With all the recent discussions about disruptive technologies and ways to increase completion rates, too little attention has been paid to the roles of faculty members in the emerging new academy. What kinds of faculty do we need to ensure the success of today’s "new majority" students who are older, attend multiple institutions, come from families whose members have not attended college, and who have increased need for remediation and attention from faculty ? Who is currently carrying the biggest load in teaching these students, especially at the introductory levels, where far too many students drop out of college? How will faculty roles evolve in this new environment? To answer these questions, we need to take a hard look at the current status of college faculty — including the large percentage of those not tenured nor on the tenure track.
Today, more than 70 percent of all faculty members responsible for instruction at not-for-profit institutions serve in non-tenure-track (NTT) positions. The numbers are startling, but numbers alone do not capture the essence of this problem. Many of our colleagues among this growing category of non-tenure-track faculty experience poor working conditions and a lack of support. Not only is it difficult for them to provide for themselves and their families, but their working conditions also interfere with their ability to offer the best educational experience for their students.
Emerging research demonstrates that increases in the numbers of non-tenure-track faculty, particularly part-time faculty, and the lack of support they receive have adverse effects on our most important goals for student learning. For example, studies connect rising contingency to diminished graduation rates, fewer transfers from two- to four-year institutions, and lower grade-point averages. Other studies have found that non-tenure-track faculty make less frequent use of high-impact practices and collaborative, creative teaching techniques that we know are associated with deeper learning. They may not utilize innovative pedagogies for fear of poor student evaluations that might jeopardize their reappointment; they may have been excluded from professional development intended to hone faculty skills; they may be driving long distances to accumulate courses in several institutions. And to be clear, it is non-tenure-track faculty’s working conditions, exclusion from campus life, and lack of support that accounts for these findings. (A summary of all this research may be found here.)
Even after years of urging and mounting calls for change, few institutions have developed policies and practices to support non-tenure-track faculty members or include them more completely in the life of our campuses. They remain "adjunct" to the institution -- something supplemental and perhaps not treated as an essential part of the whole. A growing number of educators agree this situation cannot continue if we are to have any success in improving the quality of student learning -- the core of our mission and the source of our collective future well-being.
Seeing so little action toward change, advocates for these faculty members from among the various stakeholder groups, ourselves included, are growing frustrated by what is not being done. However, where many see willful neglect, we see complicated systemic problems and compelling numbers of well-intentioned educators who simply do not know how to address what they know to be a problem. Important efforts by academic unions and disciplinary societies have increased awareness of the problem and offered new professional standards to respond to the inequities in contingent employment. However, no group working alone has been able to make meaningful progress.
So, we are stuck. It is for this reason that we started the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. We sought to do something that has never been done before, to convene a broad range of key stakeholders interested in the changing faculty and student success to seek a better understanding of these issues in our time and develop strategies to address contingency and a vision for the new faculty together.
In using a Delphi approach, key stakeholders or experts on an issue are first surveyed on a complex policy issue; these stakeholders are then convened in person to discuss the issue – including their points of consensus and divergence – and to develop thoughtfully conceived solutions. We invited leaders from national associations such as the American Council on Education and the American Association of Community Colleges. Policy groups such as the Education Commission of the States and Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education joined the project. In addition to these groups, we invited the leaders of accreditation agencies, disciplinary societies, academic unions, faculty researchers, and academic leaders such as presidents, representatives of governing boards, deans and provosts. We also included advocacy organizations for NTT faculty, such as New Faculty Majority.
In May, we came together outside Washington. A report from our deliberations is now available on the project website, as are several resources that were prepared for the meeting to frame participants’ understanding of the research that has been conducted on non-tenure track faculty and national trend data about their growth in numbers over 40 years. The end result of the meeting was the formation of two major, parallel strategies for moving forward:
The first strategy will engage higher education organizations and stakeholders in reconceptualizing the professoriate, including redefined faculty roles (beyond existing tenure or non-tenure-track faculty), rewards, and professional standards. A second strategy will lead to the creation of data and resource tool kits for use by campus stakeholders including faculty task forces, administrators, and governing boards, as well as accrediting agencies. The tool kits will draw upon existing knowledge and data, providing a blueprint for promoting greater awareness of non-tenure-track faculty issues. They will also provide examples of positive practices to support non-tenure-track faculty and show how policy change is possible among different types of institutions.
Undergirding all of our discussions was a shared acknowledgement that the academy lacks the information, data, shared awareness, and models necessary for supporting non-tenure-track faculty and achieving a vision for the future of the professoriate — even as the pace of change in higher education accelerates. Throughout our efforts, we have been attentive to the vast heterogeneity of non-tenure-track faculty as a group and the idea that the character of higher education institutions is extremely diverse. We have worked from a common understanding that any set of recommendations must be attuned to this heterogeneity and diversity.
Key insights and ways to begin addressing this problem include:
1. Collective action: No one group can effectively solve this problem alone. Collective action is needed to address its many complicated parts – the growing expenses of providing a high-quality college education amid declining state support, a lack of good faculty data, the scarcity of campus staffing plans, minimal access to best practices or effective models, the potential overproduction of Ph.D.s, and a tendency for prestige-seeking and mission drift by colleges and universities, to name only a few. The multifaceted and complicated nature of the problem is the reason why it persists and has endured so long. In coming together, we have to understand the priorities that connect us and the serious implications of inaction.
2. Perspective: Bringing together stakeholders with diverse perspectives helped us to identify all of the aspects of the problem so that they could be addressed in new ways. Perspective-taking is helpful. Coming to see the issue through the point of view of other stakeholders, many participants began to understand the issues differently and to see their role in creating solutions.
3. Common ground: There are many more common perspectives than would be expected among such a diverse group of stakeholders. Project participants generally agreed that the current three-tiered system (tenure-track, full-time non-tenure-track and part-time non-tenure track) is broken, that student success is being compromised, and that better data systems and greater awareness can promote movement toward better policies and practices to support non-tenure-track faculty.
4. The future professoriate: While we could not come to full agreement about what the nature of the future professoriate should be, we did agree to many common principles. They include the importance of academic freedom, shared governance, a livable wage, and greater job security for non-tenure-track faculty (in the form of multiyear contracts). There was also agreement that teaching and scholarship cannot be fully unbundled, that institutional roles should differ by institutional type, and that above all other goals, student success should be the primary focus of any faculty work. As we continue our work, we will refine these ideas into a workable vision for our future.
5. Trust: We need to learn to trust each other in order to address this problem. Unfortunately, trust in higher education has worn thin following the decline of shared governance, the rise in unilateral decision-making, and the apparent protectionism of narrow interests among the various stakeholders.
To our surprise, a highly diverse group of stakeholders found far more consensus than we would have anticipated. Thanks to the time and energy that participants and their respective organizations put into this effort, many have now committed to work with their own constituencies to further develop awareness and contribute to improvement. Their investment demonstrates for us that we have the capacity to trust each other and the potential goodwill to create the best enterprise possible to support student learning.
Our hope is that this article will spark broader interest and serve as an invitation for others to join this project. Let’s not allow current trends toward increasing numbers of contingent faculty continue unchallenged. Let’s not simply aim to reform the practices of the 20th century. The world faces many grand challenges. Higher education needs to face this challenge of our own so that our students can go out there and go after the rest.
Adrianna Kezar, Susan Albertine and Dan Maxey
Adrianna Kezar is associate professor of education at the University of Southern California and director of the Delphi Project.
Susan Albertine is vice president, Office of Engagement, Inclusion, and Success, at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Dan Maxey is research assistant and co-investigator of the Delphi Project at the University of Southern California.
Since the 2008 Great Recession, American higher education has experienced a new round of uncertainties and reductions -- especially, but not only, in public institutions. British academics refer to the current season of top-down austerity as "the cuts," but in the U.S., we might speak of lingchi, "death by a thousand cuts." Faculty lines slashed, programs eliminated, course seats lowered, graduate student aid reduced, the decentralized U.S. higher education system has struggled to maintain quality across the disciplines. Humanities programs, in particular, have appeared threatened.
Yet, in this same time we are in the first phase of a digital revolution in higher education. Much of the teaching and learning apparatus has moved online. Computational technologies and methodologies have transformed research practices in every discipline, leading to exciting discoveries and tools. New interdisciplinary initiatives, exploiting the digital, such as bioinformatics, human cognition, and digital humanities, are bringing faculty members together in ways never before attempted.
For the humanities, the threat of diminished resources has appeared hand-in-glove with the digital turn. The recent events at the University of Virginia demonstrate just how influential the digital paradigm has become, but also how unevenly applied its pressures can be. The university's board members seemed to be swayed by the model of massive open online courses (MOOCs) under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, among other institutions, most of the key instances of which have been in the STEM fields. Meanwhile, some board members proposed to eliminate classics and German to save money in the face of the university's massive structural budget deficit. They apparently did not realize how many students actually take these subjects (a lot) or that the subjects have been required in state codes chartering the university.
As humanities chairs with a long involvement in digital issues, we have seen clearly that top-down budget cuts are often justified with arguments about how digital technologies are driving change in higher education. Just as the MOOC course model played a signature role in the University of Virginia saga, so one of the most visible controversies in the University of California system at the onset of the epic California budget crisis occurred when Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley Jr. proposed an all-digital UC campus.
