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From the Faculty Perspective: Defining, Earning, and Maintaining Legitimacy Across Academia

by Leslie D. Gonzales & Aimee LaPointe Terosky - 2016

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.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 7, 2016, p. 1-44
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20805, Date Accessed: 9/28/2021 4:16:52 AM

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About the Author
  • Leslie Gonzales
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    DR. LESLIE D. GONZALES is an assistant professor of Higher Education/Educational Leadership at Michigan State University. Gonzales’s research agenda addresses the academic profession by asking questions related to: (1) legitimization within academia, (2) relations of power concerning the production of knowledge, and (3) the agency-structure dilemma as characterized by the current cultural and political-economic moment. Most recently, Dr. Gonzales’s work has been published in The Journal of Higher Education, The British Education Research Journal, and Educational Policy Analysis Archives.
  • Aimee LaPointe Terosky
    Saint Joseph's University
    E-mail Author
    DR. AIMEE LAPOINTE TEROSKY is an assistant professor of Educational Leadership at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. Terosky’s research agenda addresses issues related to career management and agency among teaching and academic professionals across K–12 and post-secondary settings. Dr. Terosky’s recent work has been published in the Journal of Higher Education, Educational Administration Quarterly, and The Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.
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