Recognizing Graduate Student Service Work Beyond Compensation (guest post by Angela Sun et al)

The following is a guest post* by  Angela Sun (Michigan), Carolina Flores (Rutgers), Milana Kostic (UCSD), Elise Woodard (Michigan), and Jingyi Wu (UC Irvine), graduate students in philosophy who comprise the organizing team of Minorities and Philosophy (MAP). It follows up on a previous guest post by MAP, “Compensate Graduate Students for Service Work.”

painting by Naota Hattori

A survey run by Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) last year found that graduate students from marginalized backgrounds shoulder a disproportionate burden of service work in their departments. The lopsided distribution of service work at the graduate student level prefigures what we find at the faculty level, which has been shown to have damaging effects on research and publication records.

In order to make the profession more inclusive, it is therefore imperative to recognize, compensate, and more fairly distribute service work. What should we do now?

In our initial report, we offered several suggestions to help give graduate student service work the recognition it deserves. But following our Group Session on the recognition of service work at the Eastern APA, we want to start a conversation about five under-discussed issues regarding service work recognition, and offer further suggestions for departments — and the profession at large — to better recognize service work.

1. Providing professional (in addition to monetary) compensation for service work

In discussions about compensating graduate student service work, departments are generally encouraged to provide financial compensation for graduate students for performing service work. Suggestions often include offering stipends of a few hundred dollars to graduate students who take on particularly demanding service positions or awarding cash prizes each year to graduate students who are especially active.

Financial compensation for service work is extremely important. But it’s not enough. Importantly, relying on financial compensation for service work incentivizes students with lower incomes or more debt to take up more service work, without giving them concrete professional benefits that will help them further their careers. A few hundred dollars certainly means a lot to struggling graduate students, but what graduate students who take on service work really need are these tangible professional rewards that will serve them well on the job market.

Here are a few suggestions for things departments can do to ensure a more equitable distribution of service work among graduate students. First, compensation shouldn’t only involve monetary prizes, but perhaps also release from teaching responsibility or additional semesters of fellowship, especially for particularly onerous service tasks. Second, keeping better records of who is doing service work (by, for instance, having clearly delineated service roles, maintaining a spreadsheet of who’s taking on what service role and ensuring that every graduate student is assigned at least one) can help ensure that no one is put in a position where they have to do more than their fair share.

2. Requesting service statements from job market candidates

Financial compensation for service work is important, but not enough; graduate students need professional in addition to monetary rewards for their service work. One thing departments can do to provide such concrete professional rewards is requiring service statements alongside research and teaching statements from job applicants. By submitting a service statement, graduate students who do service work can get a reasonable leg up on the job market, and departments requiring service statements can clearly signal that they value that work.

Many hiring departments currently require diversity statements that ask applicants to explain their experience with and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Although diversity statements can give applicants a chance to highlight their service work and diversity labor, some participants in our APA session noted that diversity statements can also harm job applicants. Less sympathetic departments might write off applicants who write passionate diversity statements and consider them less likely to get tenure. Because service statements have many of the good-making features of diversity statements—like providing an opportunity for applicants to discuss their work in service of diversity and inclusion—without the downsides, when possible departments should consider replacing diversity statements with service statements in their job searches.

In addition to conferring professional benefits to graduate students who do service work, service statements will help normalize service work at the graduate student level. A faculty member’s job is divided into three parts: research, teaching, and service. Though they may be differentially weighted at different institutions, typically all three are considered when faculty go up for tenure. Why, then, is service regarded as an optional part of the graduate student’s job? If service work were not seen as merely voluntary at the graduate student level, there would much more likely be an equitable distribution of service work among graduate students, and minority students would feel less pressure to take on more than their fair share.

3. Recognizing informal service work

Service positions are often taken on “officially”. But a lot of the service work done by philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds is difficult if not impossible to put on a CV: informally mentoring students from marginalized backgrounds, advising students at other universities who lack institutional support at their home departments, etc. These roles are often emotionally demanding, and because they resist taxonomy, they are especially susceptible to going unrecognized and uncompensated. Philosophers who don’t do this kind of informal service work often don’t realize it’s being done at all.

One way that we can alleviate the burden of informal service work on philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds is to encourage faculty in general to do more mentorship. Often, informal mentorship roles do not require special insight that only philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds have. All philosophers, for instance, should be able to provide general job market advice to graduate students, regardless of whether they belong to an underrepresented group.

One thing departments can do to encourage all faculty to serve as mentors is to regularly host mentorship workshops that give faculty a better idea of how they can support graduate students. If more faculty stepped up and assumed some of these informal mentorship roles that don’t require special qualifications, faculty who do have those qualifications would have more time and energy to fulfill their mentorship roles.

4. Addressing over-concern with image

Departments and professional organizations that run diversity initiatives are often very concerned with image. It’s common for departments to unofficially require that at least one philosopher from an underrepresented background sit on every committee, and that only philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds sit on committees related to diversity and inclusion.

How things look at the front-end is important, but these considerations need to be tempered with concern about fixing the problems that lead to underrepresentation in the first place. Requiring minority philosophers to sit on every committee is hugely demanding. Moreover, enforcing diversity on the front-end is not the best way of fixing the deeper structural problems in the profession, as the front-end initiative might direct attention away from and further trivialize the lived experiences of people from marginalized backgrounds.

In response to these worries about over-concern with image, faculty and graduate students who do not belong to marginalized groups should be encouraged to do more diversity work.

Philosophers who are not from underrepresented groups tend to shy away from diversity labor, thinking that they are ill-equipped and underqualified for it. Often, they are even explicitly instructed not to do this labor. But this kind of thinking is counterproductive and creates more time-intensive and emotionally demanding work for minority philosophers. How things look on the front-end matters, but we should balance considerations of image with effective solutions to structural problems that cause philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds to be overburdened with service work.

5. Initiating a conceptual shift

Since publishing our service work report, we’ve heard many ideas for ensuring that service work gets compensated. Perhaps professional organizations can offer prizes that recognize outstanding service contributions from faculty and graduate students. Or perhaps graduate student unions should fight for unionized positions for diversity labor, which can offer special protections that hourly or stipend pay for service work cannot.

As promising as all of these suggestions are, they let departments off the hook for failing to do what they ought to. Departments have budgets, and if their budget doesn’t allow for them to compensate, say, all the instructors they need to fill their classes, then they can’t offer all those classes. Similarly, it was brought up during our APA Group session that if a department’s budget does not allow for them to compensate graduate students and faculty for service work, then those roles should not necessarily get filled.

If we are to take the academic tripartite of research, teaching, and service seriously, then we need to start thinking about service as we do the other two aspects—as an essential part of being an academic philosopher that deserves recognition, at the graduate school level as much as at the faculty level.

We would like to thank participants in the MAP Group Session at the 2020 Eastern APA for their thoughtful comments. Thanks especially to Arianna Falbo, Sukaina Hirji, and C. Thi Nguyen and Angela Sun for sharing their experiences and insights as panelists.

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