9 month salaries and summer service

Like many professors in the US, I am paid a 9 month salary. In the past week, I’ve received several emails that have prompted me to think about my institutional responsibilities during the summer: one that requested feedback on revising our Biology curriculum, one that requested comments on the research statement of a spousal hire, and one (from our Provost!) expressing concern that many faculty in my small department were unavailable to meet with some upcoming candidates for an external position (a position where the person would be affiliated with my department, but where no attempts were made to consult faculty in our department about preferred weeks/dates for scheduling interviews).

I fully expect that these requests and many others will be the norm rather than the exception- students will want to meet with committee members and perhaps defend their thesis or take their qualifying exams, there will be administrative positions to be filled where they need a faculty representative, there will be the occasional faculty meeting, etc.  And, I also realize that all requests aren’t equal- in my case,  I’m going to put in time for that potential spousal hire and student requests, whereas I’m less inclined to put effort into other kinds of requests.  But as a newish faculty member, I’m unsure about my responsibilities to my institution in these cases.

Over the years, I’ve seen a variety of attitudes towards summer service work.  I’ve encountered faculty members with a blanket policy of no committee work over the summer and I’ve also seen faculty who do quite a bit of service over the summer.  My attitude is mixed.  In some ways, summer is a nice time to fulfill some of these types of requests because my schedule is more flexible and I find it difficult to focus productively on research for all working hours of the day.  If I can use these activities to offset school-year service, then it would be a win-win situation.  (But who am I kidding?  There are no offsets for these kinds of activities.)  But at the same time, I am always vexed when these kinds of requests come across my desk. The summer is when I finally have blocks of time in front of me with very few appointments, and those are usually research and lab-related appointments.  I can put my head down and focus on one thing at a time, without all of my other responsibilities crowding my brain.

So I’m putting my question to you, or at least those of you with 9 month salaries.  I know that each institution will have their own cultural norms and expectations for summer service work, but how do you handle these duties?  Which ones do you prioritize?

(Note: Besides writing this post and getting feedback from TSW readers, I am also soliciting advice from my own department mentors.)

15 thoughts on “9 month salaries and summer service

  1. This is an interesting and important question both for individuals and for our education and research systems as part-year, adjunct, and part-time positions become more common. A specific question: are you paid from a research grant during the 3 months of summer? If so, what is the funding agency’s policy on service to your academic institution during that time?

    • In my case, summer funding is partly through start-up and partly through grants. So this year, I could make the argument that I do have some institutional responsibilities. But even that is unclear, since the purpose of start-up is to get your lab and research going. Next year, I won’t be able to use start-up for summer salary, so I’ll just be funded on grants, but I don’t have enough to fully cover my summers and I don’t anticipate being fully funded over the summer for the near future. So in my case, I have enough non-grant-paid summer time that I can still justify the service, but surely some folks who read this blog are fully funded. My guess is that the standard policy for most funding agencies is that you should be doing research 100% of the time you are paid salary from them, but I’m not actually sure if that’s accurate!

  2. I honestly didn’t even consider saying ‘no’ when asked to be on a search committee this summer.. in a department of five people I think we are all just expected to step up when needed. Maybe I’ll feel like I can say ‘no’ after tenure.. but then I would be leaving everyone else in a lurch. Ergh.

  3. After tenure, it only gets worse, for then you have the added service duties of evaluating the progress of those faculty at a lower rank than you are. Where I am, we actually have an 8-month contract, and I have been without a contract since 4/28/14, and there have been only two days when I have not had to come into the office for some paperwork/committee work/meeting.

  4. It has always bugged me that our classes start in the last week of August but our appointments start September 1. I wonder what would happen if the entire faculty collectively decided not to teach in August.

    In general, though, I think it’s acceptable to say “no” during the summer. In my department, the default assumption is that people will be gone over the summer, mostly to conferences or field trips.

  5. Most of the tenure-track faculty that I know are on 4-6 month appointments (9 months in some departments) and are expected to cover the remainder of their time with grant funding (I’m at a large, public research university, and I hang out with folks in the applied sciences). There is absolutely NO WAY to compartmentalize time, e.g., “I’m going to spend Sept.-Dec. only teaching, and then switch back to research and service activities.” Everything is happening all of the time, even through summer. I honestly can’t even imagine a scenario where a tenure-track faculty member would take time off or reject department service because it was the period when they weren’t being paid by the university. In most cases, rather than being sequentially paid (100% by the university for one month, and then 100% by a grant the next), TT faculty are paid at some ratio that reflects how much grant funding they are supposed to be bringing in. So, 12 months of the year they are paid 50/50 by university/grant sources for a 6 month appointment. Maybe it’s a difference in discipline or local university culture between here and where you are. I guess I’m not the right person to be answering your question!

