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Digesting “the Worm’s Share”: Administrative Authority and Faculty Strategies in the Humanities

by Barrett J. Taylor, Kelly Ochs Rosinger, Lindsay Coco & Sheila Slaughter - 2019

Background/Context: Research on academic capitalism often maps changing conditions in which faculty work occurs without explaining the mechanisms by which change occurs. We use Fligstein and McAdam’s theory of fields to posit that the changing conditions in which humanities faculty members work reflect activities in overlapping (the academic profession more generally) and proximate (university administration) fields. We seek to illuminate the ways in which humanities faculty experience heightened administrative authority and strategically respond.

Research Questions: We ask: 1) How do faculty members in the humanities understand the changes in their field? 2) How do faculty members in the humanities understand their relationships to members of overlapping (e.g., faculty in other areas) and proximate (e.g., administrators) fields? and 3) How do faculty members in the humanities strategize to improve their positions?

Participants: We conducted semistructured interviews with 46 faculty members in humanities fields with various appointments (tenured, tenure-track, non-tenure-track). Faculty participants were mainly housed in English and history, two of the largest humanities departments at many institutions, but also in philosophy and religion departments.

Research Design: Our multiple case study design took place at two public research universities to understand how faculty respond to changing conditions. The research sites, typical of many public research universities, experienced declining direct government support and therefore conditions in which academic capitalist processes occur were present at both. Humanities departments contributed a large portion of student credit-hour production at both research sites, yet such funds were centralized and allocated by university administration.

Data Collection and Analysis: Our interview protocol focused on faculty perceptions of resource allocation within the institution, allocation of work within the department, perceptions of the department relative to others, and how faculty structured their time and careers in response to various pressures inside and outside of their university. Semistructured interviews ranged from 25 and 90 minutes and were recorded and transcribed. We analyzed data using a priori and emergent codes which were grouped into broad themes reflecting faculty responses to changing conditions.

Results: Three strategic responses emerged among humanities faculty members we interviewed: utilizing lower status faculty members, exploiting weaker units in the field, and forming alliances.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Strategies result in the improved status of some individual faculty members but do not arrest the diminishing status of the humanities as a field. Our analysis suggests that field-level analyses entail implications for the study of academic work and processes in the academic capitalism tradition.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 9, 2019, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22774, Date Accessed: 7/28/2021 5:06:52 PM

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About the Author
  • Barrett Taylor
    University of North Texas
    E-mail Author
    BARRETT TAYLOR is associate professor in the higher education program at the University of North Texas. His research emphasizes the interactions between higher education organizations and their environments, focusing on topics such as institutional inequality, the academic career, university governance, and the cultural politics of higher education. He is the coauthor (with Brendan Cantwell) of Unequal Higher Education: Wealth, Status, and Student Opportunity (2019, Rutgers University Press).
    Recent publications include: Taylor, B. J., & Cantwell, B. (2019). Unequal higher education: Wealth, status, and student opportunity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Taylor, B. J., Barringer, S. N., & Warshaw, J. B. (2018). Affiliated nonprofit organizations: Strategic action and research universities. Journal of Higher Education, 89(4), 422–452. doi:10.1080/00221546.2018.1434275 Slaughter, S., & Taylor, B. J. (2016). Higher education, stratification, and workforce development: Competitive advantage in Europe, the US, and Canada. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. ISBN: 978-3-319-21511-2
  • Kelly Rosinger
    Pennsylvania State University
    E-mail Author
    KELLY OCHS ROSINGER is an assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies and research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research explores the ways in which federal, state, and college policies impact students and institutions, with a particular focus on access and equity.
    Her recent publications include: Rosinger, K., Belasco, A., & Hearn, J. (in press). A boost for the middle class: An evaluation of no-loan policies and elite private college enrollment. Journal of Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2018.1484222 Rosinger, K. (2018). Can simplifying financial aid offers impact college enrollment and borrowing? Experimental and quasi-experimental evidence. Education Finance and Policy. https://doi.org/10.1162/edfp_a_00260 Rosinger, K. (2017). Federal policy efforts to simplify college-going: An intervention in community college enrollment and borrowing. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 671(1), 114–131.
  • Lindsay Coco
    University of Georgia
    E-mail Author
    LINDSAY COCO is the Assistant Director for Initiatives in the Division of Academic Enhancement at the University of Georgia, where she works with first-year students, first generation and scholar programs. Lindsay’s research interests include internationalization topics, such as international student recruitment and mobility, as well as institutional resource stratification and gender issues in higher education. Her research collaborations have resulted in a 2016 article at The Journal of Higher Education and a coauthored book chapter in Higher Education, Stratification, and Workforce Development: Competitive Advantage in Europe, the US, and Canada.
  • Sheila Slaughter
    University of Georgia
    E-mail Author
    SHEILA SLAUGHTER is Louise McBee Professor of Higher Education in the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia. She is the first occupant of the McBee Professorship of Higher Education. Professor Slaughter’s scholarship concentrates on the relationship between knowledge and power as it plays out in higher education policy at the state, federal, and global levels.
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