Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Faculty Work: Tensions between Educational and Economic Values

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Faculty Work: Tensions between Educational and Economic Values

Article excerpt


The heightened sensitivity of recent research and scholarship to political-economic contexts for higher education both domestically and internationally (Clark, 1998; Currie & Newson, 1998; Leslie & Slaughter, 1997; Levin, 2001; Marginson & Considine, 2000; Rhoades, 1998; Rhoades & Slaughter, 1997; Slaughter & Leslie, 1997; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2000) alerts us to shifting behaviors and values in the academy. Even the academically distasteful concept of "profit" is endemic in public discussions about universities (Bok, 2003), as if profit making is a major goal of the institution. Universities are not the sole higher education institution affected by economic pressures and practicing adaptive strategies such as "academic capitalism" and other entrepreneurial behaviors. Community colleges are participants as well, and faculty at these institutions are the core workforce in this political economy: They are not only the critical labor element in the pursuit of economic goals but also a potential source of opposition to institutional economic behaviors.

Unlike Seidman's (1985) dark images of discontented faculty at community colleges in the late 1970s, or Grubb's (1999) portrayal of faculty ineptitude in instruction at community colleges, I depict community college faculty as possessing attitudes and values that are shaped by their institutions, responsive to the conditions of the day, and contextualized within personal, group, and organizational experiences. I do not view faculty at community colleges as desirous of university teaching posts (Seidman, 1985) and thus malcontent with their present roles of nourishing an underclass (McGrath & Spear, 1991; Richardson, Fisk, & Okun, 1983). Nor do I view faculty as detached from the administrative life of the institution, nor administrators as detached from faculty work (Grubb, 1999). Distinct from other scholarly views (Rhoads & Valadez, 1996; Seidman, 1985; Shaw, Rhoads, & Valadez, 1999), faculty are neither liberators nor self-consciously downtrodden workers. This discussion, then, is less of a polemic about institutional failure and more a description and explanation of faculty behaviors and values and their connections to institutional actions.

In examining faculty work, I set out to describe the tensions between the educational values and the economic values of faculty work. Allegiances to the institution, to students, to the curriculum, and to disciplinary discourse were examined and compared to the entrepreneurial and managerial characteristics of the institution. I expected to see that community college faculty work was increasingly managed according to a neoliberal ideology oriented to and favoring economic globalization and managerialism (Apple, 2001; Kingfisher, 2002; Strickland, 2002; Stromquist, 2002). In the context of economic globalization and managerialism I also expected to find a counterculture evident within the institution. Such a subculture would provide opposition to the mainstream thinking or corporate culture of the institution.

Community College Culture

The question of oppositional cultures or cultural conflict has been part of the literature on community colleges since the 1960s (Clark, 1960; Cohen & Brawer, 2003; Kempner, 1991; London, 1978; Weis, 1985). Kempner (1991) defines cultural conflict "as the opposition or antagonism among individuals over the beliefs and values they hold. When beliefs, values, and symbols of one group clash with what is significant for another group, we find cultural conflict" (p. 132). Community colleges are viewed as sites of cultural conflict between such forces as social mobility and social reproduction and between social justice and capitalistic production (Brint & Karabel, 1989; Dougherty, 1994; Kempner, 1990; Shaw et al., 1999). These conflicts may take the form of tensions between students and faculty (Weis, 1985), between faculty and administration (Grubb, 1999), or between faculty groups (Kempner, 1991). …

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