Who Advocates for Alt-Acs?

Josh Kim says higher education needs to start thinking about non-faculty educators on campus as a group to be connected, nurtured and supported.

September 20, 2017

Who on your campus is responsible for advocating for the alternative academics (alt-acs) at your institution? Is there someone at your school who is thinking about the careers, well-being, productivity and impact of the alt-acs in your community?

My guess is that the answer to both of these questions is probably no.

Rather than seeing the current state of affairs regarding alt-acs as a problem, perhaps we can see this as an opportunity.

  • What would it take for you put yourself forward in this role?
  • Do you have an interest in building a community of practice around alternative academics on your campus?
  • Would you be interested in taking a leading role at your institution in efforts to connect, nurture, support, mentor and leverage the amazing alternative-academic talent that is already on your campus?

I ask you these questions because my sense is that our colleges and universities are changing faster than the organizational structures can keep up. Throughout higher education we have witnessed a shift in how teaching and learning are constructed and delivered, and how nonfaculty positions are structured.

The growth of online and blended learning has required that colleges and universities hire instructional designers, educational technologists and media educators in order to collaborate with faculty on course development (and sometimes teaching).

The growth of instructional designer and similar positions has occurred at the same time when many folks with Ph.D.s have been hired into nonfaculty roles to help run new initiatives, programs, centers or institutes. The screwed-up academic labor market, where there are not nearly enough full-time tenure-track jobs to match the supply of new and job-seeking Ph.D.s, has created an environment where new Ph.D.s can find opportunities outside traditional faculty careers. These folks have an amazing set of communication and research skills -- the sort of skills you develop in surviving grad school and the dissertation -- and can apply these abilities to nonfaculty work on our campuses.

A Big (and Growing) Number

A simple question: Has anyone ever counted the number of Ph.D.s who work at your school who are not in faculty roles? Add those nonfaculty Ph.D.s to the numbers of professionals who are trained in instructional design, professionals who often have master’s degrees but sometimes Ph.D.s, and you might get a surprising large number.

Alternative academics are educators who are not in traditional faculty roles. Alternative academics share similar training, cultural orientation and value system as their faculty colleagues. They often teach courses and conduct research, but their primary responsibilities are most often neither of these things. They are not eligible for tenure.

What alt-acs have is a commitment to their institutions, their units and their disciplines. What alternative academics lack in clear career paths or milestones for career advancement they make up for in commitment and passion for higher education.

There is a need, I imagine, for people on our campuses to step up and try to work for the interests of the alternative-academic population. Someone needs to be thinking about these individuals as a group, and figuring out how to get the most out of their work for the good of the institution.

Advocating for visibility, status, security and support for alternative academics is ultimately good for the colleges and the universities they work. It is critical that our schools can recruit and retain these talented nonfaculty educators.

Where do alt-acs come together at your school?

Are campus centers for teaching and learning the natural place to build an alt-ac community of practice? Does your CTL have an active program to support, connect and nurture your institution’s alternative academics?

Who advocates for your alt-acs?


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