Rethinking Faculty Work: Higher Education's Strategic Imperative
reviewed by Mary Deane Sorcinelli - August 09, 2007
Title: 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.
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 institutions goals).
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.