Monday, March 2, 2009

Higher Education’s Changing Context

The superb book Rethinking Faculty Work: Higher Education’s Strategic Imperative (1) provides a reasoned discussion of the changing context for faculty work and faculty workplaces. The authors note that there are challenges today that are growing in importance: maintaining technological infrastructure; addressing user needs and budget constraints; recruiting and retaining students; finding new sources of revenue; responding to increasing accountability requirements; enhancing the prestige of the institution. And they further note that it is the faculty who enable our institutions to meet these challenges, that faculty work is essential to achieving the excellence that institutional leaders envision. And they denote that the faculty’s intellectual capital is any institution’s chief asset, indeed, is its only appreciable asset because all the other assets (such as buildings, technology, classrooms) all depreciate the moment they are obtained, but faculty intellectual competence and knowledge only grows with time. Thus, an institution must invest in its faculty.

But because of changes in higher education, new challenges and forces are developing. Chief among them are:
1. Fiscal constraints and increased competition
2. Calls for accountability and shifts in control
3. Growing enrollments and the increasing diversity of students
4. The rise of the Information Age along with expanded use of new technologies to facilitate learning

These factors combine to create major changes in faculty. They can lead to:
1. Changing patterns in faculty appointments: generally speaking, there are fewer tenure track positions opening, and growing numbers of renewable contracts and fixer-term or temporary appointments.
2. Declines in faculty autonomy and control: this is mainly due to the need to raise revenue, and to address the growing use of new technologies in the classroom.
3. As escalating pace of work and expanded workloads: there is a feeling among faculty across the country that they are now being asked to do more and more, a situation known as “ratcheting.” They are turned in too many directions, are expected to be available online 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and who must also play roles now in the processes of accountability they face (ie, accreditation, etc.).
4. Increasing entrepreneurial and high-pressure environments that hinder community and institutional commitment: there is a sense of isolation among faculty, as they handle workloads and assignments at a departmental level that often fails to integrate with other departments. A sense of general community is lost.
5. A need for continuous, career-long professional development: Most importantly, this addresses the need to stay abreast of new technology, and how it can be used in educational settings: blogs, twitter, facebook, wikis, posting boards and threaded discussions, online meetings, various programs, and even educational technology such as our Crestron system, all require training for best use.

These are simply some of the challenges we all face, and much of the rest of this book is dedicated to looking at how we might resolve them. I highly recommend this text for all faculty interested in the future of their art and profession.

1. Gappa JM, Austin AE, Trice AG. Rethinking faculty work: higher education’s strategic imperative. San Francisco, CA; John Wiley and Sons, 2007

No comments: