Tenured Radical mentioned that there are many among us who "over-serve" on committees, often because our colleagues are "under perform." I find that to be true, though I also think that some folks who don't serve on committees or, especially those who don't get chosen to serve, tend to be angry that some of us seem to be directing everything because we are on all the committees. Dean Dad wrote a response to TR, trying to blame the situation on the tenure system. I agree with one of his commentators, who notes that tenure in and of itself is not to blame; instead, it is the yardstick by which we measure tenure and the expectations we set for quality job performance. As I said in my response to him, we ought to have quality committee service on the expectations before and after tenure, and if you don't pull your weight, you risk being fired. Of course, that would be a stretch for R1 schools, especially if the faculty member is bringing in massive grants and writing LOTS of articles. Of course, a lot of the faculty who are under performing as regards committee work are underperforming elsewhere, too.
I find it a challenge to avoid committee work, for a number of reasons. First, I like serving on committees, because I like making a difference in the curriculum, current practices, etc. Whether it is a departmental curriculum committee or a university task force on student services or general education requirements, service on these committees means that I am helping to shape student learning and student experiences on our campus. I also recognize that these committees greatly affect the lives of faculty and staff, and I want to make sure that my perspectives (and on university committees, the interests and concerns of my departmental colleagues) are represented. Further, service on tenure and promotion committees in the university and the department have a rather tangible impact on the individual lives of faculty as well as on the well-being of the department as a whole. Committee work matters, and I like to be a part of something that matters.
Another reason I often don't refuse such service is that I have aspirations about moving higher in administration someday, either on the departmental level or in central administration. The more committees on which I serve, the more I learn about the functioning of the department and the university, and the better I can serve in an administrative capacity. And the committee service looks good on the vitae for just that reason. Further, I accept the appointments to the university committees, especially, because the administrators get to know me personally, come to see that I have potential for central administration, and might perhaps consider me for a position.
Now, committee work can sometimes be a serious pain in the ass, especially when committee members act like jerks. Dr. Crazy had a great post about trying to manage a dismissive group of men in her recent committee meeting, a post eerily similar to my own (which was also a response to an earlier post by Crazy...what can I say, I dig her!) ... That is the exception, though, in my current university, and I find my colleagues within and outside the department very solid and thoughtful. And the underperformers generally tend not to show, so we just get the work done around them.
All of that said, at some point committee service becomes too much. I am gonna hold my breath and hope that this year's set of commitments are manageable. The good news is that I can cycle off one of these commitments at the end of the semester, and several of them end when the year ends. And, if the sabbatical proposal gets approved, I will be committee-less for a WHOLE YEAR! Now, that is something to smile about!