Is Consensus Possible on the Faculty Role?

October 14, 2015

Research from the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success at the University of Southern California suggests that better support for non-tenure-track faculty members leads to better student outcomes. The project also has urged a more thoughtful, less-haphazard approach to filling the growing non-tenure-track faculty ranks. But reform has remained largely at a “standstill,” argues a new report from Delphi. Why? Because various groups, from tenured faculty members to administrators to governing board to adjuncts, lack a “shared vision for the future of the faculty.”

With “The Professoriate Reconsidered: A Study of New Faculty Models,” Delphi offers a rough outline of that collective vision, via the results of a survey of some 1,550 faculty members, administrators, accreditors and state-level policy makers. The respondents, about 1,200 of whom were faculty members, weighed in on ideas and priorities such as ideal faculty pathways; contracts; unbundling of faculty roles; promotion, development and evaluation; and flexibility. Delphi found a surprising level of agreement in responses across categories, suggesting there is common ground on which to move forward on reforming the faculty role. “Our findings dispel the pervasive myth that there is a tremendous and impassable gulf between groups’ views about the faculty,” the paper says.

A major theme that emerged was the need to maintain and restore professionalism to the faculty role, such as protecting academic freedom, offering professional development, including faculty members of all kinds in shared governance and working toward equitable pay. Responses from unionized participants did not differ significantly from those of nonunionized respondents. Participants did express practical concerns that about the feasibility of proposals such as creativity contracts, customizing faculty roles, creating more flexible roles and creating consortial hiring agreements.

“The areas of agreement identified in this study can serve as starting points for discussion, providing points of consensus to help move the greater dialogue about the future of the faculty from mere exchange of ideas to the creation of a reality,” Delphi argues.

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