Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Resolving the Dispute: Teaching Is Academe's Core Value

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Resolving the Dispute: Teaching Is Academe's Core Value

Article excerpt

In an earlier article (Leslie, 2000), I analyzed data from the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty conducted in 1993 (NSOPF-93) and concluded that discipline and type of institution acted jointly to differentiate patterns of faculty pay, work, and job satisfaction. That analysis led me to conclude that the American academic profession is fragmented along the lines Burton Clark (1989) hypothesized when he offered his "small worlds, different worlds" metaphor.

Clark (1980) recognized that competing loyalties had begun to affect the social structure and processes of higher education. His work on comparative higher education confirmed that faculty worldwide were drawn to the communities of their professions and disciplines to a greater extent than they were drawn to the institutional communities in which they were employed. He continued to write about the "loose coupling" of academic life, the "confederative" nature of the academic profession, and the strength of disciplinary norms in shaping the work of academics (Clark, 1987).

In particular, his 1987 book, The Academic Profession: National, Disciplinary, and Institutional Settings, suggested that the usual assumptions about a "universal type" of academic ought to be challenged. He thought it more likely that differences and variability would characterize the many professions, disciplines, and fields of study comprising universities and colleges than any overarching (and simplistic) generalized characteristics. Clark suggested that type of institution and academic discipline exert centrifugal force on the profession by drawing faculty into separate worlds. Alpert (1985) outlined the many external forces that have empowered disciplines and departments with negotiating leverage against the institutional university, acknowledging that there is wide variation among disciplines and that functional differences may be observed from one stratum of institution (research universities, for example) to another (comprehensive universities, for example). Whether these centrifugal forces also dra w faculty away from unifying norms common to all academics sharing professional ideals remains an open question.

However, it is not a new question. Light (1974a, 1974b) and Clark (1980) were wrestling with these questions decades ago. Light, in fact, asserted at one point that "the academic profession does not exist" in a sociological sense (1974a, p. 12). He suggested that disciplines asserted a divisive normative power, and that a divide between a commitment to teaching and a commitment to research further drew faculty to the poles of their respective disciplines (see also Fulton and Trow, 1974.) Although scant empirical evidence has been marshaled to illuminate the divergence or convergence of norms in the academic profession, some research has suggested that both discipline (Braxton, 1990) and type of institution (Braxton, 1989) promote fragmentation. Finkelstein's (1997) careful historical analysis highlights the evolution of institutional and professional careers as relatively independent of each other and as potentially competitive forces underlying ambiguity and conflict in the faculty role. Fairweather's (1996 ) important analysis of faculty work shows that both discipline and type of institution shape the proportion of time individuals spend on teaching and research.

Thus, theory and evidence both run counter to assumptions that academics share a unifying normative press, a "coherent internal professional ethos" (Fairweather, 1996, p. 2), a sense that they are members of a common profession and may be expected to act selflessly and altruistically on behalf of some overarching common values. But public expectations, images ranging from "Mr. Chips" (Hilton, 1935) to stereotypes of mad scientists (Skal, 1998), and a long history of normative rhetoric from within academe, suggest a shared mythology about "professors." Do these myths mask an underlying heterogeneity, and are academics indeed more different than alike? …

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