Peer Review

Toward the Next Century of Leadership: A Future Faculty Model

In 1940, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges (AAC)—now the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)—issued a two-page document titled Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure ( Today’s AAC&U members may not realize that our association joined AAUP to make that venerable statement. It was our document just as it was AAUP’s. The 1940 Statement, as it is called, has endured and evolved, a living document, widely respected in higher education. It served as the foundational text on academic freedom and tenure in the twentieth-century United States. To date no other statement has taken its place.

AAC&U’s Faculty Work History

The history of our work with faculty and our work for liberal education at the nexus of teaching and learning has much to tell us now, as we and our membership experience a period of unprecedented change in the academy. Issuing the 1940 Statement was not, as a matter of fact, AAC’s first action on behalf of the faculty. In 1915, AAC’s founding year, AAUP set forth a lengthy statement of principles on academic freedom and academic tenure. Beginning in the 1920s, AAC joined a conference committee to reformulate those principles, making the document shorter and presumably more useful. In 1925, AAC endorsed the revised document. AAUP signed it in 1926. What emerged as the 1940 Statement was actually a restatement of principles drafted as early as 1915. In our first decade as an association, that is, we stepped forward to lead the academy through a major phase of growth and change.

It was emphatically a period of change. From the 1890s through World War I, a new faculty was emerging, as the academy in the United States grew and diversified. The arts and sciences, as we now know them, and an array of professional disciplines were organized and named. The credit hour was also defined. The core curriculum or general education grew from roots in the liberal education of the pre-industrial era. These were interrelated developments that brought the academy across the threshold of the twentieth century, into the modern industrialized world. AAC itself came into being as liberal arts colleges, the majority of AAC’s founding members, redefined themselves in context of the sweeping changes of modernization.

AAC’s work on behalf of academic freedom and tenure, guided by the ideas and ideals of liberal education—in and beyond the liberal arts—continued and developed through the twentieth century. In 1969, representatives of AAUP and AAC attached a three-page commentary to the 1940 Statement. This document was issued formally as the 1970 Interpretive Comments. Both associations’ governing bodies met in 1989 and 1990 to adopt gender-neutral language throughout the text. No fewer than 209 higher education organizations, associations, and societies endorsed the document, the first in 1941, with nearly half joining in the 1960s and 1970s. Significantly, the last sixteen endorsements arrived as late as 2006. That was the same year in which the AAC&U Board of Directors issued Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibility, a statement drafted by AAC&U senior scholar Jerry G. Gaff.

Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibility intentionally built on the foundation of the 1940 Statement and addressed a dimension of academic freedom that had been scarcely visible in the original document: “the responsibilities of faculty members for educational programs.”

The statement intended to carry the 1940 principles forward and to develop a politically attuned line of thinking about academic freedom in the context of the times. It sought to inform public and campus discussions during a period of contentious debate over teaching and learning, a debate centered on the politics of intellectual diversity in the undergraduate curriculum and on conservative efforts to suppress that diversity. Defining liberal education as an approach to college learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change (
), AAC&U reaffirmed the connection between the intellectual, personal, and social outcomes of student learning and the academic freedom and professional responsibility of educators.

Crossing Another Threshold

As this issue of Peer Review goes to press, nearly a century after AAC was founded, the American academy is once again experiencing enormous change. Political disputes over academic freedom and control over the intellectual and social work of colleges and universities in the 1990s and early 2000s were a sign of the times. One decade into the twenty-first century, we are crossing another threshold. This time the driving forces include advancements in information technology, reductions in public investment in higher education, and acceleration of the effects of globalization. The meaning of liberal education across the diverse array of institutions that now constitute the American academy is highly contested, perhaps more so than ever before. AAC&U is actively engaged in the struggle to keep the goals of high-quality liberal learning accessible to all students in the diverse US population even as national goals aim for completion rates and job training as the highest goods. As for the twenty-first century faculty, they are a dramatically different group from the body envisioned in 1915, 1925, or 1940, or for that matter 1970 or 1990. The conditions under which faculty work and their overall responsibilities for educational programs and student learning are likewise vastly different.

A glance at the language of the 1940 Statement suggests how much has changed. Robust and reasoned, cogent, and confidently normative, the 1940 text stands as a dignified set of first principles. While the academy continues to respect these principles, their very language and their underlying assumptions hail from a different era. Addressing academic freedom, the 1940 Statement proclaims, “College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.”

