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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Assessing Public Service


I mentioned in my last post the difficulty of assessing institutional service.  The same is true of public service, which my institution calls “public engagement”.  This includes service on bar committees, legal service organizations, AALS, legal blogging, and the like.

Sometimes, such service is relatively easy to assess, as when a faculty member administers a public program like VITA or drafts an amicus brief.  Other types of service, however, are more difficult to assess.  For example, a faculty member’s service on a charitable or legal-services board may be extraordinarily demanding, or may consist merely of attending one or two board meetings each year.  A faculty member who does pro bono work for a legal services organization may take one simple case a year, or several complex ones.  When assessment is difficult, the dean may have little basis for rewarding faculty members for public service work in annual faculty performance reviews.

This creates two problems.  First, faculty members who go above-and-beyond on public engagement are likely to be under-appreciated and -rewarded.  Second, some faculty members use public engagement as an excuse for doing little or no scholarship or institutional service.  The latter is not necessarily awful, so long as (a) the faculty member is working at least as hard on public service as others are working on scholarship and institutional service, (b) the public service benefits the institution (albeit indirectly, such as by enhancing the school’s reputation in the bar or local community), and (c) other members of the faculty pick up the slack on scholarship and institutional service.  But because public service can be difficult to assess, the risk is that too many faculty members will say they are overwhelmed by public service, whereas in fact they are doing little or nothing at all.

Should we keep “billing logs” of our public engagement work?  Or are there other effective assessment mechanisms?  Comments are welcome.

Rick Bales

Posted by Workplace Prof on October 8, 2009 at 08:25 AM | Permalink


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