Latina prof insists 'white men' must do more 'service work'

An associate professor at the University of Kansas recently argued that “white men” professors need to “step forward” and do more “service work.”

Shannon Portillo, a Latina professor at the University of Kansas, recently argued in an essay for Inside Higher Ed that “white men must learn to say yes” when asked to do more “service work” on the job, which includes “mentoring students” and “serving on academic committees.”

Portillo’s call for white men to step up was spurred by a recent study reporting that female professors spend more time mentoring students than do their white male counterparts, which she argues is problematic because service work sucks away time that professors could otherwise spend on research.

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“White men are overrepresented in higher education and underrepresented in the amount of service they do within their institutions,” Portillo complains. “Rather than encouraging women and people of color to say no [to requests for more service work], we should be encouraging white men to say yes.”

In an interview with Campus Reform, Portillo explained that “service work”, is delineated in most professors’ job contracts. For example, a contract may spell out that teaching constitutes 60 percent of a professor’s job responsibilities, while 40 percent of those responsibilities should be dedicated to “service.”

When asked how the gender disparity in service work comes about if professors of the same rank are hired with similar contracts, Portillo answered that, disparities often arise because “women are often asked” to sign up for additional service work beyond what their contracts require.

“Women are often asked to serve more than their male colleagues. So even though contracts lay out the same thing, there are still requests that go above and beyond...the women are often asked more than white men,” she explained.

Moreover, a professor who is asked to do more service work than their contract stipulates might be reluctant to decline, Portillo added, because of “where those requests are coming from” and “how those power relations work.”

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Thus, because women are choosing to accept requests for service work that distract them from their research, Portillo is calling upon white male professors to proactively step up.

“When white men do more service, women and people of color will have more time to engage in research,” she asserts in her article. “We do not have to level the playing field by asking people of color and women to act more like white men. We can level the playing field by asking white men to engage in their share of service, too.”

Further, although the gender-gap in service appears to be caused by women’s choices, Portillo says that the onus is not on women to fix the issue.

“It is not up to people of color and women to solve the imbalance of service work by saying no,” she declares. “It is up to white men to solve the imbalance of service work by saying yes.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen