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College Websites and Alt-Ac Invisibility

How visible are alt-ac staff on your university website?  

Most every higher ed website will feature faculty directories, or lists of faculty by department. These pages will have the courses the faculty teach, a list of publications, where they received their PhD, and often a picture.

Non tenure-track, part-time and adjunct faculty sometimes make it on to the university or department faculty websites - but usually not.

August 11, 2013
 
 

How visible are alt-ac staff on your university website?  

Most every higher ed website will feature faculty directories, or lists of faculty by department. These pages will have the courses the faculty teach, a list of publications, where they received their PhD, and often a picture.

Non tenure-track, part-time and adjunct faculty sometimes make it on to the university or department faculty websites - but usually not.

Alt-ac staff are almost always invisible. We may be listed in a directory accessible by the website,  or mentioned in a staff page, but seldom are the professional and educational accomplishments of alt-ac staff highlighted in the same manner as full-time faculty.

Why are alt-ac staff largely invisible on higher ed websites, at least in comparison to faculty? (And here, I'm talking about traditional not-for-profit institutions - this observation is sometimes reversed at for-profits).

3 ideas:

Sensitivity Around Staff Headcount and the Higher Ed Caste System:

You will never hear a college touting its "student-to-staff" ratio. Staff are often perceived as a cost, rather than an asset. In discussions of the the growing cost of higher education the growth of staff positions is often mentioned as a prime culprit. The story of how staff have become integral partners with faculty in many areas of teaching and scholarship is not widely understood. The image of staff as somehow marginal in the core missions of education and knowledge creation persists.   

A related reason for alt-ac staff invisibility on websites is that the university website reflects the status hierarchy of the institution. Higher ed still operates largely on a caste system.   Full-time, tenured and track faculty and administrators drawn from faculty ranks are at the top of the status heap.  

Alt-Ac Careers are Relatively Recent Phenomenon:

When I am talking about staff I am not referring to those higher ed administrators that came from the faculty, and may return to the faculty in the future. The invisible staff that I am thinking about are those folks not attached to an academic department and not on any sort of tenure track.

What is relatively new is the numbers of professionals with strong academic credentials who are choosing non-faculty positions. We have always had people with PhDs working at our universities in roles around student affairs, health services, and other areas.  (Academic libraries have also been a home of terminally degreed and non-faculty professionals). What is new are all the learning people running around. The learning designers and academic technologists, the program directors and the people running centers and institutes and divisions.   Who am I missing?

What proportion of staff growth is accounted for by the hiring of highly educated and trained professionals? My sense is that staff positions, both newly created and existing, have been credentialed and skilled-upwards. Not all this change is the result of credential creep. Much of the work that staff does requires close collaboration with faculty, an understanding (and experience) of how teaching and research works, and a set of highly developed skills and deep domain knowledge. It may be that campus culture, and higher ed websites, have simply not kept up with the changing nature of the higher ed workforce.

The Perceived Value of Social Media and Non-Traditional Professional Contributions:

Status is the coin of the realm in higher ed. Status is largely derived from the traditional gatekeepers of promotion and tenure. The number of scholarly articles in top refereed journals. Books published. Perhaps teaching awards. Faculty may be active social media participants, may work hard to have a public presence, but these contributions are not what is valued in promotion and tenure.

Alt-ac staff tend to make our professional contributions through other channels than those of faculty on the tenure track. Unshackled from the constraints of traditional academic advancement, including the long-lead times and small audiences of academic journals, alt-ac staff may focus their energies on contributing to platforms that maximize engagement, community, learning, and influence.  

Our higher ed culture has no idea how to value professionals contributions made through a highly followed Twitter account, a blog, or active participation in virtual professional communities. The irony is that web-based professional contributions are a great fit for higher ed websites. Evidence of professional engagement is but a link away.

Do you have counter-examples that you can share?

Does visibility matter?  

 

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