A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Review of Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces by Michelle A. Massé and Katie J. Hogan

Review of Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces
Edited by Michelle A. Massé and Katie J. Hogan
2010; SUNY series in Feminist Criticism and Theory

Heather Trahan, Bowling Green State University

Enculturation (2011): http://enculturation.net/over-ten-million
(Published July 27, 2011)

Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces is a perceptive collection that aims to break silences and rile assumptions regarding university service practices/policies in the United States. Particularly in the fields of composition, women’s studies, service learning, English studies, and foreign language instruction, service has been a “workplace puzzler” (2): the most nebulous, under-theorized element of the teaching, research, service triad so crucial for promotion and tenure. Throughout eighteen essays, scholars gravitate around two questions. What is “superservice”? And how can we critique, shift, disrupt, or transform cycles of superservice? By making visible the invisible work too often carried on the backs of women and minority faculty—and with a particular focus on the Herculean challenges faced by the quickly disappearing ranks of tenured and tenure-track faculty—Over Ten Million Served “challenges the uncritical tradition of seeing service as ‘natural’ and points toward a structural redefinition of this fundamental category of academic labor by bringing together a resonant collection of voices in which professional workers struggle to articulate what ‘service’ has meant in their lives” (5). At its core, the collection’s editors Michelle A. Massé and Katie J. Hogan have selected essays that both remind and insist: Service is labor. Service deserves reward.

Figure 1

Part 1, “Service Stations,” sets up the exigency for the book, elucidating, defining, and circulating various definitions of “service.” "Service Stations" responds to queries like: Where does service happen? Who does this service? How is service silent when there’s no place for it on a CV or in a tenure file? Answers come in alternatingly somber, depressed, biting, blunt, and incredulous tones. In a nutshell, Part 1 meant to rile—and it does. Particularly provocative is English Professor Sharon O’Dair’s “Superserviceable Subordinates, Universal Access, and Prestige-Driven Research,” a piece that urges tenured professors to shoulder a fairer share of the “service” of teaching undergraduates. (Interestingly, O’Dair admits that she must point the finger at herself, too, as she makes these indictments from her cushy tenured seat.) She asks: “Are full professors at elite research institutions appropriately privileged when they gobble up between 70 and 80 percent of an institution’s instructional budget, and almost all of that institution’s undergraduate teaching is performed by adjuncts and graduate students?” (47). O’Dair develops the collection’s overarching theme, defining the term “superserviceable”—which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was coined in Shakespeare’s King Lear in 1605—as pertaining to workers who are required, pressured, or shamelessly volunteer to do more work than is required, appropriate, or just. In addition, she links superservice to notions of cowardice—less in terms of those who are exploited but more in regards to those at the top who continue to let the less powerful be exploited. Drawing compellingly on the work of sociologist Randall Collins, she harnesses social conflict theory to argue that social change cannot just happen from below—no, those who hold power (the tenured and tenure-track professors) must do their part to disrupt the inequitable service demands placed upon those with less power (women, adjuncts, graduate student workers, etc.). Another particularly riling piece in Part 1 is “Superserviceable Feminism,” authored by the collection’s editor Katie J. Hogan. Her aim is to further unpack the concept of superservice by analyzing the labor category of service as a negatively feminized, unregulated (thus unrewarded) silent service economy that props up the more positive masculine, official, rewarded systems of the university. Overall, Hogan provides an expansive, enlightening survey of recent scholarship that demonstrates the various ways that the material lives of female faculty members as well as the feminist studies/feminist literary criticism they’ve produced have served—but not been rewarded by—the university. She attaches the word “superserviceable” to the word “feminism” to create a phrase that makes “visible the various kinds of unacknowledged labor women and feminism perform, in the institutional life of English, in universities overall, and in theoretical arguments” (58). Drawing upon the findings of the Modern Language Association’s (MLA's) Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession (CSWP) (2000) as well as the polemic labor work of Marc Bousquet, she exposes how professional life for academic women has barely changed in the past forty years: Women are still the most vulnerable group in terms of exploitative labor practices within the “unregulated economy of academic capitalism” (57). In a workplace where the lowest rates of service are those among white men at all ranks, Hogan critiques the engaged campus movement—most popularly advocated by Ernest Boyer—which, as she states, is not duly interrogated in terms of its “labor-intensive projects” (58). These tasks are disproportionately carried out by women and racial/ethnic/sexual minority laborers who feel pushed into, and often enslaved by, this service because of the mistaken assumption that such work is simply “a labor of love, akin to the work women do for their children, rather than as work for which one should be paid and acknowledged” (63). A controversial—but ultimately fresh and well-executed—rhetorical choice for Hogan is to devote a main portion of her essay to the woes of a group she believes to be a particularly misunderstood, brow-beaten group: the associate professor. Her analysis reveals how increasing/unreasonable service expectations cause women rather than male professors to stall at this position, some permanently.

