The Changing Landscape of the Academic Profession: The Culture of Faculty at For-Profit Colleges and Universities

Article excerpt

The Changing Landscape of the Academic Profession: The Culture of Faculty at For-Profit Colleges and Universities, by Vicente M. Lechuga. New York: Routledge, 2006. 176 pp. ISBN 0-415-97699-5.

It was once commonly understood that a "faculty member" was a person with extensive formal knowledge and expertise, who had considerable autonomy in his or her job, had a role in institutional governance, and fulfilled three roles (i.e., teaching, research, and service). Now that definition fails to describe many faculty. Similarly, the term "faculty culture" no longer has much meaning outside the context of each particular institution. The previous commonalities of position and academic culture among the professoriate, at least in the United States, have greatly diminished. This is partly due to the much discussed and written about decline in state funding to public institutions. Public institutions are reexamining faculty roles and work conditions to find ways both to decrease the costs of faculty and to enable faculty to generate more money, thus replacing decreased public funding.

Another less understood influence has been the enormous growth in for-profit institutions of higher education (IHEs). These institutions have defined the faculty role very differently from the traditional definition. Much less is known about the roles and lives of faculty in these institutions and the impact of their work conditions on the larger definition of the professoriate. In this book, Vicente M. Lechuga provides unique insights into the work life of faculty at these institutions. The book is based on the author's case study of four for-profit IHEs: two publicly traded institutions and two privately held institutions. Lechuga writes, "The underlying assumption of the study is based on the belief that two key factors influence faculty work and faculty culture at for-profit higher education institutions--the nature of the institution as a profit-making entity and faculty members' status as contingent employees" (p. 14). Faculty at the four institutions were studied in depth via a qualitative approach involving document review and hour-long interviews with a total of 51 faculty (21 part-time, 30 full-time) in six fields: business, education, information technology/communications, health sciences, social sciences, and general education. Lechuga emphasizes that he is neither bemoaning nor celebrating the rise of for-profit colleges and universities but rather wants to illuminate our understanding of them.

This book begins by describing the changes higher education is undergoing as a result of the tremendous growth of for-profit IHEs. These institutions "are redefining the academy by treating education as a commodity, offering programs that focus specifically on job training, and exclusively employing contingent faculty members" (p. 8).

The rise of for-profit IHEs has been astounding. In the late 1980s, only 19% of the two-year IHEs and 3% of the four-year IHEs were for-profit. By the late 1990s, only a decade later, these percentages had changed to 28% and 8%, respectively. Concurrently, the regard of for-profit IHEs has risen as they have increasingly become nationally and/or regionally accredited and have begun to offer programs similar to those in traditional IHEs.

However, important features distinguish for-profit IHEs from traditional IHEs. Paramount is the belief that higher education is a private rather than a public good. For-profit IHEs emphasize specific job skills and increased competitiveness in the job market as the major benefit of higher education, rather than the development of broader skills necessary for critical thinking and citizenship in a democracy. …