So we believe that humanities faculty members, chairs, and administrators right now have a choice. One option is to take no systematic action on the digital humanities (DH) front and thus let the long-term digital future be built for them. By taking "no systematic action," we mean the present practices of many of us in the humanities who automatically denounce university ambitions for digital education without looking into the issues, allow digital humanities to be the special province of "power" users, and treat digital humanities as a discretionary field. The results of this course have been anemic: settling the responsibility for leading the humanities into the digital age on adjunct faculty or library staff, ignoring the mismatch between digital humanities and established ways of measuring academic performance, and quarantining digital humanities in a project. We have too often outsourced digital humanities to a special center on campus or tiptoed into digital humanities by advertising for faculty in established fields but adding wistfully that "digital proficiency is a plus."
The other option is for humanities faculty, chairs, and administrators to plan how to integrate the digital humanities systematically through our departments -- to infuse departments with digital technologies and practices so as to create models of organically interrelated humanities digital research, teaching, administration and staff work. Of course, we have no proof that this will "save the humanities," a goal we share but that we fear is counterproductive when posed as an all-or-nothing proposition. Good strategy requires picking some point on the line to apply leverage. The leverage point in the policies now shaping the future university is the digital, and we feel that it is crucial that the humanities try for well-conceived, humanities-friendly models of digital work that are institutionally cohesive enough to influence policy.
How can we change the dynamic and create new structures for the humanities to flourish in the digital age? We recommend the following four principles for faculty members, department chairs and administrators to follow in integrating the digital humanities in the humanities.
It all starts with where scholars live and work natively: in their departments (or similar units). Currently, digital initiatives are predominantly institutionalized in campus units, library annex programs, or interdisciplinary entities; whereas in departments themselves they spring up accidentally like weeds around particular faculty, areas, or projects. We propose an organic strategy for integrating digital initiatives into core departmental research, teaching, administration, and staff work.
Departments should help spread digital methods and tools across the curriculum, for example, by sponsoring graduate students to research digital pedagogies and promoting their cross-adoption or engaging students and faculty to build websites for best practices. Departments might cultivate DH across a larger span of faculty research and craft job searches that alternate between prioritizing established fields, with digital expertise a "plus," and prioritizing digital expertise, with an established field a "plus."
Chairs and faculty should consider adopting new guidelines for tenure and promotion reviews that value such activities as writing grant proposals, collaborating on projects, creating digital archives, building cyberinfrastructure, or contributing influential non-refereed articles or blog posts (starting with steps as simple as standardizing categories for these activities in C.V.s). We have worked in our own departments to explicitly include digital scholarship expectations in letters of offer to digital humanities scholars; to train graduate students in DH (e.g., through an introduction to digital humanities course); and to work with office staff to improve administrative and clerical support of research and teaching through digital methods that meet campus standards, where they exist, of accessibility, preservation, privacy, and security.
Think collaboratively (across departments and divisions).
In our personal experience, the digital humanities are not just a field but a conduit. Digital technologies and media typically require a broad set of methods and skills to carry out -- as in computational or archival projects that require the combined expertise of computer-science engineers, social scientists, artists, and humanists. Digital methods can thus be the common link across departments or divisions collaborating on shared grants, research projects, and curricular initiatives that strengthen the humanities with partners and make them magnets for cost-share and other funding. We have personally benefited from collaborating with other departments and divisions on digital projects, and correlatively we have seen impressive results in our campus administrations' encouragement and cost-share support.
In teaching, the need for partnership is especially acute. For example, the humanities could play an important role in helping to develop innovative digital alternatives to the thrice-weekly 50- or 75-minute large lecture course. Such alternatives could better-serve their own university's students (augmented, perhaps, with instructors and students elsewhere chosen to enhance the educational experience) than astronomically supersized MOOC courses distributed worldwide to ill-defined masses.
In general, departments could expand the collaborative reach of the humanities by taking such steps as: meeting with other departments (and deans) to explore how multiple departments might co-develop a digital course, project, or administrative tool; providing incentives to faculty to try for collaborative grants (e.g., by offering course release for grant writing that, if successful, would repay the lost teaching through curricular development or a course buyout); and creating lecture series and workshops that expose faculty to digital research and pedagogy elsewhere on campus.
Humanities departments need more intensive computing power to conduct research in today's era of large-scale text and data sets, distributed archival resources, and multi-modal (including visual, aural, and cartographic) materials. Yet they often lag in both simple and complex technology. This has spillover effects on teaching as well. Though universities and colleges often furnish classroom technology through central campus agencies, we believe that boosting department-specific technology for the humanities could lead to curricular gains.
The fact is that the latest technology improves humanities research and teaching together, affecting the way our faculty offer their classes by interweaving research and teaching to the benefit of both. For example, the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA) project in the University of California at Santa Barbara's English department and the Digital History Project at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln's history department have driven the adoption of higher grades of department technology (workstations, servers, backup systems, remote conferencing tools, text-encoding and image handling tools), all of which has created a thriving digital environment (and busy shared physical space) where undergraduate and graduate students work directly on the project as part of their learning in courses. In general, the humanities are now at a point where we cannot settle for the minimal provision of one aging workstation in each faculty office plus a computer with digital projector in each classroom.
