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Four Things to Consider Before Taking on That Service Commitment

All finished!A week ago marked the end of my second term as president of the union on our campus. Following the “logic” that if four years are enough to get an undergraduate degree, it’s plenty of time to play this particular role, I did not run for re-election. (And since I’ve argued before that being a good university citizen means self-replacement on committees, I’ll just mention in passing that I took my own advice here.)

I’ve written a fair amount on AAUP and collective bargaining issues here on ProfHacker, and that will continue. But in this post, I wanted to offer four pointers to anyone contemplating a large servicegovernance commitment of any sort (chair, etc.). Most of these are things I probably should’ve realized four years ago, but, as a great philosopher once said, when I was young and irresponsible I was young and irresponsible.

  • Make sure your partner/spouse is on board. Um, I did not do this. Mistakes were made. That is all. (But seriously: Make sure. They need to understand what the commitment is, how it will change your schedule, and possibly his or hers, what you will/won’t be able to discuss, etc. etc. There are a lot of issues.)

  • If you have family commitments (kids, parents, relatives for whom you provide care, fill in your own situation here) or expect to, think about how those commitments are likely to change over the course of your term, not just what they are now. For example, four years ago the 9-year-old was in kindergarten in the neighborhood school and played rec soccer. Easy! But then the next year he got moved to a program for advanced readers across town. This year, he split his time between elementary school and middle school, and in the fall even took a college course. And then there’s all the soccer, as he has tended goal for three to six teams a weekend from September to June for the past two years. (There’s even baseball.) Again, a reasonably bright person might have anticipated that a 9yo might have a more ambitious schedule than a 5yo. I am not that person.

  • Avoid taking on multiple new commitments until you understand each one. Four years ago I was elected to my first terms as union president, officially taking office on May 1. Seven or eight weeks later, George and I started talking about ProfHacker, which launched that summer. It’s fair to say that I did not yet really understand the demands of the union job based on a sample set drawn from when faculty were mostly off campus. And it’s also fair to say that George and I had no idea that our little blog idea would one day end up at the Chronicle.

  • Make sure you know what you are actually getting into. The daily work of most jobs is probably a little different from what one imagines. Being clear-eyed about that going in is a useful thing. (Ideally, this would be a part of that self-replacement process I mentioned above, but that doesn’t’ always work out.)

None of which is to imply you shouldn’t take on big governance roles! It is important work, and is closer to the heart of of what makes colleges and universities distinctive–and in good ways!–than we usually recognize. But is also work that probably changes your schedule and your relationship to campus in ways that are hard to predict.

Photo “All finished! by Flickr user Will Clayton / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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