Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Mythologies of Faculty Productivity: Implications for Institutional Policy and Decision Making

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Mythologies of Faculty Productivity: Implications for Institutional Policy and Decision Making

Article excerpt

Research accomplishment, the most "cosmopolitan" academic function, has social and economic value. Research visibility certainly enhances institutional stature among peers (Alpert, 1985). Political and public support for academic institutions, however, rests on the perceived institutional commitment to "local functions," especially teaching and learning (Ewell, 1994; Hearn, 1992). Legislative calls for accountability and effectiveness, and public concern about increasing costs and the potential adverse consequences for access clearly focus on the teaching mission. Many state legislatures have focused on faculty commitment to teaching often in terms of instructional productivity. Efforts to eliminate tenure by the governing boards in Arizona and Florida, legislation in Ohio to mandate an increase in the time faculty spend on teaching, and growing legislative interest in post-tenure review are specific expressions of this concern. The focus of this reform movement is not limited to public institutions. The Nati onal Science Foundation, which supports and influences both public and private institutions, recently required grant applicants to state how their research work will affect their teaching effort.

Much of the policy debate about the nature of faculty work is shrouded in myth, opinion, and conjecture. Critics of the perceived lack of emphasis on teaching in research universities may assume that this criticism applies equally well to teaching-oriented colleges, a questionable assumption at best. Parents, potential students, and even state legislators often overestimate the actual cost of attending college (National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education, 1998).

Yet the perceived inattention to teaching and learning, particularly at the undergraduate level, is not off base (B ok, 1992; Fairweather, 1996). Boyer (1990) acknowledged the legitimacy of this claim when he attempted to encourage institutional responsiveness to public concerns about teaching and learning. He advocated considering teaching as a form of scholarship to increase its status on college campuses. The American Association of Higher Education Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards took Boyer's concepts a step further, encouraging institutional teams to foster changes in local faculty rewards.

The willingness and ability of academic institutions to respond effectively to these challenges is influenced by what Clark (1972) calls institutional sagas. These sagas contain a variety of beliefs or myths that help perpetuate organizational culture by socializing new participants (students, administrators, and especially the faculty) by establishing norms for their behavior. Among the set of beliefs held by many academic administrators and faculty members about the nature of faculty work and productivity are that (a) teaching, research, and service are activities imbedded in some form within each faculty member's work effort, (b) teaching and research are mutually reinforcing, and as a consequence (c) faculty can simultaneously be productive in teaching and research.

Other than hiring new faculty members, the principal expression of academic values about faculty work lies in the promotion and tenure decision. It is here rather than in institutional rhetoric that the faculty seek clues about the value of different aspects of their work. It is here that productivity is most meaningfully defined and evaluated. Yet promotion and tenure decisions are both individual and private in nature. These characteristics make it difficult to identify the cumulative effects of individual decisions within an institution, much less identify patterns across types of institutions and disciplines. The purpose of this article is to identify these larger patterns by examining national data that represent criteria often used in local promotion and tenure decisions or in annual faculty reviews. I am particularly interested in the belief that all aspects of faculty work--particularly teaching and research--can be equally (or somewhat equally) addressed by the work of each faculty member. …

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