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Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces

reviewed by Genevieve Shaker - January 24, 2011

coverTitle: Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces
Author(s): Michelle A. Masse and Katie J. Hogan (eds.)
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 143843202X, Pages: 298, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

In today’s economic, political, and cultural climate expectations of post-secondary institutions and their faculty are higher than ever. Institutions push to do and be more—educate additional students, provide new programs, rise further in the rankings, generate entrepreneurial activity, be at the forefront of innovation, improve retention rates—and faculty are swept up in the rising tide. Research reigns supreme as the “real work” of the academy and teaching stands, for many, as the work that has to be done. The responsibilities that remain left over are lumped together in the amorphous and expansive category labeled “service.”

In Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces editors Massé and Hogan argue that service responsibility disproportionately falls upon women, is gendered female, and is not appropriately recognized or rewarded. Though the book focuses largely on English departments, I think that Massé and Hogan would agree that service is stigmatized throughout academia, often as women’s work. Particular disciplines—education, social work, nursing—and courses—English composition and other introductory courses—and institutional types—community colleges and comprehensive universities—“serve” and suffer from lesser status. Important institutional and disciplinary tasks are completed under the guise of service and thus lack the luster of respect. This phenomenon highlights a status problem that clouds higher education’s egalitarian mission, making the consequences of gendering and the gendered work of service of significant concern. For this reason, Over Ten Million Served is relevant well beyond the humanities.

Massé and Hogan are the first to admit that faculty are not shy in making their sentiments about service known. To this ongoing and informal dialogue the two English and women’s studies scholars make a key contribution by bringing theoretical grounding and analysis to bear, making service labor visible beyond the culture of complaint. Service deserves, even requires, visibility, Massé and Hogan write, as a silent economy that is “an unpaid form of labor that sustains wage labor while nonetheless not ‘counting’ in an economy that recognizes only paid work” (p. 3). It is a catch-all grouping of professorial labor, with a name that implies “no compensation necessary” because of the voluntary, altruistic, caring nature of the duties at hand.

In Section One of the book, the contributors explore the nature of service and where it takes place, as well as the “servicification” of the humanities, higher education, faculty, and students. They describe the structural conditions that create subordination, and how subordination plays out in practice and is perpetuated through socialization. Here and throughout the book, the tie between the gender hierarchies that exist in society and their expression within higher education is painfully evident. The metaphor of service as the academy’s “housework” and “domestic labor” rings true in the book’s second section, a discussion of saying no and saying yes to service. A chapter by Christiansen issues a reminder that it is possible to desire meaningful service; these desires, however, can be diminished by service overload and belittled by the primacy of research. “Not in Service” recounts how Krebs said no to “soup kitchen” service and yes to “phone-bank, picket-line” service aimed at change-making. Social justice/advocacy, community service, “diversity service,” service learning, service to professional organizations, administrative service, teaching as service: these are among the activities of the women in the book’s second section. Distinguishing among these tasks in a formal and structured manner at the institutional level and beyond is a challenge judged to be critical.

The volume contributors agree: a new approach to service is warranted. The third and final section of Over Ten Million Served begins with a reflection on service as an avenue for empowerment, personal and professional development, and collegiality. The chapters offer hope, recounting community-building through service, the usefulness of theory in transforming service, an institutional framework which integrated service, and a department’s path to rebirth through redistribution of service responsibilities. At the same time the authors are cautionary, noting that service needs to be carefully considered, both practically and theoretically speaking as its current condition poses a danger for the well-being of the professoriate. Particularly at risk are women of color who are often doubly pressured to serve—or even triply pressured, as Lee explains, in the case of African Americans whose cultural context deeply encourages service.  

Just as those who are underrepresented and female are especially challenged while navigating academe’s hierarchical structure, so too are faculty who are ineligible for tenure. In a discussion that centers around equitable work, therefore, the condition of nontenure-track faculty is relevant. The book, however, includes only the commentaries of tenure-line faculty. The burden on tenure-line faculty, Massé and Hogan contend, is sure to increase in a context where the faculty majority is contingent. I am not as certain that these faculty carry or will carry the burden of service going forward. As such faculty have become more connected with their disciplines and the associated international community, their local emphasis has diminished in favor of a cosmopolitanism that leaves less space for service. If indeed, nontenure-track faculty have less opportunity to say “no” than their tenure-line colleagues—as Massé and Hogan acknowledge—and if, as my work evidences, full-time, nontenure-track faculty are stepping into committee work, program administration, and advising (Shaker, 2008), then there is an additional factor in the subordination of service and for those who complete it. Thus, nontenure-track faculty should be included in the conversation.

Through personal narrative, theory, and literary references, the book editors achieve their goal of using critically informed discussion to build a case for increasing recognition, respect, compensation, and equity for the labor of service. A helpful companion piece is the recently published institutional study of faculty delineating just how much additional time female associate professors spend in service than their male counterparts and the potential consequences of the disparity (Misra, Hickes Lundquist, Holmes, & Agiomavritis, 2011). Scholarship like this would have been a welcome addition to Over Ten Million Served. Perhaps the next major contribution in the exploration of service will combine analysis born of the humanities with that from the social sciences.

How can service be represented, recognized, rewarded, redistributed, and redressed? How can this be done in a manner to transform the status quo while making sure that individuals and institutions—and students—get what they need to continue forward? If we are to find implementable answers to the book’s take away questions, a concerted and collaborative effort must be made across disciplines in research and practice and throughout higher education’s associations and institutions. We all are responsible and should heed Hogan and Massé’s clarion call.


Misra, J., Hickes Lundquist, J., Holmes, E., & Agiomavritis, S. (2011, January-February). The ivory ceiling of service work. Academe. Retrieved January 15, 2011 from http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2011/JF/feat/misr.htm

Shaker, G. G. (2008). Off the track: The full-time nontenure-track faculty experience in English. Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, Bloomington. (Publication No. AAT 3387054).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 24, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16305, Date Accessed: 10/17/2021 3:58:22 PM

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About the Author
  • Genevieve Shaker
    Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
    E-mail Author
    GENEVIEVE SHAKER is an administrator in the IU School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her dissertation research on full-time nontenure-track faculty in English was recognized by the Association for the Study of Higher Education as the 2009 Bobby Wright Dissertation of the Year and by the Professional and Organizational Development Network with the Robert J. Menges Award for Outstanding Research in Educational Development. Her work can be found in To Improve the Academy (2010) and Universities and the Public Sphere: Knowledge Creation and State Building in the Era of Globalization (Routledge, forthcoming). Her present research projects address college and university faculty work, professional identity, and academic citizenship.
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