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The Professoriate Reconsidered - What Might Faculty Look Like in 2050?

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Our findings dispel the pervasive myth that an impassable gulf exists between different groups on views about the faculty.


The posting below looks at the convergence of faculty and administrative opinions on the future roles of faculty in the coming decade. It is the first part of a longer article, the complete version of which can be read at:

The authors are Adrianna Kezar and Elizabeth Holcombe* and the excerpt is from the November - December 2015 issue of Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) © Copyright 2015 AAUP. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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The Professoriate Reconsidered - What Might Faculty Look Like in 2050?


What will the work of the faculty look like in 2050? We suspect it may be quite different from both of the models that currently predominate: research-oriented faculty members with tenure or on the tenure track, on the one hand, and, on the other, non-tenure-track, mostly part-time faculty members, who typically carry out little research. Neither of these models, in our view, is adequate to today’s enterprise—one that is increasingly focused on teaching first-generation and low-income students, often online. Over the last fifty years, higher education has moved from being a mostly elite enterprise to one that serves a large and diverse public. New institutional types and approaches to education have emerged, and the faculty today is certainly not a homogeneous group. But despite the fact that approximately 70 percent of instructional faculty are now outside the tenure system, the ideal of tenured research faculty persists. New models of faculty work may be present on some campuses, but they have largely not been viewed as ideal models for the future.

While there have been calls for rethinking the faculty for well over three decades, little progress has been made. In fact, most of the changes that have occurred, like the increasing reliance on adjuncts, have further deprofessionalized the faculty. In contrast, positive efforts that might move the faculty forward have gained limited traction. Most of these efforts have focused on expanding faculty work to include important areas that are marginalized, such as teaching or community engagement and service. For example, Ernest Boyer, in his well-known 1990 book Scholarship Reconsidered, argued that the profession should value research on one’s teaching as much as traditional academic research. The American Association of Higher Education’s forum on faculty roles and rewards met for more than a decade to consider ways to alter faculty roles and rewards to emphasize teaching. Preparing Future Faculty, a joint initiative of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools, examined ways to educate graduate students about the many different institutional types and missions that exist and to better align faculty preparation with these diverse roles. But such efforts took place at a time when fewer faculty members were teaching on contingent appointments, and they were often met with resistance or lacked broad scale. No models have yet emerged as an alternative to current arrangements at scale.

Earlier research from the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success has indicated that new faculty models have been difficult to develop in part because there is no shared vision among key stakeholder groups for the future of the faculty. Lacking any compelling options or ideas around which changes might coalesce, the enterprise has remained at a standstill or devolved as non-tenure-track (mostly part-time) positions have grown.

Most commentators suggest that faculty members and administrators are at odds about the faculty role. We wanted to test this assumption by surveying different groups about their views of the future faculty. In particular, we wanted to test the proposition that unions and unionized faculty are preventing the development of new, more productive faculty roles.

Our survey study included tenure-track and non-tenure-track, part- and full-time, and unionized and nonunionized faculty members; campus administrators; board members; accreditors; and state-level higher education policy makers. We examined views on the attractiveness and feasibility of potential attributes of new faculty models to advance the conversation around the future of the faculty in meaningful and concrete ways. The survey included thirty-nine 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. Our total sample numbered 1,553, with more than 1,100 faculty members of all types and approximately 350 administrators (provosts and deans) and policy makers. We focus here on responses from faculty and campus administrators, since participants from other groups were quite small in number.

General Agreement on Many Core Issues

Our findings both surprised and encouraged us. There is general agreement on the attractiveness of many of the ideas presented in the survey, indicating potential for common ground and a way forward in creating new faculty roles. In our report, we define varying levels of interest and agreement as follows: moderate interest existed when support for a proposal fell between 50 and 74 percent for a group. Support at or above 75 percent on a survey item is termed strong interest or strong views on the attractiveness of an idea. When seven of eight groups fell into these defined ranges, there was strong agreement, and when all eight groups fell into these ranges, there was unified agreement among stakeholder groups.

