Dear StFXAUT, We Need to Talk About Service…

Written by Rachel Hurst and Charlene Weaving, this article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of The Beacon

Recently, the topic of service has come up for discussion in the StFXAUT; the last issue of The Beacon included the article “The Value of Service,” by Mathias Nilges and the recent Contract & Benefits survey assured us that service work at StFX is not distributed inequitably. Now, if you want to talk about service, we are your gals! Between the two of us, we have served on 34 different University or Union committees at StFX – surprisingly, the only committees for which we both served terms are the Faculty Development Committee and the Hive for Feminist Research Annual Lecture Series committee! And within those committees, we have also taken on exceptionally labour- and time-intensive committees and roles, including Chief Grievance Officer (post-tenure), Secretary of Senate (pre-tenure), Search Committee for the Academic Vice-President and Provost (post-tenure), and Member of the Presidential Task Force for Sustaining the Priorities of StFX (pre-tenure!). That number does not include any departmental committees, nor does it include uncompensated and maybe-recognized-but-probably-not roles like LGBTQ Student Advisor. A troubling trend we see emerging in both the recent Beacon article as well as the Contract & Benefits survey is a lack of attention to the ways in which service is gendered; that is to say, the invisibility and devaluing of service cannot be separated from questions of gender.

Service by the numbers

Neither one of us are seasoned senior faculty members – Charlene came to StFX as a LTA in 2005, and Rachel as a LTA in 2009; both of us landed tenure-track positions after those LTA years. Our friendship has been an enormous support for navigating the stormy seas of service work, and we often talk about how to balance our many professional obligations. Indeed, we wrote to Kevin Wamsley in November asking the Office of the AVP to support a Women Faculty Breakfast hosted by our new Chancellor, Susan Crocker and the Director of the Coady International Institute and Vice-President, June Webber. We were motivated to make this request in the context of both the September Equity Summit as well as a conversation that we had during a fall hike about the burnout and lack of recognition for service that our women colleagues frequently talk about, not to mention the reality that StFX has never undergone a pay equity audit and does not currently have an employment equity policy. Our hope was that a gathering could, at least for a little while, offer a space to feel less alone. At both the Equity Summit and the Women Faculty Breakfast, women’s heavy service obligations and the failure to adequately recognize service in tenure and promotion decisions were key themes of structural inequality at StFX.

So, when we saw Mathias Nilges’ recent article, “The Value of Service” in The Beacon, we were intrigued. However, while the article does make the salient argument that in general, StFX needs a policy on service, Mathias fails to take into account the profoundly inequitable conditions of service at StFX. These conditions cannot be separated from any policy – or collective bargaining – decisions that are made regarding service.

The Ivory Ceiling

Armenti argued in 2004 that inequities exist for women academics, who:

must adapt to the male life trajectory for the purpose of tenure and promotion, but they are expected to assume the traditionally feminine role of caregiver and nurturer towards the students. Accordingly, the obstacles that these women encounter in their career serve to delineate their outsider status (4).

In their article, “Stressing Out: Connecting Race, Gender, and Stress With Faculty Productivity,” M. Kevin Eagan and Jason C. Garvey provide a synthesis of recent literature on gender and race bias in academia to contextualize their study of faculty stress. They note that historical marginalization contributes to the overburdening of faculty of colour and women faculty, particularly in regards to service expectations where they are asked to serve as representatives (of “women” or “faculty of colour”).1 These groups receive frequent requests to serve on committees and substantially greater responsibilities in mentoring students (927-9). Put into the context of tenure and promotion criteria that devalue service and privilege research, faculty of colour find their research contributions “devalued and trivialized” (Eagan and Garvey 2015, 928) and although women’s research output is equal to men, it is ignored due to persistent gender bias in academia (ibid).

Misra, Lundquist, Holmes, and Agiomavritis (2011) propose that women associate professors face an “ivory ceiling” when seeking promotion to full professor; while vague promotion criteria are one explanation, another – more significant – explanation is that associate professors spend their time differently based on gender. Misra et al. note two common themes in the research on faculty promotion amongst associate professors: first, men protect their research time and spend more time researching (though they are not more productive than women); and second, women spend more time teaching, mentoring, and doing service work, which is devalued. Compounding this is what Hirshfield and Joseph (2012) have termed “identity taxation,” a term which describes the “physical, mental, or emotional” labour “due to their membership in a historically marginalised group [e.g. based on race, gender, or sexual orientation] within their department or university, beyond that which is expect of other faculty members in the same setting” (214). They argue that it is critical for universities to acknowledge identity taxation as a barrier that sustains inequity, and that such recognition could inform tenure and promotion decisions (223). It is critical to acknowledge that differing levels of service do not emerge from individual choice; rather, this is a systemic issue of inequality that has major consequences for promotion, as Winslow and Davis summarize:

These gender differences in requests for service reflect institutional approaches to addressing diversity by emphasizing that committees must not be solely composed of white men. However, when there are few women in a discipline, this desire for representation on committees places an enormous burden on the few women who are tenured that creates major obstacles for women (2016, 410).