    • Thanks for your perspective! I don’t think there is a right or wrong person to answer my question. I was interested in the diversity of opinions, and it’s interesting to me to see that there are so many different models for paying faculty at universities!

  6. I’m new faculty (and just back from an unpaid maternity leave), so I am doing as little as possible this summer. Of course, our pay ended the first week of May (we are actually terminated each year, even though we’re tenure-track, which made it fun to try to buy a house last year… but I digress) and we still had various required things–annual self-evaluation reports and the like–due during the month. And some grad students wanted to defend and graduate, so I didn’t want to stand in the way of that. But even though I’m not tenured, I am trying my hardest to keep my summers mine. I do research, I write up research, and I parent my two small children. That’s plenty to do right there. If I were teaching or had summer salary from a grant, I might feel differently.

    • Ugh, after going through my own home-buying experience, I can only imagine the pain of being terminated yearly! I’m also trying to keep summers “mine” (or rather, reserved for my lab and myself), but as all the other commenters have pointed out, this is complicated and there is no clear standard.

  7. Life is somewhat different in the SLAC world, and especially outside of STEM departments. At my institution we are on contract from roughly August 15-May 20 each year. Outside of those dates it is commonplace for faculty to simply ignore all email and to change their voicemail to out-of-office-back-in-August mode. In practice, adminstrators simply understand that they cannot count on any faculty being reachable during the non-contract months. No faculty-led committees meet during the summers at all.

    That said, there are exceptions– particularly department chairs. Though they are also off-contract (and receive no summer stipend/salary) most of the burden of summer service falls on them. A few committees that include faculty representatives will simply meet without faculty as well. But for the most part the educational arm of our institution simply goes into hibernation from May-August (we have no summer school, nor graduate students) while the physical plant is used for things like summer camps, elderhostel, and corporate retreats. STEM faculty tend to be around in their labs, but don’t answer the phone or email. A few humanities and social science faculty can be spotted in shorts and t-shirts, dropping in to the library to return books. That’s about it.

    Summers, as a result, are a true respite. and generally delightful. I was in my office all day today and the only other person I saw was a physical plant employee checking locks on all the doors– she seemed surprised to see me in my office in fact, and I’m in the science building.

    • I agree, I do think there is more leeway given in the summer. I personally don’t expect other faculty to be around or available much, and I encourage my students to have all of their official committee meetings within the school year. But, based on various emails from upper administrators, it seems like perhaps this outlook is not shared by all of our administrators!

  8. At U. Chicago, we had 11-month salaries and I expected to work in the summers. At UC Berkeley, some of my colleagues in College of Natural Resources have 11-month salaries, so they work in the summer and their students expect to be able to have dissertations read, etc. in summer. However, in Letters and Science, where we have 9-month salaries, students know not to try to hold committee meetings during summer months.

    My friends outside of academics always think I’ve got the summer off and wonder why I’m not out playing more (I do play some in the summer). Other than a couple of week-long vacations, I spend summers writing manuscripts, grant proposals, and course prep for the fall semester. I explain to my friends that the work that I am evaluated on for promotion is the work I do during the summer, when I’m not being paid, and that most of the work I do during the school year, when I’m being paid, doesn’t really count towards promotion. Then I ask them if it’s that way where they work. They always shake their collective heads at my situation.

    My feeling is that no decent administrator would ask pre-tenure faculty to do administrative work during the summer; that instead, they should be pushing their junior colleagues to focus on research productivity. However, all the schools I’ve taught at have valued research over teaching. It might be different at schools that have the reverse emphasis.

  9. I am also at a small, undergraduate-only 4 year college, where there are no research requirements for tenure. The department is deserted right now! I am still doing research and writing manuscripts/grants, and I hate working from home, so I go into the office every day to write. Each day this week, I’ve had unknown students/parents knock on my door and ask totally random questions. It’s actually making me think twice about working from home. They are looking for their academic advisor, the department head, a graduated cylinder (???? that was the student who came into my office today!), and I’m the only mammal in the building so they ask me. It’s interrupting my writing! This is only my first summer on campus, but I definitely get the feeling that professors here are totally unreachable over the summer.

  10. Our small, private, non-profit university in Los Angeles has faculty on 9-month contracts and they scatter like pigeons in a hail storm once grades are due in mid-May. We don’t expect to see them again until the first day of fall classes. Department chairs get a small stipend to cover summer administrative service (about 2 days a week). This makes life hard for folks like me, in administration. I can’t write “We do have evidence of student learning (I promise!), but I can’t provide it right now because all our faculty have run away,” in our accreditation report. So we fight on behalf of the chairs to get them summer compensation so they can handle assessment, accreditation, and strategic planning activities (which they’re FAR too busy to do during the school year, so good luck trying!). Oh, sigh. As a doctoral candidate myself (and adjunct), this is what I look forward to someday.

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