In 2013, more than two-thirds of the faculty have no claim to academic freedom or recourse to “special obligations” as “officers” of academic institutions. More than two-thirds of the faculty in institutions of higher education in the United States do not have and cannot earn tenure. The majority of the contemporary faculty are employed on terms of contingency, most working on part-time contracts that do not pay a living wage or carry benefits. Since 1975 the ranks of people employed on part-time contingent contracts have ballooned by 300 percent. In the same period, tenured and tenure-track faculty have also risen in number, but by a much lower rate of 26 percent. The AAUP Faculty Salary Report for 2013 lists the median pay for a single course at $3,200 at research universities and $2,250 at community colleges. It also raises the percentage of the total faculty who work under terms of contingency to 76 percent ( For more faculty members than ever before, college has become—as a recent article in The Atlantic (Weissman 2013) put it—not a career or membership in a learned profession but a “gig.” The implications for student learning and the ideals of liberal education and inclusive excellence are substantial.

A New Faculty Model

It is timely once again, at this moment, for AAC&U to step forward. We intend to speak and lead, to use the voice of the association to advance liberal education on behalf of educators’ academic freedom and professional responsibility. Just as liberal education itself is changing in the twenty-first century, this century demands a new faculty model, one that is flexible and dynamic for our times. Our mission-centric approach to the issues related to the growing reliance on both part-time and full-time non-tenure track faculty is demonstrated through our ongoing work and appears explicitly in our 2013–2017 strategic plan, Big Questions, Urgent Challenges: Liberal Education and Americans’ Global Future. We are prepared to lead the work to discover what this model might be and to promote the change that can achieve it. In fact, in recent decades AAC&U has taken purposeful steps in precisely this direction.

Beginning in 1969, AAC&U (then AAC) introduced pioneering work to advance the standing of women and minority faculty, to recognize their roles in and contributions to a pluralistic liberal education. Decades of work on the composition and diversity of the faculty ensued. The nexus of teaching and learning, with emphasis on faculty issues and topics, has brought integrity to AAC&U’s periodicals and meetings. “Faculty roles” or “faculty work” has for more than twenty years organized the content and themes of the four annual Network for Academic Renewal meetings.

In the late 1980s, AAC&U developed a number of important faculty-centered projects. Perhaps the best known is Preparing Future Faculty (PFF), a joint project with the Council of Graduate Schools, from 1993 to 2002. In a pilot begun in 1989, AAC&U tested the concept of a partnership intentionally drawn between research universities that prepare faculty and liberal arts colleges in which many new faculty teach. Intent on developing a model for faculty preparation, PFF encouraged higher education institutions “to re-think and to reorganize the preparation of doctoral students who aspire to become faculty.” Scaled up, the project itself focused on liberal education as the responsibility of faculty prepared to teach across the full diversity of American institutions. PFF organized seventeen “clusters,” involving eighty-eight institutions.

In 1997, AAC&U became a founding member of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW). The coalition brings higher education associations, disciplinary associations, and faculty organizations together to address “issues associated with deteriorating faculty working conditions and their effect on college and university students in the United States.” As noted above, in 2006 AAC&U opened a new phase of activity with Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibility. Then, in 2009, AAC&U published The Future of the Professoriate: Academic Freedom, Peer Review, and Shared Governance, written by Neil Hamilton and Jerry G. Gaff.

The Future of the Professoriate is designed to “spur dialogue and action about ‘Intentional Leadership in the New Academy’” (v). Focusing on the faculty, the book develops explicit connections between the outcomes of liberal learning for the twenty-first century and the multiple functions and processes of educators’ work to reach those outcomes. It draws on AAC&U’s 2002 report, Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College, defining the “new academy” and making the case for purposeful educational pathways for a student body more diverse than ever before. AAC&U again offered new concepts and principles for the professoriate in recommendations articulated in College Learning for the New Global Century (2007), familiarly known as the LEAP Report—the foundational document guiding Liberal Education and America’s Promise, AAC&U’s signature initiative. Most importantly, The Future of the Professoriate makes particular and pointed recommendations to extend academic freedom and responsibility to contingent faculty, to include contingent faculty as “genuine peers,” and to give contingent faculty a hand in the shared governance of academic programs.

In 2010, AAC&U launched Preparing Critical Faculty for the Future (PCFF), a project intended to provide professional and leadership development for women of color faculty in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and in natural and behavioral science disciplines. Through this effort, PCFF aims to improve undergraduate STEM education at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and more broadly in higher education.

In 2011, AAC&U opened yet another new phase of work, this time explicitly addressing the rising numbers of faculty working on contingent contracts, whether full-time or part-time, and making the case for the connections between the working conditions for faculty and the achievement of liberal education outcomes for all students. The association created space within the 2011 annual meeting for the New Faculty Majority and hosted their national summit during the 2012 AAC&U annual meeting.

