The Need to Support the Professoriate

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When choosing the topics for my blog, I try to fulfill two criteria. First, the topic has to relate to higher education. While on occasion my comments include opinions about politics and society, my focus is always on higher education. Second, I try to pick aspects of higher education that might be of interest to readers beyond the ivory tower. I usually know if I am successful at this based on the level and type of responses I receive.

This week, I intend to share some perspectives about the professoriate. This may seem more of an inside the ivory tower topic, but I think there is actually relevance to the broader issues of employee satisfaction and career opportunities. I will be interested in your assessment.

I often refer to our college as a community of scholars and learners … faculty and students. The fact is that the intellectual capital of every college is its faculty. So when I saw the headlines, “Unhappy Associate Professors” and “Why Are Associate Professors So Unhappy?”, I was interested.

Furthermore, these articles described a study conducted by COACHE (the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education). COACHE is “a consortium of over 160 colleges, universities and systems across North America committed to making the academic workplace more attractive and equitable for faculty. Founded in 2002 with support from the Ford Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies, COACHE is based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is now supported completely by its members.” Their most recent study included 13,510 professors at 69 four-year colleges and universities (public and private). Their studies are always well done and very informative.

For those unfamiliar with faculty ranks and career progression, most new faculty are hired as Assistant Professors. After six years on this track, professors are typically eligible to apply for tenure and promotion. Successful applicants are granted tenure and are promoted to the rank of Associate Professor. At some point in their future, they often apply for promotion to the rank of full Professor, the highest rank at most colleges and universities.

The process leading up to the application for tenure and promotion is challenging and stressful for most faculty. Denial of tenure means separation from the institution. The awarding of tenure and promotion is a great accomplishment bringing both recognition and security. So why are so many tenured, Associate Professors so unhappy?

According to this research, many of these mid-career faculty feel underappreciated and over worked. As they were progressing towards tenure, they were often supported through mentoring programs, reduced teaching assignments, fewer committee responsibilities, and support for their research. The three criteria for all faculty assessment are teaching, service and scholarship.

This report indicates a clear perception (if not a reality) that after faculty reach the point of tenure/Associate Professor, these special accommodations no longer exist and are replaced by additional teaching assignments and more committee responsibilities. Many are asked to serve in administrative positions in their programs, departments or schools. These faculty feel over extended. In addition, this reduces the available time for scholarly activity and professional development which are the keys to a successful application for full Professor.

Furthermore, many Associate Professors feel that they are “stuck.” They have little support to advance their careers and limited opportunities to move to another institution. Some refer to themselves as “terminal associates.”

The recommendations from COACHE are to develop programs that are focused on helping Associate Professors to advance their careers and prepare better for their applications to the rank of full Professor. Some institutions are providing more support for research, others are revising the criteria for achieving this rank to better recognize all of the valuable service to the institution by these faculty.

As I read this research, it strikes me that this situation is not unique to higher education. I suspect that the frustration for mid-career employees may be widespread. There are limited opportunities for advancement within an organization and limited opportunities to move to another organization which may be looking for entry level employees.

I would be interested in your comments and perspectives. Associate Professors are critical to the educational mission of every college and university. We need to do a better job of both recognition and support. Our faculty deserve this. Our students deserve this.

(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)


  • Guest
    SEO Company India Wednesday, 04 July 2012

    Thanks so much for the blog.Thanks Again. Really Great.

  • Guest
    SEO Company India Wednesday, 04 July 2012

    A big thank you for your blog post. Much obliged.

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