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  • Looking for Autonomy through Service
  • Donna Palmateer Pennee (bio)

Speaking as an ex-administrator and a tenured professor with a long and varied service record, I want to suggest that service is that part of our collectively negotiated professional workload through which autonomy is most likely to be protected from further erosion if exercised accountably. Service (to the university and the profession) is the least valued of our three areas of responsibility when we consider that typically it "counts" for 20 percent of our workload and annual performance evaluation (APE), two matters of university self-governance over which the academic unit still exercises considerable control and discretion at most universities in Canada. We do ourselves and our profession a lot of damage when we limit our use of collective agreements to punish-and-grieve or grieve-and-punish manuals when they can be key mentoring documents for the profession. Having "paid one's dues" is only the beginning, not the end, of understanding and accounting for our roles in collective institutional governance.

Service is the perfect place to learn about and to practice autonomy in the university, because it is through service that we act on what our own academic units have determined to be our workload and the terms of our performance evaluation. The bulk of decision-making over our academic [End Page 17] responsibilities is still within our power, even though the circumstances of university funding have changed. In both contexts, the weight of service can far exceed its numerical value. To be sure, given that the remaining 80 percent of our workload can demand more time than it used to (for example, because of expanded enrolments or imperatives to find external research funding because public funding is diminished), members have found or are looking for ways to free up that 20 percent of the week that is to be given to service. Some among us cultivate incompetence or practice prickliness, some just don't show up for service; we do or do not take responsibility for peer-review processes on home ground with varying degrees of honesty, courage, conscientiousness, good will, and concern for equity. But we are free to manage these matters within our units, just as we have autonomy for evaluating performance across all three of our areas of academic responsibility.

How do our academic units practice autonomy through service? Unfortunately, but perhaps understandably when considered alongside the nominal equality but differential value of 40 percent teaching and 40 percent research, service is the part of our workload that is most shunned and least understood. Service is sometimes assigned within academic units (despite nomination and election processes) in the most untransparent of ways. Worse still, service is often evaluated by colleagues during performance evaluations and in p and t decisions in the most untransparent of ways. Evaluating service tends, for some units and some elected committee members, to be rather like some modes of assigning participation grades to students, that is, through no negotiated or explicit criteria beyond the arbitrary percentage in the course outline or the collective agreement, thereby permitting the "fudging" of the overall grade, or performance, up or down. Most tenured faculty have witnessed, perhaps even participated in, such fudging, when resentments and preferences of one sort or another "work themselves out in the wash" of APE and p and t committee deliberations, precisely where criteria are not spelled out. But working out such resentments and preferences, or only airing the still-dirty laundry under the frequently blown cover of committee "confidentiality," is a form of abusing our autonomy—autonomy that we nevertheless insist is best practised by our peer-review processes.

In most collective agreements, the criteria for such evaluation continue to be determined by the department (or the academic unit), ratified by the department, and, with rare requests for changes, approved by deans and vice-provosts of faculty relations or administration. Departmental workload documents are similarly ratified and approved and are closely [End Page 18] linked to APE documents. What do your departmental workload and APE documents say? What are APE committee members looking for when peer review of the performance of workload occurs? Have departmental committees been...


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