Non-Faculty Educators and Zero-Sum Thinking

Growing the postsecondary pie.

March 6, 2016

There seems to be a widely shared belief, both inside and outside of academia, that the hiring of non-faculty educators is diverting resources from faculty.

Many folks see the growing number of instructional designers and other non-faculty educators as part of a larger problem postsecondary staff growth, adjunctification, and the erosion of autonomy and status of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

College and universities rarely brag about their hiring of non-faculty educators.

How accurate this view is about the negative institutional aspects of non-faculty educators depends largely on if you believe that postsecondary resources are zero-sum. In a zero-sum world, every dollar spent on a non-faculty educator is a dollar not spent on the faculty.

The alternative viewpoint is figure out how the addition of non-faculty educators may grow the available resources for faculty. This can happen in a couple of ways:

New Educational Programs:

Today, any effort to start a new educational (degree or non-degree) program is almost certainly going to require contributions from non-faculty educators.  Most new programs will have some degree of blended or online instruction, and it is not fair or reasonable to expect that faculty subject matter experts will also be expert in the technical or pedagogical aspects of online and low-residency education.

Quality online and low-residency programs will put well-supported faculty at the center of their efforts (as non-relational education has become commoditized) - and should therefore open up new opportunities for faculty.

Existing Educational Programs:

The success of the faculty in inextricably linked to success of the institution (and vice-versa). Faculty have a stake in issues of student retention, not to mention recruitment. Quality, however you want to measure it, matters in postsecondary education.

As teaching is increasingly mediated by digital platforms, and as the demand for online and blended education, the introduction of non-faculty educators to collaborate with faculty will be an important input to assure quality.  Faculty should always control academic content of the courses that they teach. Non-faculty educators can help faculty reach their teaching goals across diverse instructional mediums, as well as be key partners in faculty efforts to create the highest quality possible learning environments.

The non-faculty educator profession - a profession which I would label as emergent - has not done an adequate job of articulating an argument around faculty alignment. We have let zero-sum postsecondary thinking go largely unchallenged. We have failed to adequately make the case that investments in non-faculty educators can lead to greater levels of resources for faculty.

Nor has our non-faculty education community been vocal enough about fighting for faculty resources for faculty. We have not done enough to stand up and make the argument that effective education depends on the presence of a well-supported faculty member. Non-faculty educators should be leading the fight for greater faculty compensation, security and autonomy.

Finally, we in the non-faculty educator community have been too slow to contribute to the conversation on institutional viability and postsecondary economics. We have not pushed hard enough for savings in non-instructional activities. And we have not been vocal enough in identifying opportunities for shifting investments from periphery to core educational functions.

Will colleges and universities move beyond touting input measures such as student-to-faculty ratios (which I also believe in), to also celebrating the presence of non-faculty educators?

Will schools start to talk not only about small classes and personalized faculty instruction, but also the investments in instructional designers, media educators, and academic librarians?

Will faculty start to reconceptualize their colleagues as not only those that are tenured or on the tenure track, but also the non-faculty educators that they collaborate with in the development and teaching of courses and programs?

Will we find a way to move beyond zero-sum thinking when it comes to non-faculty educators?



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