Our newest project on behalf of the faculty began also in 2011, with the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success ( Cosponsored by AAC&U and the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, the Delphi Project opened a first phase of work by convening a group of higher education leaders from a diverse range of institutions, organizations, and associations. Using a modified Delphi process, a method of building consensus, the project identified major themes and critical findings on the state of the faculty. It also gathered and presented research at the intersection of teaching and learning, drawing connections between working conditions for educators and the consequential effects on student success, including achievement of intended learning outcomes. Two meta-strategies emerged from the first phase of work. The Delphi leadership group achieved consensus on the need for a new vision. The academy must design, they said, a new model, a future faculty model. Concurrently, the leadership group agreed that it is essential to support the existing faculty, including non-tenure-track faculty who face poor working conditions on most campuses. To achieve this goal, campus leaders need to understand the challenges to the work of non-tenure-track faculty because campus policies and practices do not support their performance (e.g., late scheduling of classes, no professional development). Poor policies are producing poor outcomes for students—notably reduced learning and engagement. The project is assembling resources and offering improved policies, including working examples and models that will help campus leaders design practices to support all faculty.

The Delphi Project makes the case that higher education bears a collective responsibility to help institutions of all types weather the change in working conditions for faculty and to do so ethically and purposefully—with an eye to resilient plans for the future. As the articles in this issue of Peer Review attest, we can see the need for much work ahead. But we have begun to move.

Transforming Traditional Campus-Based Structures and Designs

Nearing the organization’s centennial in 2015, AAC&U can rightly claim to have exercised a century of leadership for academic freedom and responsibility and to have undertaken this leadership to advance undergraduate learning. As an organization, we have addressed tenure and the roles, rewards, and work of the faculty as long as the organization has existed. In 2013, amidst profound change, this legacy matters. It is rooted in our mission. The responsibility it carries deserves our association’s full attention. The AAC&U strategic plan envisions the work ahead: We will “engage faculty—full-time, part-time, tenure-track, and non-tenure track faculty—in pursuing goals and using practices that support both meanings of student success: expanded completion levels and demonstrated achievement of the expected learning outcomes students need for success in the twenty-first century” (10). We recognize that we are undertaking this work as traditional campus-based structures and designs are being transformed. Online and hybrid learning practices are well established and growing. The arrival of MOOCs and such concepts as the “flipped” classroom and “unbundled” learning, together with the potential currency of competencies to replace credit-hours, all raise new questions about the relationship between teaching and scholarship. In this context the meaning of the very word faculty is up for grabs, as the roles of educators diversify across an array of working conditions. We ignore these conditions at our peril.

AAC&U’s strategic plan concludes by making the case for specific action:

The continued increase in contingent faculty appointments is an “elephant in the room” for American higher education, threatening the future of scholarly community and putting at grave risk AAC&U’s commitment to high-quality liberal education and inclusive excellence for all. The strength of American higher education in the last century came from the integration of scholarship and teaching. That integration is central to one of the core goals of liberal education: teaching students the arts of evidence-based inquiry, analysis, and judgment. The link between teaching and research has been cut almost completely by the so-called “new providers” that many in policy and philanthropy see as models for efficiencies in “cost” and “delivery.” Even in the not-for-profit sector, the majority of teaching in now done by non-tenure-line faculty and/or graduate students.

How will our call for high-level attention to the issue play out in the coming years? Undergraduate liberal education is our lens for looking at the problems, changes, challenges to teaching, research, and service, to shared governance and academic freedom. Faculty members are an essential AAC&U constituency. But our membership profile and the cross-cutting nature of our association—all sectors and institutional types, administrators at all levels as well as faculty and staff, and policy makers—may enable us to play a uniquely credible role as these issues are addressed and solutions evolve. AAC&U brings a credibility that many other groups do not, especially those that promote a one-dimensional solution, consider a single perspective, or cling unhelpfully to what may now, however regrettably, be outmoded demands. The time is right for AAC&U to step forward, to convene and lead an effort to produce a twenty-first-century statement of principles and to invest our most compassionate energies and commitments to foster change. The mission of AAC&U is to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education. 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.


American Association of University Professors. “Academic Freedom and Tenure.” 1950. Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 36 (1): 45–51.

Association of American Colleges and Universities. 2006. Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibility. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

———2013. Big Questions, Urgent Challenges: Liberal Education and Americans’ Global Future. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Hamilton N. W., and J. G. Gaff. 2009. The Future of the Professoriate: Academic Freedom, Peer Review, and Shared Governance. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Weissmann, J. 2013. “The Ever-Shrinking Role of Tenured College Professors (in 1 Chart).” The Atlantic, April 10.

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