Guided tour of my service and institutional development work

When reviewing a colleagues work for promotion, academics expect the research and writing to have a coherence, albeit one that might require a personal statement to articulate to outsiders, and look for a statement of teaching philosophy.  Service work is more likely to be spelled out, but not explained.  The following guided tour of my work is presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent.


Although my training is in the life and environmental sciences, critical thinking and critical pedagogy became central to my intellectual and professional project as I encouraged students and researchers to contrast the paths taken in science, society, education with other paths that might be taken, and to foster their acting upon the insights gained. Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally, and so I have contributed actively, to new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines. In this sense I have always pursued service in the broader spirit of institutional development.

Since arriving at UMass Boston in 1998 I have extended the theme of service as institutional development. This approach is important not only to initiate and sustain new projects concerning critical reflective practice in science and science education, but also to respond in existing programs to the shifting resources, priorities, and other challenges we persistently face in public education. When preparing dossiers for promotion in 2001 and 2005, I articulated the qualities I value in service, one of which is finding coherent principles to guide our efforts (Table 1). While serving as Chair in 2006 of Curriculum and Instruction—a department consisting of several graduate programs with administrative responsibilities met solely or primarily by faculty members—I formulated a set of priorities when faced with competing demands on our work time (Table 2).

Table 1. Qualities to Pursue in Service and Institutional Development
planning that takes into account the often-limited and uncertain state of resources, guides where we put our not-unlimited energies, and seeks to make the result sustainable or cumulative;
community-building, not only for the sake of a sustainable product, but so participants/ collaborators value their involvement in the process;
probing what has been taken for granted or left unarticulated until coherent principles emerge to guide our efforts;
transparency and inclusiveness of consultation in formulating procedures and principles and in making evaluations available;
documenting process, product, and evaluations to make institutional learning more likely;
organization, including efficient use of computer technology, to support all of the above.

Table 2. Priorities when faced with competing demands on our work time
The way I like to think about our “work” is that it is about:
1st supporting students’ intellectual & professional development;
2nd supporting each other as colleagues in doing #1;
3rd the research, writing, teaching, and organizational development activities that excite us (that led us to be academics);
4th the operating, planning, and ongoing development of the graduate & undergraduate programs we’re affiliated with;
5th dealing with the administrative & other mandates (e.g., licensure, accreditation, multi-year program reviews) in ways that don’t detract from #1-4.

These principles and priorities should stand out in the examples of service and institutional development given in this Guided Tour. Of course, I do not claim to have been successful in every instance. In particular, I am learning that something beyond “collegial interactions across disciplines” and “community-building,” namely, persistent coalition-building among diverse parties is required to secure and maintain the conditions for our institutions to serve us well in serving students, colleagues, and the wider publics.  To be continued.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

5 Responses to Guided tour of my service and institutional development work

  1. Pingback: Guided tour of my service and institutional development work II « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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