Departments and chairs should seek larger start-up packages for all new hires (and, opportunistically, larger retention packages for faculty with offers elsewhere) to encourage the adoption of powerful computational technologies; initiate a replacement cycle for faculty computers; explore creating a shared department computational research facility (or at least a grouped set of research workstations) if none exist; provide at least one departmentally controlled server for project development or collaborative experimentation that would not be possible on mission-critical university servers; boost large-scale faculty data storage and backup facilities; create remote conferencing facilities to accommodate the increasing number of online meetings and job interviews; and sponsor workshops to keep faculty current on new technologies and methods.
Humanities fields have enjoyed immense cultural authority and interest in every state and community. But they have organized few systematic efforts to maintain, renew, and update these associations in the digital age -- a task that is especially vital when austerity makes some leaders discount the value of the humanities on the basis of misinformed cost-benefit calculations.
The coin of the realm in the digital age, we predict, will be service to society. On the one hand, crowdsourcing and other partnerships with "citizen scholars" will increasingly contribute to humanities scholarship. On the other hand, the humanities must continue to develop their expertise as differentiated from the new, networked public knowledge. The trick will be to evolve the roles of the humanities faculty both in, and distinct from, digital public knowledge so that they will be valued as a necessary instrument in the orchestra.
While the established humanities model of research followed by presentation of finished results in scholarly lectures and publications will continue to be important, that model can no longer stand by itself. Digital technologies allow and, indeed, encourage humanities scholars to engage in open discourse about unfinished research; and they also drive them to "publish" in a wider range of socially visible venues and formats.
Humanities faculty members, chairs, and administrators should start by doing what likely has not been done in recent institutional memory: review what is meant by "service" (typically denoting committee work, supplemented by ill-defined "community" or "other" work). The goal is not to take faculty time away from research and teaching, as if academic work were a zero-sum game, but instead to explore ways to integrate service with everything else for the gain of all. We know ourselves that the simple act of creating a webpage for a project that addresses the public enriches our understanding of the project's research and teaching potential.
In all this, digital technologies are a catalyst for change. Already, digital humanists are exploring methods for publishing in open, crowd-reviewed, blog-based ways. Indeed, there is an incentive for the humanities to ask digital humanists to go even further to create next-generation scholarly platforms that integrate public engagement seamlessly with core research and teaching. For example, online journals could employ text-mining, topic-modeling, linked-data, visualization, and other tools to create on-demand summaries or "WorldCat Identities"-like pages--to be used directly by the public or by scholars for easy import into public websites or course pages.
Humanities departments can take such initial, imaginative steps as conducting a department-wide exercise in revising the departmental web site. Tomorrow's departmental site must go beyond presenting people, courses, and events just one level deep to exposing to public view some of the real content and activity streams of all these (e.g., through interviews with faculty, showcases of student projects, or excerpts from faculty lectures and articles). Other initial steps might include organizing online events that allow faculty and students to share their research with alumni or the community or creating a new service role in the department for an annual "public faculty member" charged with cultivating public engagement, agreeing to meet with members of the community, working on collaboration with local public libraries and museums, and keeping a blog or creating an online showcase for it all.
We are aware that there are valid concerns by many of our colleagues that signing on to the digital revolution in higher education in any systematic way is tantamount to undermining some of the core principles and strengths of the humanities. After all, leading philanthropists have suggested that the World Wide Web will soon eclipse all "place-based institutions" of higher education, and enormous sums of venture capital funding have moved into "for profit" higher ed. Faculty could reasonably conclude that the digital project means participating in the eclipse of their field, ceding even more influence to the oligarchy of elite, private universities with the resources and cachet to start online course consortiums, detracting from the humanistic ideal of close inquiry carried out in intimate conversation, and -- it must also be said -- eroding the need for as many faculty and instructor positions as now exist.
What the current climate tells us, however, is something quite different: that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to reframe the humanities for the digital age. We also see in our respective institutions that administrators, many colleagues, students, and the public are eager to help. The questions and concerns of the humanities continue to speak to and inspire these constituencies, and we should enlist them in our efforts. The reframing project that humanities leaders face will require imagination, leadership, and experimentation. The work we propose is to adopt the necessary level of organizational vision to systematically harness the digital age for the humanities.
William G. Thomas III is chair of the Department of History and the John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities and professor of history at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He is a faculty fellow of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at his university; and formerly he was founding director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia.
Alan Liu was chair of the Department of English from 2008-12 at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he founded several digital initiatives, including the English department's transcriptions center (for research and teaching on "literature and the culture of information") and the University of California multicampus research group Transliteracies (focused on online reading technologies and practices).