• September 3, 2015

More Pressure on Faculty Members, From Every Direction

Changes in the American professoriate’s employment patterns and types, demographics, and work life are the greatest we have seen in over half a century. The model of the white, male, tenured teacher-scholar that emerged during the great expansion of higher education in the post-World War II decades has given way to an increasingly diverse, splintered, specialized, and transitory work force.

These changes are spurred in part by fiscal pressures. Underneath the difficulties caused by the recession are structural deficits in state budgets, the result of a demand for social services that cannot be met by current tax structures. Meanwhile, higher education’s costs have risen faster than even those of health care. States—and, increasingly, debt-ridden students—are struggling to meet those costs.

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Colleges and universities have responded in part by attempting to reduce their largest personnel expense: faculty salaries. With increasing frequency, colleges have hired part-time and full-time contingent faculty members, often poorly paid—who now make up 49 and 20 percent of the professoriate, respectively. Their growing presence represents a trend that threatens to render moot the heated debate over tenure.

An increasing proportion of new faculty members, permanent and contingent, are women and persons of color. Both groups tend to cluster at less-prestigious and lower-paying institutions, in junior and contingent positions. Full-time female faculty members earn less than their male colleagues at every rank and every institutional type, and they express less satisfaction with their careers than do male faculty members. Campus efforts to increase the numbers of minority faculty members are at risk in the current recession.

Although faculty salaries rose by only 1.2 percent during 2009-10, the increases have, on average, exceeded inflation in most years. But averages obscure the widening salary ranges on campuses, particularly between presidents and faculty members. The differentials within the faculty are correlated with institutional type, discipline, appointment status, and gender. Colleges are also beginning to reduce other elements of the compensation package, such as health and retirement benefits.

Contingent faculty members generally have specialized duties, focusing exclusively on teaching or research. But even within the tenure-track and tenured ranks, the traditional triad of teaching, research, and service has changed.

The drive toward institutional prestige that most professors consider a high priority at their four-year institutions has intensified the focus on research there. Some faculty members, permanent and contingent, are expected to cover their full salaries with grants. With the tenure bottleneck narrowing, junior faculty members are often advised to focus on research, do a reasonable job of teaching, and avoid service.

Faculty members report spending more than half of their time on teaching and classroom-related activities. Professors are increasingly expected to use new technologies in both distance education and on-campus courses, and to be more systematic about assessing student learning at both course and program levels. The scholarship of teaching and learning, in which faculty members examine the effects of their teaching strategies, is spreading; the advent of conferences and publications marks its increasing acceptance as serious scholarship.

The “corporatization” of institutional administrations in the face of fiscal distress and severe budget cuts imperils faculty governance, which falls increasingly to the shrinking number of permanent tenured faculty members. Tenure-track professors, too, are not only warned to avoid institutional service in order to do research but are also at risk if they spend time and energy on the community service that institutions are committed to.

In light of changes in technology, states’ financial struggles, an increasingly challenged and challenging student population, and President Obama’s attainment goal of five million more graduates by 2020, the faculty’s job is not likely to get easier.

Margaret A. Miller is a professor of education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.


1. stevendkrause - August 24, 2010 at 03:18 pm

And to me, this is why it makes sense for faculty-- especially faculty at non-flagship institutions-- to unionize.

2. jffoster - August 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm

And to (re)read the Constitution. There is nothing in it that requires state, let alone private, colleges to honor or adhere to the educational "attainment" goals of the Federal government, especially when the president makes his 5 M more graduates sound like notches on a gunstock.

3. triumphus - August 25, 2010 at 06:00 am

Welcome to the higher education factory! Education in a box. They finally made it.

4. blendedlibrarian - August 25, 2010 at 07:57 am

Miller paints a grim picture of faculty's role in the higher education enterprise. There are rising pressures and efforts to dismantle tenure. There is increasing pressure to be held accountable for outcomes. But even with all of these pressures and Miller's dismal outlook, why are so many individuals working so hard to join the ranks of faculty? And why do faculty positions continue to rise to the top of "best jobs to have" lists? There must be something attractive and desirable about being a faculty member.

5. trendisnotdestiny - August 25, 2010 at 08:03 am

We do have a responsibility to complete the narrative as each year new groups of students will be co-opted by this system unwittingly or through necessity in the overall engineering of a new professorate; one that is less inclined to challenge and be more inclined to follow orders....

This is a generation that will face unprecedented and lingering unemployment, declining wages, massive inequality of wealth as well as the last cohort to fully experience social security and medicare; as the hollowing out of public coffers leads to a concentration of wealth and power that has not occurred in 80 years.... They need to know what is ahead of them in the words of those who attempt to influence: entrepreneurial, innovation, 2020 education goals, rate of return on investment and weeding out the deadwood in the professorate. They need to know that what they are getting is job training mantra, not an education...

Young people need to know their own contexts even when they are cleverly hidden in contractual language, embedded in the corporate beliefs of expanding marketshare on the backs of student debt, and in the predatory process of selling us another product that is supposed to have this great outcome, but fails miserably to help communities of people (beyond developing their ability to follow corporations)...... Young people need to know!

It is not merely good enough for most of us here to diagnose problems; most can and do... There has to be some resistance that involves human interaction beyond our most intimate relations...

