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Rethinking Faculty Work: Higher Education's Strategic Imperative

reviewed by Mary Deane Sorcinelli - August 09, 2007

coverTitle: Rethinking Faculty Work: Higher Education's Strategic Imperative
Author(s): Judith M. Gappa, Ann E. Austin, and Andrea G. Trice
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787966134 , Pages: 400, Year: 2007
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Rethinking Faculty Work: Higher Education's Strategic Imperative by Judith M. Gappa, Ann E. Austin and Andrea G. Trice is required reading for every faculty member and academic leader wrestling with the dramatic changes that have affected faculty work and workplaces, particularly over the last decade. The authors offer an analysis of the changing context of faculty work, a framework that outlines key elements of the work experience of faculty members, a discussion of each of these core aspects of academic work, and recommendations for how institutions can enhance each element for the benefit of faculty. The authors ultimately conclude that a widespread reassessment of current university frameworks is imperative if academia hopes to continue to provide a nurturing and supportive network for incoming as well as current faculty, and also offer a standard of academic excellence for students.

Part One outlines four fundamental challenges that faculty and their institutions are currently confronting, namely, fiscal constraints, accountability, growing enrollment and diversity of students, and rapid technological advances. This section especially succeeds in providing a detailed perspective on the impact technology is having on traditional learning formats, as well as the effects of “modern day” changes on today’s faculty. For example, escalating workloads and high-pressure work environments are addressed thoughtfully here, as is the need and rationale for continuous career-long professional development.

In Part Two: The Framework, the authors present an overall framework for conceptualizing faculty work and workplaces.  This section of the book asks the provocative question: “How can academic work be organized in ways that more fully achieve institutional and faculty goals and priorities?” The authors face a difficult task in terms of identifying immediate answers or solutions, in part because they are dealing with territory that has been defined by traditional foundations codified back in the early 1940s. Tenure, for example, was originally framed as a mutually beneficial relationship between a faculty member and his or her institution. However, the landscape related to job security, as well as related factors such as family circumstances, academic freedom, and career growth, have evolved and changed. Now, as the book rightly suggests, universities and faculty alike are rethinking this relationship on many different levels. 

The authors begin to answer their provocative question by highlighting five elements that are essential to the work experience of all faculty members regardless of their academic appointment. This reviewer found Chapters Six and Seven to be of particular interest. Chapter Six fleshes out the five essential elements of the faculty work experience, replete with helpful visuals. The five elements include: Employment Equity - the right of every faculty member, regardless of appointment type, to be treated fairly; Freedom and Autonomy - the right of all faculty members to freely express their views when such views are appropriately and responsibly expressed; Flexibility - the ability of faculty members to construct work arrangements to maximize their contributions to their institution, work and personal lives; Professional Growth - opportunities that enable faculty to broaden their knowledge, abilities, and skills; and Collegiality - opportunities for faculty members to feel that they belong to a mutually respectful community of colleagues (pp. 140-41).  In Chapter 7, the authors candidly point to a decline in the sense of an academic community, confirm the value of such a community, and call for it to be included in an overall framework of institutional assessment.  In fact, Gappa, Austin, and Trice suggest that faculty must feel a fundamental culture of “respect” within that community before they are able to focus on the five essential elements.  

Taken together, the five essential elements provide a useful rubric that academic leaders and faculty might use together to identify the presence or absence of these elements on their own campuses, and find new and creative solutions when rethinking faculty and administrative environments.         

Building on the framework outlined in Part Two, the third section of the book, The Essential Elements, examines how each of the five elements can be incorporated into policies and practices at colleges and universities. Naturally, this affords a more detailed look at the specifics of the tenure relationship as it stands today. It is now understood that tenure is no longer the universal model for all academic appointments. Flexibility, a key concept throughout this study, is the basis for change, especially when deciding upon the terms of an academic appointment. Faculty members in higher education have become increasingly diverse, and along with that diversity comes more concern for family life and social structures, fair reimbursement, and opportunities for growth as deserved (such as when substantial contributions are made to academic achievements in keeping with an institution’s goals).

Chapter Nine on Equities in Academic Appointments establishes the backbone of the framework already laid out for readers in the previous sections. Here concrete examples abound, and readers will learn a great deal from the wonderfully illustrative examples of different academic appointments from a range of institutional types.  For example, the authors illustrate how elite private institutions are handling their renewable appointments without tenure (e.g., Stanford and Harvard). Other examples the book investigates include institutions that have foregone tenure completely and offer only renewable contracts (e.g., Florida Gulf Coast University), or institutions like Webster University, which has devised a system featuring certain incentives for faculty, yet hires faculty only on a probationary status. The reader is encouraged to linger over Chapter 13 as well, which again illuminates the value of respect and collegiality. The authors speak eloquently about the need for a mutually respectful community of scholars, and consider ways that campuses might foster more vibrant, collegial academic communities.  

In the final chapters of Part Three, the authors return to the overriding theme of flexibility in academic appointments as the foundation for future change in rethinking institutional structures as well as ensuring professional growth. Without growth and flexibility, institutions will not be competitive in terms of recruiting and retaining the best talent they can find.  The overall recommendation of Rethinking Faculty Work centers specifically on these core concepts but ultimately champions contract-renewable and fixed-term appointments as deemed appropriate by department chairs and committees. The authors also offer helpful suggestions for building and fostering academic connections with early career faculty via orientation programs and mentoring.

Rethinking Faculty Work is organized, clear, and comprehensive in its arguments for ways to rethink current structures in academia. It offers exhaustive definitions, valuable research perspectives, principles of good practice, and worthy aspirations for the future of faculty work. Gappa, Austin and Trice’s main contention, rightly so, is that it is time for a radical rethinking of institutional flexibility and academic approach. They demonstrate that change is already upon us and is impacting every sector of higher education. This book offers a firm scaffolding that faculty members and academic leaders can build on and adapt in order to respond to changes occurring in their own colleges and universities.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 09, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14578, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 2:14:30 AM

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About the Author
  • Mary Sorcinelli
    University of Massachusetts Amherst
    E-mail Author
    DR. MARY DEANE SORCINELLI is Associate Provost for Faculty Development, associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Research Administration, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and founding director of the award-winning Center For Teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1988-2006). Prior to joining UMass Amherst, she served as director of the Office of Faculty Development at Indiana University Bloomington (1983-88). Mary Deane has published numerous articles and co-authored books including: Developing New and Junior Faculty (1992), Assigning and Responding to Student Writing Across the Disciplines (1997), Developing a Teaching Portfolio (2000), Heeding New Voices: Academic Careers for a New Generation (2000), and Creating the Future of Faculty Development (2006).
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