange value in the academic job market and often eats into time for the research and scholarship,” the ‘real portable property’ of our profession. (p. 4)
The collection of essays is divided into three sections, “Service Stations,” “Non Serviam: Out of Service” and “Service Changes,” a division that appears largely arbitrary in that there are great overlaps among the essays and no particular thematic focus distinguishes the essays in each section. Also, in the introduction it is mentioned briefly that the increase in service obligations for tenure-track and tenured faculty over the last decade may be due to the corporatization of institutions of higher education as a consequence of global trends in capital distribution. Given the overarching significance of this trend for all aspects of academic life, one is left wishing for a more serious treatment of the issue in relation to the book’s focus. None of the essays in the collection addresses it in detail either. At the same time, there are a number of essays that stand out in their thoughtful engagement with academic service and its gendered challenges.
In particular, Katie Hogan’s “Superserviceable Feminism,” Kirsten M. Christensen’s “The Value of Desire: On Claiming Professional Service,” Teresa Mangum’s “Curb Service or Public Scholarship to Go” and Valerie Lee’s “’Pearl was shittin’ worms and I was supposed to play ran-around-the-rosie?’: An African American Woman’s Response to the Politics of Labor,” deserve mention for their investigation of service in broader ideological and discursive contexts.
As a graduate student, our professional development classes informed us that in addition to teaching and research, service constituted the triad that made up academic work in the tenure-track and tenured context. This in itself is uncontroversial, but the problems begin when one realizes the relative weight or merit accorded to each varies greatly among institutions, and that the definition, scope and evaluation of what counts as service vary greatly as well.
Most Canadian universities do have some provisions in place (some more specific than others), to recognize service formally as part of how faculty members’ academic performance is evaluated. I am employed at a mid-size university with a collective agreement according to which the criteria for tenure and promotion are based on six articles, three of which acknowledge various types of service as valid markers of an academic profile.
In addition to quality and effectiveness of teaching, academic credentials and quality and significance of scholarship, the three articles referring to service as a criterion for tenure and promotion list the following kinds of service: service on committees within the university; other contributions to the university, including participation in its effective operation through academic advising, supervision of students, service as chairperson, director of division or program coordinator, and performance of other functions which have been traditionally accepted as part of the collegial character of the university; as well as other contributions to the professional field and the wider community where the faculty member may be called upon to utilize aspects of her/his expertise.
Our collective agreement stipulates that outstanding service may be used as the main criterion on the basis of which a faculty member can be granted full professorship (this appears as a rarity even in the Canadian context). This is surely a step in the right direction, although thus far, no one at my institution has been awarded a full professorship under this clause. There’s a lot of work yet to be done to achieve equity in Canadian academic contexts.
Even though it is focused on universities and colleges in the U.S., Over Ten Million Served exposes academic service as an undervalued aspect of academic work in a comprehensive, if not systematic way, and so has much to offer to how we see and “do” service in Canada. The examination of academic service as a form of feminized labour, and the real impact this perception has on the lives of many women and racial, ethnic and sexual minorities in academia is also a sufficient recommendation.
Finally, while the book shies away from issuing an explicit call for change due to the apparent complexity of the issues involved, its existence brings into focus the need to engage more closely and systematically with the definitions and evaluation of service across different institutions and thus move toward more equitable ways of incorporating it into the academic profile.
Tatjana Takševa is associate professor of English at Saint Mary’s University.