Reorganizing the Faculty Workforce for Flexibility: Part-Time Professional Labor

By Rhoades, Gary | Journal of Higher Education, November-December 1996 | Go to article overview

Reorganizing the Faculty Workforce for Flexibility: Part-Time Professional Labor


Rhoades, Gary, Journal of Higher Education


Part-time Professional Labor

In the United States the rise of the academic profession in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was marked by the establishment of faculty as full-time employees of colleges and universities with career tracks in their fields [18, 32]. Subsequently the profession struggled to establish autonomy vis-a-vis managers and boards, as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) successfully inscribed tenure and academic freedom in institutional policy and in case law [36].(1) In the post-World War II era, many faculty gained such autonomy from the organization that analysts contrasted "local" and "cosmopolitan" faculty [7] and spoke of an "academic revolution" [12] in which faculty's power within and beyond the university increased by virtue of their research and grants activity.

However, the last quarter of the twentieth century has seen challenges to faculty autonomy and job security. The AAUP censure list [33, 35] and case law reveal ongoing violations of academic freedom and tenure. Amidst criticism of faculty as self-interested careerists, demands for more accountability and the reform or elimination of tenure emerged in the 1970s and 1990s. Many faculty have been retrenched [29]. Moreover, there is a twenty-five-year trend of increased numbers and percentage of part-time relative to full-time faculty [1, 21]. Managers in higher education have hired more part-time workers to minimize costs and maximize managerial control in providing educational services. The professional position of faculty is being renegotiated, with an increased emphasis on managerial flexibility in relation to the academic workforce.

In this article I address several professional workforce issues as they relate to part-time faculty, concentrating on unionized institutions. I look at unionized institutions because most part-time faculty are found in the type of institution most likely to be unionized - community colleges, comprehensive state colleges, and universities. Also, the professional status of such part-timers and the political battle surrounding their use are clear in the formalized context of collective bargaining. I focus on part-timers because their growing numbers represent a challenge to the academic profession's definition of faculty lines as full-time, with a secure future. The use of part-time faculty also represents an explicit challenge to tenure as the professional structure that defines faculty's terms of employment.

Most of the higher education literature on part-timers is taxonomic and/or functionalist [6, 39]. It offers insights into the previously unmapped terrain of part-time faculty by classifying types of part-timers. In addition to providing an overview of employment conditions and use of part-timers, this literature focuses on issues such as motivation (of employers and part-timers) and quality [6, 16]. It recommends planned, rational use of part-time faculty, incorporating them into the organization, improving their practice, and enhancing educational/institutional performance [5]. In short, the literature promotes "effective policies and practices" [20]. Generally sympathetic to part-time faculty [3, 6] the literature accepts managers' stated need for increasing numbers of such faculty. Many problems experienced by part-timers are attributed to full-time faculty more interested in protecting their professional privileges than in educational quality or employment equity [15]. That critique has been extended to the tenure system, portrayed as inhibiting necessary managerial flexibility and causing the exploitation of part-timers:

Are [full-time faculty] willing to preserve tenure and the associated privileges at the expense of exploited nontenure-track academic workers? . . . We question . . . the viability of the existing tenure system because it requires that tenured faculty be subsidized with a work force that carries heavy loads at low pay [6, pp. …

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Reorganizing the Faculty Workforce for Flexibility: Part-Time Professional Labor
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