Monday, June 7, 2010


Allegedly, university faculty are judged by their commitment to three main aspects of their jobs: research, teaching, and service.  Of course, in practice, those three areas aren't weighted equally.  Many universities place a much higher premium on research than anything else.  Liberal arts colleges often put greater emphasis on teaching.  But service?  Does anyone actually care?

At least according to a panel I attended at the State Politics & Policy conference last weekend, the answer is yes.  But it's complicated.  At this panel, several political scientists talked about a broad range of work they do outside the research and teaching spheres, from political consulting to expert testimony to creating nonprofit organizations. Dan Smith argued that there was not a zero-sum tradeoff between such service and research -- his work providing testimony on direct democracy cases not only helps him generate ideas but also provides him with new datasets on an issue very important to his line of research.

Regrettably, as David Adamany noted, such service appears to be on the decline.  He examined APSA presidents in the mid-20th century and found that nearly all had some involvement in politics or government on the side.  The past seven APSA presidents have no such activity in their résumés.  My sense is that political scientists are doing a lot more service than is generally known.  We just don't write about it.  I'm guilty of that.  I've done quite a bit of activity with Colorado's Democratic Party over the past few years, work that has helped inform both my research and my teaching.  I like to think of this blog as a form of service to the discipline, as well.  But these activities don't show up on my CV.  Why? Probably because I fear that they'll be judged harshly by some other academics who are also secretly doing service on the side but don't want to talk about it.  It's a vicious circle.

I'm curious what people think about this.  Are there tenure committees or hiring committees that actually look down on academics for their involvement with political activities like campaign work or consulting or expert testimony?  Or have we just been socialized to believe it's inappropriate to discuss it?


Jonathan Bernstein said...

Hmmm...I bet that a much higher percentage of recent political scientists had a stint in politics or government before grad school than used to be the case. As far as I know, previous generations typically went straight from college to grad school; that was a distinctly minority path for my cohort, and until the last couple of years I think it's stayed about the same. And a lot of us used those years to work on the Hill (as I did), or on campaigns, or in other political/government jobs.

Seth Masket said...

I wonder. Have you seen any studies on this?

Gregory Koger said...

Seth, there's service and then there's public service. The former includes doing mundane tasks like, say, being advisor to the Libertarian Club and helping them solicit funds from the student government. Or being dept. chair, head of undergraduate studies, or otherwise providing public goods. And, no, the rewards for doing more than others are often less than the costs. But that's the nature of the beast.

But you are more interested in activities that are not "hard" research (books & articles) but are research-related: blogging about poli sci, giving testimony, speaking to the media. Universities ought to reward this more, as it is a real contribution to the reputation of the institution. If one is interviewed on, say, the Colbert Report or Sean Hannity's radio show, there is probably a place to note that on an annual evaluation form. But the payoff is likely to be an "attaboy." Until there are raises and job offers that go with publicizing one's research, scholars will not have a huge stake in sharing their findings with pols, media, or the general public.

Seth Masket said...

Greg, I know there's not a ton of praise that goes along with this public service. My concern, though, is that there's an actual down side to it. What's your impression? Is there a point at which it becomes detrimental to do one more interview or blog post, even if you're still producing solid research?

Anonymous said...

Hey Seth and Greg,

Sorry, I'm late to this party, but I actually think it does help, albeit indirectly. (Although, I question the claim that it helps the university's reputation much if at all--what is the mechanism there?). I also know from personal experience at both Miami and Riverside, that administrators think that it does.

I suspect it really helps is when the Dean is making a decision about retention in the face of an outside offer. The Dean has huge discretion over such negotiations and while he/she may not know much about the discipline, they are likely to prefer scholars who they see as visible and relevant. And while it is not formally reflected in merit raises, as these often come from the department, it doesn't hurt.