Are We Marginalized within Academe? Perceptions of Two-Year College Faculty

By Townsend, Barbara K.; LaPaglia, Nancy | Community College Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Are We Marginalized within Academe? Perceptions of Two-Year College Faculty


Townsend, Barbara K., LaPaglia, Nancy, Community College Review


A sample of 311 faculty at seven community colleges completed survey questions that elicited their ratings of statements about four-year faculty attitudes toward two-year college faculty and about their own perceptions of their status within academe. Respondents with prior full-time faculty experience at a four-year institution were more likely to agree than those without such experience that four-year faculty consider two-year faculty to be on the margins of higher education. Neither group considered themselves to be in a marginal position. The authors discuss the implications of the data and make recommendations for future research.

Many community college faculty and administrators believe that the community college is held in low regard within the academic community. For example, in a 1998 interview, Belle Wheelan, president of Northern Virginia Community College, stated that "the higher education community traditionally has viewed two-year institutions as lesser schools" (Evelyn, September 7, 1998, p. 11). As higher education institutions, community colleges seem to be "prisoners of elitism with little chance of escape" (Barry & Barry, 1992, p. 43).

This attitude toward the community college also affects perceptions of its faculty. After conducting interviews with 76 community college faculty in three states, Seidman 111985) concluded the following: "Faculty must constantly contend with the nagging sense that teaching at a community college places them at the bottom of ... [the higher education] hierarchy" (p. 271). Because teaching is their primary professional responsibility, they are viewed "as faculty who contribute little, if anything, to scholarship; as teachers who pursue the vocational before the academic; as practitioners whose knowledge of the world outside their own institutions is parochial" (National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, 1998, p. 43). How accurate these stereotypes are is not known, partly because community college faculty are little studied by those who conduct higher education research, "or worse, are simply dismissed as a separate, and by implication lesser, class of college professors" (National Center, 1998, p. 43).

Four-year faculty dominate the academic power structure that sets research agendas, privileges research over teaching, and values a cosmopolitan orientation over a local or institutional orientation. As a consequence, two-year college faculty are implicitly marginalized and devalued within academe. One manifestation of this marginalization is the reluctance with which many four-year college faculty accept community college courses as equivalent to lower-division four-year courses. Four-year college faculty often have difficulty believing two-year college courses can truly be equivalent to four-year college courses, partly because two-year college faculty are not viewed as contributing members to their discipline (Palmer, 1996).

Although there is a belief among community college leaders and faculty that four-year college and university faculty perceive the community college and its faculty as operating on the margins of higher education, it is not clear if the faculty have internalized this sense of marginalization. This present study was designed to gain a better understanding of two-year college faculty's perceptions of four-year college faculty's attitudes toward the community college and its faculty, as well as their own place within academe.

Methodology and Data Source

The City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) system consists of seven community colleges located throughout Chicago. The population for the study was all individuals designated by CCC as full-time faculty (whether or not their responsibilities included instruction) during the 1996-97 year. Thus, the population was 713 individuals.

In spring 1997 this group was mailed a two-page, researcher-designed questionnaire. Content validity for all statements had been determined by a panel of five higher education scholars, including two specializing in the community college. …

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