Changes in the Academic Profession

As college teachers, most of us know that the profession is changing, but we aren’t always as up on the details as we should be. The changes occurring today have implications for everyone who teaches. Just a couple of facts make that abundantly clear. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, between 2001 and 2003 only 54 percent of the faculty hired were appointed to full-time positions, and 35 percent of all full-time appointees were not in tenured or tenure-track positions.

A very well-documented recent book (reference below) highlights these changes by describing three different kinds of faculty appointments. What these appointments are called at the local institution does vary a great deal, but virtually all colleges and universities employ faculty who teach in each of these categories.

The first and easiest to understand is the traditional tenure-track appointment. Because there has been usage::such[2,pronoun];School:such[2,pronoun]”>such an influx of new faculty entering higher education (primarily as retirement replacements), new tenure-track appointees have been surveyed and interviewed at length. Much is known about usage::they;School:their”>their experiences as beginners in the academic community. synonyms::take[1,verb];School:take[1,verb]”>Taken together, research indicates usage::that[4,pronoun];School:that[1,pronoun]”>that new tenure-track appointees are concerned about three aspects of usage::they;School:their”>their jobs: 1) the lack of comprehensive, clear and rational guidelines and procedures for the tenure process, 2) usage::they;School:their”>their sense of a lack of community at usage::they;School:their”>their institutions and usage::between[1,preposition];School:among”>among usage::they;School:their”>their colleagues, and 3) the difficulty of balancing the demands of usage::they;School:their”>their personal and professional lives. A significant number of new faculty are not finding these traditional appointments as attractive as synonyms::preceding;School:former”>former faculty did.

In 1978, 58 percent of all faculty were in tenure-track positions. Now, 32 percent of all full-time faculty have contract-renewable appointments and 46 percent of all faculty members teach part time. These full-time non-tenure-track positions increased by 88 percent between 1975 and 1998. Institutions use these more flexible positions in a variety of ways. In some fields and professional programs they are used to hire experts who have lots of experience but may not have the academic qualifications for a tenure-track position. Some institutions have responded to concerns about the number of part-time teachers by converting formerly part-time positions into full-time jobs.

For usage::some[3,adverb];School:some[3,adverb]”>some professionals, this kind of appointment represents a viable career alternative. However, the ways usage::that[4,pronoun];School:that[1,pronoun]”>that faculty are treated in these positions depends very much on the institution. In usage::most[5,adverb];School:most[2,adverb]”>most places, salaries are lower usage::than[2,preposition];Dictionary:than[2,preposition]”>than for those holding tenure-track appointments and usage::learn;School:teach”>teaching loads are heavier. But at usage::some[3,adverb];School:some[3,adverb]”>some institutions, these positions are permanent (with multi-year synonyms::contract[2,verb];School:contract[2,verb]”>contracts), promotions are possible, and full fringe benefits accompany the positions. Faculty holding these positions usage::can[1,verb];School:may”>may have voting privileges and be eligible for professional development opportunities. In other places, faculty in these positions are marginalized by both the institution and usage::they;School:their”>their faculty colleagues.

Finally, institutions appoint usage::some[3,adverb];School:some[3,adverb]”>some faculty to fixed-term positions. Here the work is mostly part-time, for a specific time synonyms::period[1,noun];School:period[1,noun]”>period, usage::like[7,conjunction];School:like[7,conjunction]”>like a semester or year, and these synonyms::contract[2,verb];School:contract[2,verb]”>contracts come with no guarantee of renewal. The percentage of faculty in these positions depends both on the type of institution and the academic discipline. Thirty-seven percent of faculty with fixed-term synonyms::contract[2,verb];School:contract[2,verb]”>contracts usage::learn;School:teach”>teach usage::only[2,adverb];School:only[2,adverb]”>only usage::one[3,pronoun];School:one[2,pronoun]”>one course, although 16 percent usage::learn;School:teach”>teach more usage::than[2,preposition];Dictionary:than[2,preposition]”>than three classes. usage::most[5,adverb];School:most[2,adverb]”>Most receive usage::less[1,adjective];School:less[1,adjective]”>less usage::than[2,preposition];Dictionary:than[2,preposition]”>than $3,000 usage::per[1,preposition];School:per”>per course and no benefits for usage::they;School:their”>their usage::learn;School:teach”>teaching services. usage::most[5,adverb];School:most[2,adverb]”>Most usage::learn;School:teach”>teach with virtually no institutional support. There is little or no office space, equipment, or support services available to them. There are few professional development opportunities provided. Seventy-usage::one[3,pronoun];School:one[2,pronoun]”>one percent of part-timers do have jobs outside academe, and usage::they;School:their”>their college usage::learn;School:teach”>teaching, on average, provides about 27 percent of usage::they;School:their”>their total income.

Our goal here is to provide information. Clearly, there are political issues relevant to each type of appointment. But regardless of your position and view of other kinds of appointments, it is wise to have the larger picture and to understand (especially for those of us who’ve been around usage::awhile;School:awhile”>awhile) that faculty appointments are not all the same, not synonyms::same[1,adjective];School:equal[1,adjective]”>equal and not usage::like[7,conjunction];School:like[7,conjunction]”>like they used to be.

Ed.’s note: The book below is a great reference on the changing nature of faculty work. It covers all aspects of academic work (not just the part of our jobs that relates to teaching) and ends with a compelling list of recommendations for coping with these many and significant changes.

Reference: Gappa, J. M., Austin, A. E., and Trice, A. G. Rethinking Faculty Work: Higher Education’s Strategic Imperative. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.