Dr Crazy has a great post about service -- the pressures, the drawbacks, the inequities. If you haven't read it, then go there first. I agree with her points about the special pressures for service that women often face, and also with her guidelines about how to cautiously and carefully choose what you say Yes to, especially while in the tenure track. I just wanted to expand a bit about what service looks like from my perspective, as someone recently tenured.
My department expects a lot of service from its faculty -- we are understaffed and underfunded (like most public institutions) and so there is always a need for people to manage the day to day running of a large department: graduate studies, the major, the general ed track-- each of these divisions of our curricula have equivalent managerial divisions, with one or two or sometimes three faculty who get a course release to work as administrators to make sure the bare minimum of student advising, problem-fixing, and degree-awarding gets done. Each has a supporting committee of faculty who review applications, draft proposals for curriculum changes, etc. (basic service expectation is participating on one of these committees).There are two other committees charged with the most important managing of the department (merit reviews, hiring, overall mission) and their membership is elected. Then there are all the other things that crop up during a year: speakers to be picked up from the airport; lectures and receptions to organize and attend; job market coaching; essay contests; committees to deal with special requests from the Dean or Provost, amendments to the bylaws, political brawls with other departments, etc.
As a junior person, I did a fair amount of service within my dept, but was protected from doing anything at the College or University level. So in 6 years I served on three different standing committees, a 2 year term on an elected committee, 3 hiring committees, and probably 10-15 ad hoc projects of varying lengths. I also said no to a lot of things -- especially during the last two years before I was up for review. My colleagues understood the need to protect my research time.
But now I'm tenured, that's all over. The day the letter came from the Provost, I was asked to take on a 3-year administrative position in the department; in the past two weeks I've also been asked to serve on the University-level faculty governance board and asked to advise the Honors students, in addition to my current position on two standing committees within the dept. Now, I said no to the admin position, because I'm in the middle of a big project. It's understood that I will probably be asked again in a year or two. I said yes to the governance board, since I don't know anything about how it works and feel like it would be worthwhile to learn. I said yes to the Honors advising, after one of my favorite colleagues said we could co-advise.
Looking around there are different models in my department. A couple of my colleagues periodically withdraw from all service for a year or two while finishing a project. A few have withdrawn totally. Some of my colleagues on the other hand, have given up 5 or 10 years of their careers almost totally to service -- for some, that's a prelude to a later career in university administration; for others, a recipe for burnout, overwork, bitterness. And then there's a hardworking dedicated group of people who manage to choose service commitments that are important to them, and still produce scholarship. And without these people, we wouldn't have a department.
That's another reality of service, at least post-tenure. It has to get done. And if you completely disinvest, you have to be willing to have people who you disagree with totally in charge of hiring decisions, curriculum, course assignments, parking space alotments, photocopying budgets -- all the big things and the little nitty-gritty things that are a big part of our working lives. I'm a good departmental citizen not because I have to please anybody, but because I really do care who we hire in the next five years -- those are the people I'll be stuck with for a long time. I care about being allowed to teach the kinds of courses I want to teach. Etc. Sure, it can become a disastrous time and energy vacuum -- but without it, I'd have far less input and control over my working life.