The Changing Profession

Inside Higher Ed has published a substantial article on the challenges facing many university professors in the United States, emphasizing the shrinking numbers of tenured and tenure-track faculty at many institutions. The article discusses many reasons for this decline, including long-term, systemic, external and ideological reasons that pre-date the current financial crisis:

“The American professoriate is in the midst of a major transformation, and it will very likely involve permanent changes to this line of work,” Joseph C. Hermanowicz, associate professor of sociology at the University of Georgia and editor of the forthcoming book, The American Academic Profession: Transformation in Contemporary Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press), said in an e-mail.

While he did not foresee the complete obliteration of tenured faculty, Hermanowicz said the trend of tenured and tenure-track faculty lines being replaced by adjuncts will likely continue, which will affect the nature of the university and higher education. “In the future, fewer and fewer people will know the academic life or the academic job that we have known over the past many decades,” he said in an interview. “The consequences of that, on the whole, will be an eroded sense of what it means to be a faculty member and what a university faculty member actually is. We’re in the midst of that confusion right now.”

The article also includes a substantial discussion of the ways in which neoliberalism has influenced universities and increased their reliance on adjunct faculty: “Applied to higher education, neoliberal approaches tend to prize the business function of the university and to seek to quantify often complex and interrelated activities (such as education) into data-driven metrics — a process that critics fault as reductive and skewed,” the article reports. Such an approach often funnels money into revenue-enhancing areas like fund-raising and treats students like customers. Adrianna Kezar, associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, also cited the Bayh-Dole Act, a law enacted in 1980 and amended in 1984 that gave institutions of higher education control over inventions funded by government research money, as a major turning point in how the logic of the marketplace has influenced higher education. “The following 20 years have just been a continuation and an acceleration of that 1984 act toward where we are today,” Kezar said. Read the full article at Inside Higher Ed.

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