Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Understanding Professors of Practice: Leveraging Expertise, Empowering Potential

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Understanding Professors of Practice: Leveraging Expertise, Empowering Potential

Article excerpt

OVER THE LAST 20-25 YEARS, there has been a trend toward the hiring of contingent, non-tenure-track, often part-time, instructors (Curtis, 2014; Magness, 2016). The American Association of University Professors reports that "[n]on-tenuretrack positions of all types now account for over 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education" (AAUP, n.d.), and they play a critical role (e.g., Baldwin & Wawrzynski, 2011). Characteristics of contingent faculty are varied. Such faculty may work full-time or part-time, teach one course or many, and be responsible only for teaching or for a broad spectrum of departmental duties. Appropriately supporting them through faculty development is, therefore, critical.

We explored one type of contingent instructors-Professors of Practice (PoPs)-seeking insight into their faculty development needs. By definition, those who hold the designation Professor of Practice are uniquely qualified. They are often aggressively sought after because of their extensive experience in their field. They bring the real world into classrooms. They connect students with industry leaders. They orient students and colleagues to the latest processes of the profession or industry. They take on many of the same tasks as career academics, but they are not the same. Since PoPs are unlike both their other adjunct colleagues and their tenured counterparts, we explore two questions in this study: (1) How can we best characterize PoPs and their experiences in academia? (2) What can faculty developers and department heads/chairs do to support them?

Situating PoPs within the Academy

Professors of Practice are liminal figures (Turner, 1967) who occupy a middle ground between business/industry and academia. As noted by Rowe, Martin, Knox, and Mabingo (2016), "Individuals entering Academia from another professional domain face similar processes of acculturation to those entering a new country" (p. 60). Simendinger, Puia, Kraft, and Jasperson (2000) similarly portray the challenge faced by what they call "practitioner-academics" as one of moving into a new culture.

PoPs are not expected, however, to completely assimilate but rather to serve as bridges. Their role in such instances is "integration [which] involves the adaptation of the practices, discourses, behaviours and relationships of both the dominant academic culture and the new academic citizen, so that both may effectively cohabit the same space" (Rowe et al., 2016, p. 60). They are challenged to leverage the most salient knowledge of their industry/professional culture in service to the new academic culture. In this study, we explore participants' liminality and the ways they portray their own adaptations and those they suggest for their academic homes.


This was a two-phase mixed-method study. In Phase I, we distributed a survey to Professors of PoPs at two different institutions. Phase II followed the survey with semi-structured interviews with select faculty from Phase I.

Phase I

The two participating institutions-researchintensive universities with strong teaching components-defined PoPs similarly, both emphasizing high levels of experience, excellence, and leadership in the field. (PoPs share some traits with "clinical faculty." In many educational contexts and much of the literature, the two titles have unclear boundaries. However, we chose the two institutions in the current study because both defined PoPs as a category with an especially high level of prominence in their fields, more so than other types of contingent faculty.) PoPs at Institution A are identified and labeled within the university's website. Participants were also recruited from Institution B, another institution within the Big Ten Academic Alliance. To help identify Institution B, we queried all teaching center directors across the Alliance about faculty currently holding the Professor of Practice designation. Additionally, we inquired about how PoPs are defined. …

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