8 minute read

The Faculty Service Role

Nature of the Faculty Service Role, Distinctions among Types of Service

The faculty service role includes a variety of activities: from providing the most advanced knowledge to serve global markets and priorities to performing the most humble committee work designed to assist in the routine functioning of campuses and community groups. Through faculty service activity, colleges and universities maintain shared governance, faculty promote disciplinary networks, and partnerships are sustained between the university and community organizations, governmental agencies, businesses, and industries.

Nature of the Faculty Service Role

In the United States the mission of colleges and universities has long been described as tripartite, including teaching, research, and service. Historic roots of the American faculty service role can be seen in the founding of land-grant, city, metropolitan, and state universities and community colleges, all of which were provided public lands and funds, and nonprofit tax status, with an expectation that faculty members provide not only teaching and research but also service in return. Both the amount and the kinds of faculty service activities have increased over time.

Outside of the United States, the tradition of service activity is not as long. However, developments in many countries during the last two decades of the twentieth century, which have tied universities more closely to national priorities that support economic development, have made the issues surrounding the faculty service role no longer a uniquely United States concern.

Distinctions among Types of Service

Ernest A. Lynton suggested in 1995 that faculty engage in four types of activities that tend to be described by their institutions as "service": committee work, program building, and other administrative work related to the promotion of a university's institutional service. When faculty make contributions to their disciplinary associations and edit disciplinary journals they partake in disciplinary service. Faculty provide community service through civic contributions in the form of speeches, board or committee membership, or volunteer work with religious, philanthropic, or other nonprofit organizations. When faculty fulfill their department, college, or university's outreach mission by using their professional expertise to assist communities in responding to real-world problems, they engage in professional service. Examples of professional service activity include agricultural extension, continuing education, social problem solving, policy analysis, program evaluation, assistance with economic development, technology transfer, and entrepreneurial activity. In many institutional mission statements and some of the literature, community service and professional service are combined under the more general rubric of public service.

Importance in the Academic Reward Structure

Through the twentieth century the importance of faculty service in the academic reward structure varied depending on institutional type and priorities, discipline, and status of the profession. In the first colonial colleges, teaching, community service, and institutional service were the primary responsibilities of faculty, and they were rewarded accordingly. As American higher education shifted from colonial colleges to land-grant universities, however, a gradual shift occurred in which faculty became more influenced by networks of colleagues at other institutions than by local, institutional, or community priorities. Although to different degrees depending on institutional type, the reward system followed faculty priorities. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, most colleges and universities favored scholarship, understood as traditional research, over teaching and service in tenure, promotion, merit pay, and contract renewal decisions.

Ironically, at the same time reward systems were evolving to favor research, faculty were being called upon to engage in more and more service. Land-grant universities, urban and metropolitan universities, and community colleges were all created with explicit outreach missions. These institutions expected all of their faculty, and especially those in professional schools, to link their expertise to real-world problems. As time went on even faculty in liberal arts and private institutions were called upon by the public to engage in community service and professional service.

The tradition of shared governance has always meant a significant proportion of faculty time is spent on maintaining and improving the institution. Typically senior faculty take on more institutional service responsibilities than junior faculty. However, within the last quarter of the twentieth century, women and faculty of color reported increased demands on their time to serve on university committees, advise women and students of color, and serve their respective communities. Also, as the number of disciplinary associations, journals, and professional awards has grown so have the demands on faculty to supervise them.

Despite an increase in activity and demands for service, service is not, and has never been, rewarded comparably to teaching and research within academic communities. In most institutions it occupies a distant and somewhat ambiguous third place behind teaching and research. Service is not easy to evaluate for purposes of reward because it is often difficult to assess the quality of service activities, and to quantify and document service activity that results from ongoing partnerships or ad hoc projects. It is not clear what, if anything, should be evaluated when faculty participate in committees, editorial review boards, or mentoring groups.

