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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