Dear BI Career Consultants:
How can professors at predominantly White colleges and universities receive proper promotion and tenure credits for service to the African American community?
Dr. Elaine Johnson Copeland
Associate Professor Emeritus
Department of Educational Psychology
University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign
Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Business Administration
Clinton Junior College
Rock Hill, S.C.
This question is an extremely difficult one. While most research institutions indicate that there are three major components considered during the tenure and promotion process — research, teaching, and community service — in many instances community service has had little importance. Of these three, conducting research, authoring books, and publishing in scholarly referred journals have been the major consideration.
Community service, the third component in the tenure equation has frequently received little, if any, recognition regardless of the particular population being served. As in the case of research focusing on African Americans, it is probably even more difficult to have service recognized if the contribution is primarily in the African American community.
In order to have community service recognized in the tenure and promotion process, it is essential that African American professors first have a clear understanding of what the term community service means in their particular discipline at the university where they are employed. Many times this service cannot simply be service to any community organization, but it must be closely related to their academic area. For example, serving on a mental health board for a program whose clients are African American will probably be viewed positively for a professor in a department of counseling psychology.
On the other hand, a professor in chemistry may or may not be recognized for mentoring African American youth in a science summer enrichment program. Writing a grant to fund such a program might receive more favor.
Young professors entering the field must align themselves with colleagues who can help them understand how each component is evaluated. This must be done early in their careers. It is too late after the review process has begun. Those of us who have made a commitment to the African American community can be systematic in making our choices.
This does not mean that we “sell out” and select only those areas that are recognized in our respective academic areas. It simply means that we can directly or indirectly impact our community in many ways and the community service that benefits African Americans and is closely tied to our fields is likely to receive the most recognition.
In my opinion, community service is currently the least important in most research universities. But as the needs of our society change, the method for evaluating academic contributions will need to change as well.
Dr. Willa M. Hemmons
Professor, Department of Social Work
Cleveland State University
Any answer to this question must take into consideration the status of African Americans in general in U.S. society. Our higher education system, ultimately, is only as fair and just as the society in which it operates — witness the abolition of affirmative action in the California university system.
The growth of business-related interests also have begun to have an even greater influence than formerly upon universities. The adoption of business methods and procedures (e.g., MBO or management by objective) has put universities in the position of having to justify practices by virtue of “cost” and “efficiency.”
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