Background: Research shows that the academic profession is largely held together by cultural rules and norms imparted through various socialization processes, all of which are viewed as sensible ways to orient rising professionals. In this paper, a critical perspective is assumed, as we utilized the concept legitimacy and legitimation to better understand the implications of various socialization tactics within academia.
Purpose: Specifically, the purpose of this paper was to study how faculty members, employed across different types of institutions, defined legitimacy and what it takes to be deemed legitimate in the context of the academic profession.
Research Design: A critical qualitative research design guided this study. Specifically, we collected fifty in-depth, semistructured, conceptual interviews from faculty members employed across two community colleges, two regional comprehensive universities, one liberal arts college, and one high activity research university.
Data Analysis: Our analysis of interview transcripts was largely guided by Saldaña’s suggestions for affective, pattern, and elaborative coding.
Findings: We found that all faculty members, regardless of institution type, discipline, or tenure status, held ideas as to what constitutes legitimate work/legitimacy within academia. We interrogated these findings further through the lens of New Institutionalism and determined that professors spent most of their time describing professional legitimacy, “an endorsement conferred by [one’s] professional [colleagues]." Professional legitimacy seemed to be contingent on (1) research and (2) institutional type. However, faculty also described what can be understood as normative legitimacy, which is an endorsement granted when one conforms to implicit cultural rules and ideals held by any community of relevance (e.g., governmental leaders, administrators, tax payers/public). Normative legitimacy seemed to be granted to professors who presented themselves as selfless, ideal workers who could account for and maximize their productivity.
Conclusions/Recommendations: A number of specific policy and practice related recommendations are gleaned from this work. In terms of faculty preparation and socialization, it is imperative that faculty members acknowledge that both processes are steeped in relations of power, as they engender notions of who and what fits into academia. Several specific questions and small adjustments in terms of practice are noted in the paper. Also, in terms of faculty evaluation, a return to Boyer’s work and newer iterations of Boyer’s work by Henderson could be helpful.