We found agreement about the desirability of
1. increasing the number of full-time faculty;
2. creating teaching-only tenure-track positions;
3. reducing reliance on part-time faculty;
4. ensuring some sort of scholarly component in all faculty roles;
5. fostering more collaboration among faculty across and within campus;
6. revising incentives and reward structures and policies to better reflect different institutional priorities;
7. allowing some differentiation of roles focused on teaching and research, and developing a broader view of scholarship such as that epitomized in Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered;
8. allowing more flexibility to stop the tenure clock for family or other personal needs; and
9. protecting academic freedom, inclusion in shared governance, equitable pay, opportunities for career advancement and professional development, fair grievance procedures and due process, and access to resources to conduct one’s work.

Our findings dispel the pervasive myth that an impassable gulf exists between different groups on views about the faculty.

The groups viewed greater flexibility and variation in the foci of faculty work and roles as changes worth strongly considering. This would allow faculty to have differentiated roles focusing primarily on teaching, research, or service, rather than the current model, which privileges research but expects faculty to maintain a focus on all three roles. We also found strong agreement across groups that faculty roles should be differentiated among different types of institutions that have distinct missions.

Faculty members, administrators, and policy makers demonstrated strong agreement and strong interest in ensuring that faculty members were supported in maintaining some role in scholarship, regardless of whether the primary focus of their work is on teaching, service, or research. (It is important to note that we emphasized that scholarship should be broadly defined and not limited to traditional research.) A state higher education officer, writing in an open-ended response section, reflected a general consensus on the importance of a broad definition of scholarship:

Teaching faculty have to have some way to stay current. “Scholarship” as it is traditionally defined is probably not the best way to ensure this happens, but something needs to take its place. While participation in research may not be the best way to keep faculty up-to-date, it does help.

Another idea drawn from Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered, “creativity contracts,” met with moderate interest and strong agreement across groups. Creativity contracts facilitate faculty members’ participation in a broader range of scholarly activities by engaging them in highly customized and continuously changing faculty roles. Each group agreed that giving faculty members the ability to take on a variety of roles over the course of their careers—rather than the narrower foci and largely unchanging roles that are a part of faculty work today—is an important feature to consider for future faculty models.

We also found unified agreement about and moderate interest in the use of consortium agreements. Such agreements allow neighboring institutions to create shared, full-time faculty positions for individuals who would otherwise be hired by multiple institutions in the consortium individually, often on part-time contracts.

The groups showed unified agreement and strong interest in measures that would grant greater flexibility to tenured and tenure-track faculty members—for example, by allowing them to stop the tenure clock or to move to part-time appointments to care for family members or attend to other personal situations that might arise. We also found strong agreement and strong interest across groups in creating greater flexibility for faculty members to address personal needs on campus by offering access to services such as child care or meal plans.

All of the groups were unified in their agreement that encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, fostering connections between faculty members and the local community, and creating new partnerships with industry, business, nonprofits, and government were attractive ideas...........

See the second half of the article at:


We think the time is right to change the faculty model to support student outcomes and a high-quality learning environment. The changes that have taken place in recent decades have only degraded the faculty role, giving faculty members today an incentive to consider the kinds of changes to their role that have been proposed by higher education scholars such as Ernest Boyer, Dick Chait, Cathy Trower, Gene Rice, and Kerry Ann O’Meara. Faculty are beginning to realize that resistance and inaction are leading backward, not forward. Administrators are beginning to acknowledge that the shift to a largely adjunct faculty does not serve the purposes of the enterprise well, either. There is at least agreement that the direction taken in recent years has not been positive.

The areas of agreement identified in our survey can serve as starting points for discussions, helping to move ideas about the future of the faculty to reality. But the distrust around these issues among higher education stakeholders is both real and warranted; only through trust-building processes can we begin to make dialogue more productive. Building trust also means stopping unilateral decision making. We hope that this report will provoke a collaborative dialogue about sustainable and meaningful change in the faculty model.

Interest in new approaches is growing. We now have the opportunity to move beyond the two faculty models that exist today—traditional tenure-track roles and non-tenure-track positions—and toward a greater diversity of roles. The data presented in this article offer valuable insights about proposals that might be discussed, adapted, and implemented as institutions—and the higher education enterprise as a whole—explore the future of the faculty.

Visit for a complete report on this survey’s findings and other studies from the Delphi Project.

*Adrianna Kezar is professor of higher education at the University of Southern California and codirector of the Pullias Center for Higher Education. She directs the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success. Her e-mail address is Elizabeth Holcombe is a provost’s fellow and doctoral research assistant with the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. Her current research interests include STEM reform; teaching, learning, and assessment; faculty issues; and leadership in higher education.