Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

The Road Taken: A Report on the Career Paths of a Modern Academic Workforce for Faculty Developers

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

The Road Taken: A Report on the Career Paths of a Modern Academic Workforce for Faculty Developers

Article excerpt

Nontenure-track faculty are an increasingly crucial component of the higher education workforce. Much of what we know about this population remains either quantitative or anecdotal and does little to provide in-depth insights directly from the faculty themselves that can be of use for faculty development. This phenomenological, interview-based study focused on the career paths of full-time nontenure-track faculty in English in order to increase general understandings about how nontenure-track faculty enter the profession, the nature of their careers, what, beyond the need to make a living, motivates them to stay, and how they perceive their future as academics.

Between 1999 and 2009 the number of full-time nontenure-track (FTNT) faculty increased by 56% at four-year institutions to 17% of the total faculty (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2011). During the same period the number of tenure-track faculty rose by only 20 %, ultimatly constituting just 9% of the faculty population. These data document the growing importance of FTNT faculty as academic professionals. Despite the dramatic demographic shifts, remarkably little research is available to inform policy and practice in relation to FTNT appointments and their role in the changed academic workforce.

The lack of attention to FTNT faculty is a particularly glaring part of a larger phenomenon in which consideration of contingent faculty typically is subjugated to inquiry about tenure-track and tenured faculty (Kezar & Sam, 2010a; 2010b), creating difficulty for faculty developers as they seek to best support these, now numerically dominant, faculty populations. At the same time, FTNT faculty conditions and concerns are not the same as those of either part-time or tenure-stream faculty. Unlike parttime faculty, for example, the full-time cohort appears to challenge tenure, academic freedom, and faculty power and workloads (Cross & Goldenberg, 2009; Finkin, 1996; McPherson & Schapiro, 1999). It is important that the experiences of these groups of academic workers are not conflated and that those who work full-time but off the tenure-track are independently considered by faculty developers and others (Levin, Shaker, & Wagoner, 2011).

Much of what we know about this population is either quantitative or anecdotal in nature and does little to provide in-depth insights directly from the faculty themselves. Broadly, the tendency of the discourse has been to address nontenure work from "above" and from a managerial perspective rather than from the perspective of FTNT faculty (Bousquet, 2008; Kezar & Sam, 2010b). The efforts of a small but growing group of scholars have begun to fill this gap using qualitative methods (Baldwin & Chronister, 2001; Bergom & Waltman, 2009; Bergom, Waltman, August, & Hollenshead, 2010; Chronister, 1999; Harper, Baldwin, Gansneder, & Chronister, 2001; Hart, 2011; Kezar, in press; Levin & Shaker, 2011; Shaker, 2008).

FTNT career paths are rarely considered because their appointments are often disingenuously labeled as a short-term solution to staffing needs (Baldwin & Chronister, 2001). The reality is these positions can become extended - even decades' long-commitments for individuals and necessities for institutions that are increasingly dependent on their flexibility and cost-savings, as well as the curricular opportunities and differentiation in faculty expertise they provide (Baldwin & Chronister, 2001; Cross & Goldenberg, 2009; Gappa, 2000; Hollenshead et al., 2007). Faculty developers, therefore, require more information about this faculty population in order to be prepared for a future that includes FTNT faculty at every career stage. This article focuses on why and how FTNT faculty enter the profession, the nature of their careers, what, beyond the need to make a living, motivates them to stay, and how they perceive their future as academics.

FTNT Faculty Careers in the Literature

The dramatically increased role for FTNT faculty provides opportunities for those who want to work in academe for a range of reasons, including disinclination toward the obligations or expectations of the tenure-track. …

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