Part 2, “Non Serviam: Out of Service,” begins to provide some pushback to “what is in effect mandatory overtime” (13); the authors offer plans, alternatives, solutions, and frank personal narratives about occasions where they attempted to say “no” to service—or, when they boldly articulated “yes” to different service paths than what their institution expected. Kristen M. Christensen, an associate professor of German, contributes the lovely, cogently-crafted “The Value of Desire: On Claiming Professional Service.” Christensen advocates for the valuable energy of desire—which is often smothered, unfortunately, due to faculty being superserviced. Her thesis argues that we must remember to use the “language of desire” (124), with ourselves and with others, as an essential holistic resource that can either drive our work or drive us away from our work. Christensen tells what many innately know but perhaps don’t spend much time analyzing: that “desire and value are closely aligned” (125)—and both institution and individual laborer must have aligned desires for a symbiotic relationship to occur. She argues, “Acknowledging and making space for desire in our professional service. . . can surely not only preserve individuals but also strengthen and invigorate institutions" (123). Then, building upon Ernest Boyer’s model for redefining the paradigm of scholarship, Christensen outlines new categories of service as one potential solution for transforming the situation of unrewarded superservice; these include: “the service of teaching,” “the service of mentorship and support,” “intellectual service,” and “service of integration” (135). By adapting these categories to our various local contexts, we might help make visible the day-to-day service that fills hours, weeks, or even years of faculty lives. Another key pushback piece in Part 2 is “Welcome to the Land of Super-Service: A Survivor’s Guide…and Some Questions” by Phyllis van Slyck. Calling upon her experience as a tenured faculty member at Fiorello H. LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), van Slyck raises truly challenging questions about what sorts of service would best serve faculty (especially women faculty) as they aim to continue to do what they love to do: enrich the lives of first-generation college students, minority students, underprepared students, and economically-disadvantaged students. She reveals how even though, historically, community colleges have been primarily devoted to enacting feminist pedagogical principles as well as offering careers where teachers can devote their energies to teaching heavy course loads and performing an abundance of meaningful service for both institutions and communities, these demands and values are changing. Increasingly, faculty at community colleges are expected to publish—and publish a lot. The effect of this is extreme superservice. Van Slyck insists that attention to service and reflective, passionate, cutting-edge teaching methodologies should remain the central focus of community colleges’ missions, and issues of equity, politics, and gender should not be swept aside in favor of an increasingly corporate, competitive spirit. Faculty at community colleges must come together, she writes, to bravely voice “no” as well as articulate new visions for how to regain the collaborative (not competitive) ethos that has, traditionally, been the raison d’être of the United States community college.

Finally, Part 3, “Service Changes,” rounds out Over Ten Million Served with hopeful readjustments: ways of retheorizing, reclaiming, and remaking service assumptions and visions. Authors in this section suggest both material and conceptual ways that faculty and administrators may begin to serve—and be serviced by their colleagues and administrators—in ways that reflect particular intellectual, ethical, and communal values. Patricia Meyer Spack’s “Service and Empowerment” stood out in this section as, quite simply, a radical call for the rewiring of our brains with regard to service. Quite simply, when we hear the word “service,” we should think of an empowering tool rather than a burdensome trap. Service, she writes, can be a form of “replenishment” and “pleasure” (218); we can retrain our minds “[t]o think of service as a form and source of power, to understand how it enlarges…capacities, makes it possible to use those capacities to advantage” (216). My favorite essay from Over Ten Million Served is Donald E. Hall’s optimistic exploration of the ethics of engaging dialogically with one’s colleagues in “Hermeneutics of Service.” With a warm, unapologetically idealistic tone, he discusses the tension between two competing models of the academy: as a holistic community devoted to life-long learning (the kind of delicious, expansive learning that makes one wonderfully vulnerable to having one’s assumptions/ideas proven wrong through honest, intellectually-engaged conversations), or, as a bleak, divisive land of pure self-interest where we cling to our ideas and not seek to be helpfully challenged by our colleagues. Hall recounts the work/philosophies of the late German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, a much-beloved professor who urged teacher-scholars to daily stay awake by reading/interpreting the “texts” from every moment of their everyday lives working at their institutions. With this kind of framework, then, “service” can be seen as a chance to engage in learning and growing—even in the most unexpected of places. For instance, Hall argues that faculty can, to their benefit, switch “on” their intellectual curiosity when engaging in supposedly mundane service tasks such as attending committee meetings. In his essay, he admits that the academy does, currently, gender certain service as women’s work, but he sticks by his claim that this status quo can change if faculty begin to view service through the ideal light of hermeneutic theory, which “challenges us to rethink the bases of our academic identity, shifting from the inward-looking, careerist notion of academic selfhood to an energetically outward-looking, community-based notion of academic and intellectual activity” (226).

Ultimately, Massé and Hogan’s collection would be particularly valuable for feminist teacher-scholars, faculty in the humanities, faculty involved with collective bargaining, administration at all levels, and/or persons involved with local/campus advocacy initiatives. Institutional committees who are working toward some kind of change in tenure or service policies will no doubt want to review the insights from this volume, as well. Further, even though Over Ten Million Served focuses primarily on the service of tenured and tenure-track faculty, this book might also be extremely helpful for doctoral students about to enter the job market. As a graduate student in rhetoric and composition, I exited this book with a list of institutions in hand (institutions that the collection’s various authors note as seemingly in-line with my own ethics of service), as well as a long list of questions regarding the evaluation of the service category that I will need to be mindful of during job interviews. All in all, Over One Million Served has the potential to serve a wide range of audiences as a vital addition to the ongoing critique of the amped-up, superserviceable, capitalistic version of higher education at which so many of us wince—and desire to actively transform.