6. 22228715 - August 25, 2010 at 08:22 am

Union shops already exist in higher ed. As far as I can tell from working in one, unionizing does not solve all (or even many) of the problems, and it creates a whole new set of awkward issues.

7. perneb32 - August 25, 2010 at 09:00 am

Turn higher ed over to Wall Street. They'll make it work.

8. 22122118 - August 25, 2010 at 09:15 am

To #4: have you heard of Marx's concept of "false consciousness"?

9. bluestocking2 - August 25, 2010 at 09:33 am

@7: A joke, yes?
@1: All faculty need to be unionized, even those at private, "prestigious" research universities. As #6 says, high ed unions do not solve all problems, but they have the advantage of demanding transparency. Salaries aren't decided on the whim of department chairs. It's also funny how anti-union facutly quickly run to the union whenever they themselves run into trouble.

10. ovpstaff - August 25, 2010 at 12:07 pm

It would be interesting to look at examples of colleges and universities that are bucking the trends--and there are some--to see what we can learn from them. What are their respective financial models? How are facultly involved in decision-making? How do they manage benefits? How are tenure processes and faculty development aligned with institutional decisio-making and budget development? If we keep focusing on and complaining about the institutions that have moved in directions we want to avoid, we will never change anything.

P.S. Even an opinion piece should be backed up by evidence. This essay wouldn't pass my freshman writing course.

11. qwerty_asdf - August 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm

perneb32 - August 25, 2010 at 09:00 am wrote:
"Turn higher ed over to Wall Street. They'll make it work."

This is a joke, right?

12. trendisnotdestiny - August 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm


Interpreted to mean: Finney's quote here is proof and point of the neoliberal turn (described in detail by Naomi Klein - Shock Doctrine). The list of the 38 free market policies advanced by the AEI and Heritage Foundation when a crisis hits. It has hit and they are sure proud of the solutions.... Turning it over to wall street; they will make it work for themselves.......

13. softshellcrab - August 25, 2010 at 02:16 pm

The faculty in my department are not asked to do enough, not nearly enough. I am very glad to learn that other faculty are working so hard and taking on so much. In my experience, college faculty continue to have easy jobs and an easy life. That is certainly what I see. As I write this, our school starts back for Fall next week, and I am the only faculty who is here, out of more than a dozen in my department. That's about standard around here. Every Friday during the school year you could set off firecrackers in our hallways and not raise any alarm. Also, I wish Dr. Miller had left out the comment that the lower paid faculty tend to be women and minorities. Maybe it's true, who knows (she doesn't) but it just brings in the usual pandering about hisorically downtrodden groups and how they're getting picked on, the "us against the evil white man" tone one so often sees. Better to just leave that out, as it's really not what the article is about, anyway. Plainly stated, to my experience, I see a bunch of spoiled,underworked faculty. It's almost like this article was written by someone in another dimension. It's not that I don't believe her, it must be what she sees at her school, but it sure isn't what I see at mine.

14. 22235933 - August 25, 2010 at 03:49 pm

As someone who works both in academia as a lowly adjunct and in the private sector in a skilled-trade position, I can testify that a lot of faculty have no idea what hard work is. Many of these whiners started out on full-ride scholarships right out of high school, went to graduate schools with teaching assistantships or fellowships, entered the research fellowship trade, and stumbled, forced, slept, or geniunely earned themselves onto the tenure track.

These soft-handed folk have some nerve to cry and complain about having to work a little extra to do the tasks that were expected of them decades ago before"student services" were invented and college became profit-making engines of research and bogus, ill-conceived, and generally worthless publication factories.

Of course, it's not all their fault. Elected officials and a staggering number of so-called "administrative vice-presidents" with too much time on their hands invent a lot of busy work to try to establish often unreasonable and illegitimate forms of accountability and maintenance to make themselves feel like they are worth their bloated and undeserved salaries.

15. rpmthinking - August 25, 2010 at 10:00 pm

The comments here are more interesting than the article.

16. gsawpenny - August 27, 2010 at 09:49 am

In an academic environment flush with well-earned yet under-utilized doctorates, the call for faculty labor unions is quite silly. For the last twenty years it has been a war of the "haves" (tenured) and "have nots" (adjunct/unemployed). The haves simply looked at the have nots as poor creatures barely worthy of their contempt.

Now the golden goose is dying and the future of tenure is certain, it has none. I say let the tenured faculty walk out on some silly strike - it will be the same as the air traffic control strike, a failed effort.

Put simply, I am one of the thousands of "scabs" who would rush across the picket lines laughing at the "haves," my year-to-year FULL TIME contract clutched in my hand. I will gladly trade a barely decent full time salary for the car load of adjunct boxes I use to maintain the many classes I teach and the semester by semester worry that I might not get enough work this year. I am not alone.

Please, oh please my dear tenured peers, organize and walk out. Host a national strike. It is my dream come true and I am sure it will be the same for countless others who love to teach. Yes, I will take that 4x4 load! Yes, I will teach that freshman 101 class! Yes, I will do it for a fair wage on a year-to-year basis! Yes, I welcome an end to the tyranny of so-called "academic freedom" which is really code for "How can I hire only those who agree with me?"

The world of higher ed is changing and tenure will likely not survive the change.

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