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The Professoriate Reconsidered: A Study of New Faculty Models

Adrianna Kezar, Daniel Maxey, and Elizabeth Holcombe

Given the large-scale and largely unintentional changes to the faculty workforce (e.g., move to predominantly contingent adjunct appointments, de-professionalization) that have occurred over the last several decades, there is a need for thoughtful and intentional discussion of the potential characteristics of new faculty models. In our most recent report, Adapting by Design (2015), we outlined why a new model is needed: the tenure-track/adjunct model, as currently constructed, does not serve the enterprise well. Our earlier research (Kezar & Maxey, 2014) indicated that one of the reasons that it has been difficult to move forward with development of new faculty models has been the absence among key stakeholder groups of a shared vision for the future of the faculty. Lacking any compelling options or ideas around which changes might begin, the enterprise has remained at a standstill.

In this survey study, we collected the views of faculty, campus administrators, board members, accreditors, and statelevel higher education policymakers at a broad range of institutional types (public and private, two-year and fouryear, and various Carnegie classification types) to gain a better understanding of these stakeholders’ views about potential new faculty models. Our hope is that understanding these groups’ perspectives on the attractiveness and feasibility of new faculty models can advance the conversation around the future of the faculty in meaningful and concrete ways.

The survey included 39 two-part scaled response items, each presenting a potential attribute of a future faculty model. These survey items were organized into eight categories related to faculty roles: faculty pathways; contracts; unbundling of faculty roles; status in the academic community; faculty development, promotion, and evaluation; flexibility; collaboration and community engagement; and public good roles. The following are key findings:

  • Overall, we found general agreement across many of the questions and categories in this survey, indicating greater-than-anticipated potential for common ground and a way forward to create new faculty roles. Areas of strong agreement include the need for more full-time faculty, ensuring some sort of scholarly component in all faculty roles, fostering more collaboration among faculty, allowing some differentiation of roles focused on teaching and research, and developing a more complex view of scholarship, epitomized in Boyer’s (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered. Our findings dispel the pervasive myth that there is a tremendous and impassable gulf between groups’ views about the faculty.
  • A major theme that emerged was the overarching need to maintain and restore professionalism to the faculty role, which relates to issues such as protecting academic freedom, inclusion in shared governance, equitable pay, career advancement, professional development, and the like.
  • We did not find remarkably resistant views among unionized faculty members in our survey nor, indeed, views that were much different from those of faculty overall. Although the collective bargaining process might add a layer of complexity to making decisions about faculty employment and contracts, our survey responses indicate that the views of faculty members (both full- and part-time; tenure track and non–tenure track) who are in collective bargaining agreements are not distinctly different from their non-unionized peers.
  • Although many stakeholders had interest in and found many areas of a future faculty model attractive, there were gaps in interest in some proposals and in views on their feasibility in certain areas. Stakeholders registered concerns about the feasibility of proposals such as creativity contracts, more customized faculty roles, more flexible faculty roles, and creation of consortial hiring arrangements.

The areas of agreement identified in this study can serve as starting points for discussion, providing points of consensus to help move the greater dialogue about the future of the faculty from mere exchange of ideas to the creation of a reality. If this report has any effect, we hope that it will help to provoke a collaborative dialogue about sustainable and meaningful change in the faculty model.