The Academic Community: A Manual for Change
reviewed by Jaime Lester - June 10, 2008
In the Academic Community: A Manual for Change, Donald Hall puts forth a persuasive call to action, arguing that, unless we [the faculty] also explore the extent to which we are responsible for our own behaviors, attitudes, and life situations, we will often remain complicit within the very hierarchies and norms that oppress us (p. 4). The hermeneutic circle a dialogue that engages issues and concepts on the macro and micro level -- foregrounds the argument of the book and situates faculty as having an agency in the ways in which our departments and institutions function. During a time when higher education is facing dramatic budget cuts, the diversifying of faculty work, and questions in their roles as a public good, Hall provides a framework for how faculty, can use their power to create change within academic departments. Specifically, Hall notes the ways that faculty can engage colleagues, students, and the public to better understand the role of collegiality and the importance of higher education to the public. Hall provides an argument for how and why faculty should become agents of change while also acknowledging contextual and political challenges within higher education.
In each of his carefully constructed six chapters, Hall outlines how to approach the hermeneutic circle as a way to initiate change. The first chapter artfully discusses the major theoretical perspectives that inform a focus on agency and change supplemented with a discussion of how the author, Donald Hall, came to understand academic work as a dialectic process. Chapter two primarily describes the lives of several academics who, under extreme conditions, (such as Paul Ricouer who was imprisoned during World War II) challenged conventions and upheld personal intellectual and pedagogical convictions. The following chapters outline several areas undergraduate teaching, graduate education, institutional contexts, and the community where faculty can exercise agency to create change. In the chapter on empowering student intellectuals, Hall claims that we need to capitalize on what U.S. higher education does well, such as promoting critical thinking, and to help students to add responsibly and creatively to the ongoing conversations comprising that subject or field (p. 44). Furthermore, the faculty needs to continue to develop a purposeful socialization of graduate students that includes an understanding of what it means to be an intellectual citizen. Promoting thoughtfulness, attentiveness to the needs of others, and a willingness to listen, all hallmarks of collegiality, can be achieved through graduate seminars, during the development and completion of dissertation projects, and while promoting professionalization of graduate students (e.g., during attendance at academic conferences).
Hall sets forth the central argument of the book in Chapter four, where he outlines the importance of promoting and continuing dialogue among colleagues within departments and universities. By doing so, Hall asserts, the faculty can produce new knowledge, gain a critical awareness, and find answers to compelling questions while acknowledging those practices that demoralize and prevent collaboration. The last two chapters provide concrete suggestions of how to engage the public to reinforce the importance of higher education as a public good and how to achieve and maintain the work/life balance. Suggestions include learning to be multivocal develop different presentation performances tailored to the audience and writing a personal mission statement as a foundation to determine which projects to be involved in. Each of the last few chapters outlines practical suggestions for how the faculty might become change agents and revitalize institutions of higher education.
The weakness of this book lies in the fact that the author does not recognize the diversity of graduate programs. Halls reference point is the English department and thus the experience of graduate students who are training to be faculty in the humanities. However, there is a vast number of graduate students who are either currently full-time professionals in the private sector or who will find themselves in those sectors due to the lack of faculty positions available around the country. I suggest that we must also consider ways to socialize graduate students to be change agents in multiple sectors, thereby reinforcing the ideals that Hall so eloquently outlines in this book. Moreover, Hall only briefly recognizes the complexity of faculty work, most prominent in the final chapter on work/life balance. Many higher education scholars (see Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006; Slaughter & Rhoads, 2004) argue that faculty work has become more diverse with increased expectations for research and grant writing. Adding another facet to the lives of faculty may seem daunting at best. I question how the faculty will balance all the work expectations and activities to promote change in departments and within our institutions of higher education. Also, how do tenure-track faculty balance many competing responsibilities and continue to promote and engage in change activities? Concrete suggestions, similar to those provided in the last chapter on balance, for ways that multiple groups (tenured and tenure track faculty and academic administrators) would help to support Halls assertion that change activities can be integrated into a busy academic work-life, albeit with some rearranging of priorities and willingness to compromise.
Despite these minimal shortcomings, this book is a worthwhile contribution to the literature on organizational change in higher education, leadership, and the ongoing discussions of how to promote and engage the faculty. Much of what is highlighted throughout this book reinforces the literature on collaboration and non-positional leadership (see Astin & Leland, 1991; Kezar & Lester, forthcoming; Safarik, 2003; Wolf-Wendel, Twombly, Tuttle, Ward, & Gaston-Gayles, 2004). The basic principles of the conversational process outlined in chapter three, for example, are well supported by the literature on collaboration. More importantly, this book serves as a call to action and a reminder that we, as faculty, can work to change the conditions that are most oppressive or that prevent us from being successful in teaching, research, and service. All faculty could benefit from reading this book as well as Halls first book on creating change in higher education The academic self: An owners manual. Not only does it provide many inspiring anecdotes and practical examples of how we can engage in change activities, it reminds us of the reason that we entered higher education to educate students, conduct research to inform the public, and to reinforce the mission of serving the public good. It is all too easy to get caught up in the overwhelming nature of our faculty work, departmental politics, faculty incivility, consumer-driven students, and misplaced institutional priorities. Sometimes, we just need a reminder that we are part of an ongoing dialogue and that we have a unique agency to change our academic departments and institutions.
Astin, H. S., & Leland, C. (1991). Women of influence, women of vision. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Safarik, L. (2003). Feminist transformation in higher education: Discipline, structure, and institution. The Review of Higher Education, 26 (4), 419-445.
Schuster, J. H., & Finkelstein, M. (2006). The American faculty: Restructuring academic work and careers. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Slaughter, S. & Rhoads, G. (2004). Academic capitalism in the new economy. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Wolf-Wendel, L. E., Twombly, S. B., Tuttle, K. N, Ward, K., & Gaston-Gayles, J. L. (2004). Reflecting back, looking forward: Civil rights and student affairs. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.