During the last decade of the twentieth century, however, significant progress was made in elevating professional service in the academic reward system. In the early 1990s a national movement to reexamine faculty roles and rewards led by the American Association for Higher Education and the 1990 seminal work of Ernest Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered, offered colleges and universities an attractive framework for assessing and rewarding a diversity of faculty work. Hundreds of campuses around the country began to redefine scholarship–the primary activity faculty were rewarded for–to include the teaching, discovery, integration, and application of knowledge. Lynton (1995) and Amy Driscoll (1999) extended this framework by advocating ways in which faculty could document their professional service as scholarship. Some campuses have written this framework into faculty evaluation policies, offering an opportunity for faculty professional service to be assessed and rewarded with a similar currency to traditional research in the academic reward system.

Debates about the Faculty Service Role

There is a lively debate about the nature and extent of faculty and institutional service obligations. It is often framed by such questions as the following:

  • Do colleges and universities serve best through basic research and the preparation of future generations or through social problem solving, social activism, and social criticism?
  • Among the many external demands for the professional expertise of faculty members, whose should have the greatest priority?
  • Do colleges and universities have stronger obligations to state and national governments, their primary sources of financial support, than to community groups, the disadvantaged, or the disenfranchised?
  • Should faculty consulting work count as service for purposes of the reward system?

The inclusion of economic development and entrepreneurial activities under the banner of service has inspired much controversy, in the United States and elsewhere, about the extent to which such activity is in the public interest or whether it serves the more private financial ambitions of colleges and universities and individual faculty members. Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie argue that such activity, which they term academic capitalism, changes the nature of the faculty role and the relationship between faculty members and their employing institutions. As institutions come to rely on faculty entrepreneurial activity as part of their financial base, they come to value this activity over other faculty work with negative consequences for teaching and research in areas not close to the market. Slaughter and Leslie anticipate increasing controversies between faculty members and their employing institutions over matters of the ownership of intellectual property, workload, and governance.

From close examination of selected universities in four countries, Burton R. Clark describes a new breed of entrepreneurial university that aggressively seeks to bring in new financial resources to augment and offset the support traditionally provided by national and state governments. Governmental support, he argues, is no longer sufficient to the everincreasing demands on universities for new knowledge with marketplace applications. Entrepreneurial universities must rely on their faculty members to turn their knowledge capital into new revenue streams for the institution. Clark describes the "expanded periphery" within entrepreneurial universities–vastly increased numbers of research and outreach centers and institutes as well as multidisciplinary and externally oriented academic units growing up alongside traditional academic departments to engage in applied or policy research and technology transfer. New administrative structures are established to further economic development, manage intellectual property, and profit from the work of the faculty. These institutional changes have important implications for the nature of faculty work and the faculty service role.

Whether as a result of the natural expansion of traditional and generally accepted forms of faculty service or the newer forms propelled by globalization, technology transfer, economic development, academic capitalism, and entrepreneurial behavior, it seems clear that debates about the faculty service role will continue long into the future. There is no doubt that these will be matters of continuing controversy in higher education.


BOYER, ERNEST. 1990. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

CLARK, BURTON R. 1998. Creating Entrepreneurial Universities: Organizational Pathways of Transformation. Oxford and New York: International Association of Universities and Pergamon.

CROSSON, PATRICIA H. 1983. Public Service in Higher Education: Practices and Priorities. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 7. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education.

DRISCOLL, AMY, and LYNTON, ERNEST A. 1999. Making Outreach Visible: A Guide to Documenting Professional Service and Outreach. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

EDGERTON, RUSSELL. 1995. "Foreword." In Making the Case for Professional Service, by Ernest. A. Lynton. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

LYNTON, ERNEST A. 1995. Making the Case for Professional Service. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

RICE, EUGENE. 1996. Making a Place for the New American Scholar. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

SLAUGHTER, SHEILA, and LESLIE, LARRY. 1997. Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.



Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation Encyclopedia