Peer Review

From the Editor

In 2002, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) published an issue of Peer Review that focused on contingent faculty and student learning. In his introduction to that issue, then-editor David Tritelli wrote, “Surprisingly, there has been very little study of the impact [of contingent faculty] on student learning. This is even more surprising—and alarming—given the likely correlation between what we know about how best to facilitate optimal student learning experiences and what we know about the material conditions of contingent instruction.”

Now, more than ten years later, in this issue we explore the evolving tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF) roles and revisit many of the points touched upon in the 2002 issue. At this time when a reported 70 percent of faculty members fall into the NTTF category (when counting full- and part-time), it is even more important to determine how these changes are having an impact on student learning outcomes.

This Peer Review features articles on changing faculty roles from a range of perspectives:

  • Susan Albertine outlines AAC&U’s faculty work history and looks toward the future of liberal education with a new faculty model
  • Adrianna Kezar and Sean Gerke share results from a survey given to academic deans with the intention of better understanding their attitudes toward supporting NTTF
  • Rebecca Dolinsky writes from the perspective of a three-year NTTF member who has decided to leave the contingency track in favor of a research career path
  • David Paris contemplates the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional faculty role from the perspective of liberal arts colleges
  • Andrew Tonge reports on how his campus’s mathematics department, which has a significant NTTF population, intentionally created a more inclusive and effective framework for faculty work
  • Kris Roney and Sarah L. Ulerick use their experience in the AAC&U Roadmap project to report from the field on how faculty work is changing for the community college “corps of instruction”
  • Kenneth P. Ruscio reflects as a president about the challenging lives of teacher-scholars on liberal arts college campuses and the enduring value of the teacher-scholar model
  • John W. Curtis writes about research on gender differences in academic employment
  • Maria Maisto’s Reality Check considers the “costs” of the unbundling of faculty work

The enduring graphic metaphor of faculty work as a three-leg stool—teaching, research, and service—was the inspiration for this issue’s cover illustration. We contemplated using a variety of images to get the point across, from cartoon figures being carried away by balloons to potted plants that were unable to put down roots. While each idea had its merits, none of them successfully captured the challenges and dilemmas faced by the twenty-first-century faculty. We finally settled on the idea of juxtaposing a faculty member on a steady three-leg stool with another tottering on a one-leg stool to illustrate how important it is that faculty have adequate support in order to do their job well.

AAC&U is dedicated to ensuring that all students benefit from an engaged liberal education. We work with our members to create the best teaching and learning environment through which all students’ can achieve their best outcomes. The only way that students can do their best is when faculty too are in the position to do their best. Therefore, as the roles of faculty, tenure- and non-tenure track, continue to change, we have to keep asking the tough questions about the impact of change on student learning. Susan Albertine poetically makes this point in the concluding lines of her framing article: “To carry out our mission, we will work hand in hand with all educators and we will envision the hands of future faculty—beckoning, engaged in work we can only begin to imagine.”

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