Service at StFX

Upon reflection on our own service experiences, we have noticed that there are discrepancies on our campus. Junior women faculty are ‘recruited’ far more than junior men colleagues to participate in various committees; and further, messages that women and men receive from Deans and senior colleagues are inconsistent. And, as Mathias expresses, service is undervalued when it comes to tenure and promotion.

Findings from the recent AUT surveys in preparation for bargaining this summer indicated that members perceive inequity in terms of service. We were surprised to read the claim in the recent Contract & Benefits Survey that based on a scan of the current year’s membership (presumably on from Committee on Nominations website) that this perception is incorrect. We strongly think this claim requires a more robust explanation than what has been provided, and have a number of responses. Parity of representation on committees is a newer trend in recent years. This is a result of motivation by the Committee on Nominations to ensure gender parity, as well as an increased awareness by faculty of its importance. Further, equal gender representation on committees does not mean that the perception that women do more service is incorrect, given that women make up just 39% of full-time university faculty at StFX (those eligible to serve on university committees).2 In addition, when surveying service work at StFX to determine whether or not service is shared equally, it is critical to also ask questions about the workload and perceived importance of the committees. We suspect, for example, that in terms of the ‘key’ committees, like Rank and Tenure, UCR, Budget, etc., some members have a vested interest and are keen to participate in these high profile service groups; in contrast, the work of important but low-profile and high workload committees like Faculty Development, Grievance, and Secretaries of Faculty and Senate often go unrecognized. And finally, one of the factors that makes service invisible is that much of it is not formally recognized on the CoN site, like faculty advising to sports teams or policy development committees. Thus, we encourage an analysis that looks beyond ‘bean counting’ the composition of committees and instead looks at the institutionalized issue of women’s extensive service participation as well as pervasive gender bias in academia.

Where do we go from here?

While we appreciate the recent attention to the need to acknowledge and more clearly articulate service expectations and value, we were motivated to respond because of the missing gender inequity piece. Before we can begin to consider stipends for LTAs and service and make sweeping claims about the equality of service, the STFX community needs to openly investigate the service burdens that women faculty have carried for too long. The StFXAUT and the StFX administration should consider dedicating resources to hire a consultant to conduct research on matters of equity, including but not limited to service, and then use that research to inform recommendations for changes to practice. Further, we are in agreement with Misra, Lundquist, Holmes, and Agiomavritis (2011) that university administrations need to commit to changing this culture of service through maintaining or increasing tenure lines (and thus, increasing the overall number of potential faculty to participate in governance activities) as well as mentoring resources to support promotion for historically marginalized groups.

References and Further Reading

Acker, Sandra, Michelle Webber, and Elizabeth Smyth. “Continuity or Change? Gender, Family, and Academic Work for Junior Faculty in Ontario Universities.” NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education 9, 1 (2016): 1-20.

Armenti, Carmen. “Gender as a Barrier for Women With Children in Academe.” The Canadian Journal of Higher Education 33, 3 (2003): 1-26.

Council of Canadian Academies. Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension / The Expert Panel on Women in University Research. Ottawa: Council of Canadian Academies, 2012.

Eagan, M. Kevin Jr. and Jason C. Garvey, “Stressing Out: Connecting Race, Gender, and Stress with Faculty Productivity.” The Journal of Higher Education 86, 6 (2015): 923-954.

Hirshfeld, Laura and Tiffany D. Joseph. “‘We Need A Woman, We Need A Black Woman’: Gender and Cultural Taxation in the Academy.” Gender and Education 24, 2 (2012): 213-227.

Misra, Joya, Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, Elissa Holmes and Stephanie Agiomavrtis. The Ivory Ceiling of Service Work. Washington: American Association of University Professors, 2011.

Misra, Joya, Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, Elissa Holmes and Stephanie Agiomavrtis. “Status of Women: Gender and the Ivory Ceiling of Service Work in the Academy.” Federation for the Social Sciences and Humanities Blog. November 1, 2011,

Pitt, Jenelle S., Mya Vaughn, Aisha Shamburger-Rousseau, and LaKeisha L. Harris. “Black Women in Academia: The Invisible Life.” In Racial Battle Fatigue: Insights from the Front Lines of Social Justice Advocacy, edited by Jennifer L. Martin. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2015, 209-224.

Savonick, Danica and Cathy N. Davidson. “Gender Bias in Academe: An Annotated Bibliography of Recent Studies.” The Impact Blog. London School of Economics and Political Science, March 8, 2016,

Winslow, Sara and Shannon N. Davis, “Gender Inequality Across the Academic Life Course.” Sociology Compass 10, 5 (2016): 404-416.

1 Eagan and Garvey further note the dearth of research on women faculty of colour, who they note are often in a “double-bind” situation facing racism and misogyny (929). See Pitt et al.’s chapter, “Black Women in Academia: The Invisible Life” in our “Further Reading” section for some insight into this “double-bind.”

2 We thank Nancy Forestell for this information!

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  • […] that I co-wrote with my friend Char Weaving was published in our union’s newsletter this week: “Dear StFXAUT, We Need to Talk About Service.” Writing this was cathartic. You cannot see it in the website version, but the PDF version has a […]