Originally published in the inaugural edition of Carroll Capital, the print publication of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. Read the full issue here.
Inside a large conference room in Fulton Hall, Curtis Chan—an assistant professor in the Carroll School’s Management and Organization Department—is introducing an aspect of his research that he calls “task segregation.” This is when a group of workers is disproportionately assigned a specific task, which can erode the quality of a job and, as a result, create workplace inequality. His case in point: “Everyone’s favorite organization—the TSA,” Chan says wryly, referring to the Transportation Security Administration. His audience laughs, and Chan proceeds to examine how women TSA workers shoulder the larger burden of the dreaded pat-down task at airport security checkpoints, leading to various forms of “within-job inequality.”
On this day in April, Fulton 515 is bustling with professors from across Carroll School departments. Crowding tables in the rectangular room and sitting in extra chairs lining the walls, Chan’s colleagues pitch questions to him, at times evoking a doctoral dissertation defense. The occasion for this brisk exchange is the Bartunek Faculty Research Forum, which brings large swaths of the faculty together three times a year, lunch provided (Chinese food, always).
The 75-minute forum is emblematic of the school’s research culture, which has a distinctly communal flavor. One thinks of scholars laboring in solitude, or conferring with colleagues in their own fields or subspecialties, transmitting thoughts that only they can comprehend, like members of a fraternal society performing their secret handshakes. That’s part of academic life. At the Carroll School, though, professors “go beyond the code words,” because they’re speaking with a broader community of scholars, says Professor Jean Bartunek, the forum’s namesake.
This is not a natural occurrence. Asked about the research culture when she arrived at the Carroll School in the late 1970s, Bartunek, who is the Robert A. and Evelyn J. Ferris Professor of Management and Organization, said, “There wasn’t much at all.” There was little research of the kind done by Carroll School faculty today—original findings published in top academic journals—and hardly a widespread culture of conversation around research. She says changes began in the 1980s and accelerated when Andy Boynton became dean in 2005.
Other highlights of the school’s community-oriented research culture include what are dubbed “Research Conversations.” These are seminars hosted by Carroll School departments a few times a week on average, featuring guest presenters from other institutions—with the entire Carroll School faculty invited. “People here care about research and listen to their colleagues, and give their feedback,” says Haub Family Professor Ronnie Sadka, Finance Department chair and senior associate dean for faculty. “And they move the needle forward.”
“People here care about research and listen to their colleagues, and give their feedback.”
At the April 11 Bartunek forum attended by around 60 faculty members, Chan explains why female TSA agents are disproportionately allotted the pat-down task (basically, regulations require that female agents perform the task on female passengers, and there aren’t enough of them for all those passengers). This means that TSA women are inordinately exposed to a physically and emotionally exhausting task that passengers loathe, which can bring higher turnover and “managerial sanctions for taking recuperative time off,” he and a coauthor have written in Administrative Science Quarterly. The faculty question Chan further on how he extrapolates findings from his qualitative, interview-based research, which prompts close questioning about methodology.
In another context, Chan notes that a research focus on workplace inequality reflects “BC values, which are about dignity and care for the person.” And no one challenges the proposition.