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Whose Problem Is It? Gender Differences in Faculty Thinking about Campus Service


by KerryAnn O’Meara — 2016

Background/Context: Empirical evidence suggests women faculty spend more time in campus service than men, which perpetuates inequality between men and women because research is valued more than service in academic reward systems, especially at research universities.

Purpose/Focus of Study: In this study I apply insights from research on gender inequality to examine whether women and men faculty at a research university were thinking about their campus service differently. I add to the literature by (1) making faculty thinking about campus service visible, (2) examining how this thinking is constrained by gender, and the gendered nature of organizations, and (3) revealing how individualistic and cosmopolitan orientations, and communal and local orientations appear together in faculty thinking about campus service.

Research Design: My research assistants and I conducted 60–75 minute-long, semistructured interviews with 88 faculty including 34 men and 54 women on their work environment experiences. Interview questions focused on choices that faculty had made to emphasize different kinds of work (teaching, research, service), balance work priorities, and succeed.

Findings/Results: Overall, more women framed campus service in communal terms and expressed local orientations toward campus service; more men positioned service as a campus problem, and noted their own interests to avoid or minimize involvement in campus service so as not to hurt their career. In a smaller group of cases, (e.g., four men and five women) the faculty member expressed the dominant pattern for the other gender; however, even in these cases participants provided examples of the dominant pattern for their gender as well. In all cases, women and men were influenced by gendered ways of thinking about work, and gendered organizational practices that permeated their socialization and work environments.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings suggest that interventions are needed to affect thinking about campus service within university environments, as thinking shapes gendered divisions of labor. Sharing campus service data transparently, developing department consensus about appropriate levels of service contributions, and developing a sense of collective ownership for academic programs are examples of organizing practices that could generate change toward more gender neutral divisions of labor. Addressing the complex issue of inequality in campus service is not only about counting the numbers of service activities, although this is important. It is also critical to understand how faculty may be approaching the issue, the forces shaping their thinking, and the consequences of their thinking for individual careers and the future of the academic community.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 8, 2016, p. 1-38
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21366, Date Accessed: 12/13/2017 4:24:26 AM

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About the Author
  • KerryAnn O’Meara
    University of Maryland, College Park
    E-mail Author
    DR. KERRYANN O'MEARA serves as Professor of Higher Education and the Director of the ADVANCE Program for Inclusive Excellence at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. O'Meara received her BA in English Literature from Loyola University in Maryland, her MA in Higher Education from The Ohio State University, and her Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Maryland. Dr. O'Meara's research examines organizational practices that support and limit the full participation of diverse faculty and the legitimacy of diverse scholarship in the academy. Recent publications include: “A Career with a View: Agentic Perspectives of Women Faculty” in the Journal of Higher Education, and “Half-way Out: How Requiring Outside Offers to Raise Salaries Influences Faculty Retention and Organizational Commitment” in Research in Higher Education.
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