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Earning Professional Legitimacy: Challenges Faced by Women, Underrepresented Minority, and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty


by KerryAnn O’Meara, Lindsey Templeton & Gudrun Nyunt — 2018

Background and Context: Little research has focused on how legitimacy is understood and conveyed through interactions between faculty colleagues, despite its importance to faculty careers. Not all faculty experience an even playing field in trying to access professional legitimacy. This is especially true for women, underrepresented minority (URM), and non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty. These groups experience common dilemmas in their pursuit of professional legitimacy in research university environments, though each group also faces distinct challenges of its own. An ideal place to understand experiences of faculty trying to earn professional legitimacy are faculty learning communities.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to analyze how women, URM, and NTT faculty understand and describe professional legitimacy in one research university. We sought to understand the challenges these groups experienced in trying to obtain legitimacy from colleagues that they attributed to their gender, race, or appointment type. Through this study, we hope to provide an understanding of and recommendations for creating inclusive academic work environments for all three groups.

Setting: The study took place at Land Grant University (LGU), a research-intensive institution. LGU received a National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant to focus on issues of equity in the retention and advancement of women and URM faculty. Out of recognition that the institution faced challenges in retaining and/or advancing women, URM, and NTT faculty, LGU’s ADVANCE program created faculty learning communities.

Research Design: A qualitative case study approach was used to understand how women, URM, and NTT faculty interpreted institutional scripts of legitimacy within their academic departments.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected using semistructured participant observations of five faculty learning communities, which were formed to support the retention and advancement of women, URM, and NTT faculty over five years.

Findings/Results: Women, URM, and NTT faculty participating in faculty learning communities understood professional legitimacy as associated with belonging, merit, autonomy, and voice in decision making. Participants described multiple ways in which they felt their gender, race, and/or appointment type constrained their ability to achieve legitimacy.

Conclusions and Recommendations: In this study, we used our findings to “mark” how inequality is maintained through professional interactions with colleagues. Implicit bias influenced several of the inequalities and barriers to earning legitimacy noted in the study. One recommendation, therefore, is to raise awareness of implicit bias and provide department-wide trainings on how to address it. This study also supports the use of faculty learning communities as a place of restoration for faculty seeking professional legitimacy and as a tool to create inclusive academic environments.



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We wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on previous drafts of this manuscript. We also acknowledge that this article is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. HRD-1008117.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 12, 2018, p. 1-38
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22507, Date Accessed: 12/15/2018 10:53:47 PM

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About the Author
  • KerryAnn O’Meara
    University of Maryland, College Park
    E-mail Author
    KERRYANN O'MEARA is a professor of higher education, director of the ADVANCE Program for Inclusive Excellence, and associate dean of faculty and graduate affairs at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. O’Meara received her B.A. in English literature from Loyola University in Maryland, her M.A. in higher education from The Ohio State University, and her Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Maryland. Dr. O’Meara researches organizational practices that facilitate the full participation of diverse faculty and the legitimacy of diverse scholarship in the academy. She studies organizational policies, practices, and cultures, with an eye toward changing them to be more inclusive, equitable, and agency enhancing for all faculty. All correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Dr. O’Meara at komeara@umd.edu.
  • Lindsey Templeton
    University of Maryland, College Park
    E-mail Author
    LINDSEY TEMPLETON is a Ph.D. student in the higher education concentration at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she also serves as a research assistant. Ms. Templeton received her B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Richmond and her M.A. in higher education from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests focus on women’s leadership development and advancement in the academic pathway.
  • Gudrun Nyunt
    Northern Illinois University, DeKalb
    E-mail Author
    GUDRUN NYUNT is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Higher Education at Northern Illinois University. She received her B.A. in journalism from the State University of New York at New Paltz, her master’s in higher education and student affairs from the University of Connecticut, and her PhD in student affairs from the University of Maryland. Her research interests focus on educational initiatives that prepare students for engaged participation in a global society and experiences of international, underrepresented minority, and women students, faculty, and staff at U.S. higher education institutions. She currently serves as chair of ACPA’s Commission for the Global Dimensions of Student Development.
 
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