How Senior Professors Have Coped with Changes in Academic Life

Article excerpt

A check of databases such as the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) Index and the Academic Index uncovers thousands of recent studies related to professors, their students, and the programs and departments in which educators work. The relatively few studies that focus on journalism and mass communication educators generally chronicle job responsibilities and attitudes about the profession.

An examination of media trade publications also reveals articles about journalism education, but neither these articles nor any scholarly studies have focused on the evolution of journalism and mass communication teaching as experienced by seasoned faculty members during a period of profound changes in academe.

This study examines how these faculty members have coped with changes over time. Senior professors, defined as any college or university teachers (regardless of rank) who have taught full time for at least 10 of the past 15 years, have had more exposure to such change than have less experienced faculty members because of this, they were asked to assess its effects on their lives.

Literature review

Leatherman (1992) suggested that the over-arching change in higher education within the last decade may well have been recession-inspired cutbacks in funding. He noted that this has caused generalized problems such as difficulty in maintaining quality in academic programs, inability to retain the most qualified scholars, and inability to hire replacements for professors who retire, thereby shifting the work load to remaining faculty. He also identified a reduction in institutional support for trips to professional conventions and for memberships in professional organizations, despite the relationships between professional activity and universities' tenure and promotion decisions. Additionally, he said recession has forced some faculty to drop all professional memberships, causing them to forego professional development and service activities related to job security and advancement.

Despite funding cutbacks and their effects on professional activity, Leigh & Anderson(1992) concluded that traditional research was still highly valued by administrators making tenure and promotion decisions, Their research, however, also showed that many institutions balanced research requirements with good teaching and creative activities.

Faculty also find themselves inundated by scholarly journals and other publications related to their rapidly changing fields. This is happening at a time when budget cutbacks have caused libraries to cancel subscriptions to serial publications, which has limited access to such publications (Watkins, 1992). This is potentially damaging to journalism educators, whom Weaver & Wilhoit (1988) found to have diverse reading interests.

An additional change is an increasing emphasis on computers and computer literacy in the university (Adams, 1987; Davenport, 1990). DeLoughry (1992) reported that more faculty members own computers than ever before, and that their educational institutions continue to recommend that both software and hardware be updated.

Like professors in other disciplines, in the past 20 years journalism and mass communication faculty also have incorporated computer-aided instruction into their classrooms, and some computer programs have been used to make grading more efficient. Smith (1993) found that faculty could reduce grading workloads, if they would use computers for certain kinds of assignments. Other studies have encouraged professors to develop new software or have identified useful computer conference services or databases (Parker, 1991; Smith, 1991).

Another problem professors face is overcoming poor preparation and poor scholarship in some of the students they teach, and their challenge isn't limited to the worst students. A 1992 newspaper headline read, "Even the top students lag, colleges say," while the accompanying article, syndicated by The Boston GIobe, noted that the level of student work had fallen significantly in the last 15 years and that current students "are not as rigorously trained, particularly in the communicative skills--the ability to write [and] the ability to speak" (Ribadeneira, 1992, p. …

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