Early in his 50-minute lecture—about eight
minutes after taking the podium, to be exact—Jack Schuster,
professor of education and public policy at California’s Claremont
Graduate University, made the point he spent the rest of his time
“The pace of change in higher education and the extent of
that change is the most volatile and most extensive in the history
of higher education,” said Schuster, who was speaking on “Implications
for the Future of Higher Education: Academic Careers in a Time of
Schuster’s lecture, held Feb. 24 in the Jones Room of Woodruff
Library, was sponsored by the office of the vice provost for information
Schuster, former chair of the Journal of Higher Education
editorial board, is codirector of the Project for the Future of
the American Faculty, a multiyear research activity that investigates
changes in the career trajectories of American college and university
A book about the project, The American Faculty: The Restructuring
of Academic Work and Careers, written by Schuster and fellow
project codirector Martin Finkelstein, will be published by Johns
Hopkins University Press later this year.
Following his thesis statement, Schuster outlined his reasoning
behind it. Advanced technology, increased internationalization,
a shift from need-based to merit-based financial aid, the outsourcing
of services, and a focus on “marketization and commercialization”
all have transformed American universities. But the most significant
change, and one Schuster discussed in detail, is what he called
“a revolution in academic appointments” that has the
potential to irreversibly alter higher education in this country.
Schuster quoted statistics showing that, from 1970 to 2000, the
percentage of full-time faculty at American colleges and universities
fell from 77.8 percent of the total to just 57.5 percent. Tenured
positions, as well as tenure-track positions, shrank too; more than
half of all full-time faculty appointments during that time, he
said, were for non-tenure-track positions.
“If you go back 30 years, these kinds of appointments did
not exist,” Schuster said.
While it is still to early to tell the full implication of this
trend, Schuster added that the traditional relationship between
universities and tenured professors is eroding.
Schuster pointed out that while the number of women faculty is rising
steadily, a disproportionate number of women are getting non-tenure-track
positions. Schuster touched on other factors contributing to the
volatility of higher education: senior professors not pulling their
weight in university governance, an aging faculty eroding tenured
positions even further, and a high turnover rate for all faculty.
“Tenure is being circumvented on a wholesale basis,”
he said. “If you make most faculty appointments to positions
that once were tenured but now are not, you are taking away its
One thing Schuster de-emphasized is the perceived financial crunch
spoken of by a great many institutions. He said the problem is overblown.
“Even in boom times and times of rapid expansion, there is
never, ever enough cash,” he said. “There is always
a lag between what colleges and universities want and what they
will be able to pay for.”
The most serious problem, though, is the way many colleges and universities
have become more businesslike in their attitude and actions. “I
think we in the academy have had our wakeup call,” Schuster
concluded. “We have inadequately grasped the consequence of
the comprehensive change in the way we do business in higher education.”
Schuster said it is the responsibility of professional academics
to ensure that the academy’s values are buffered from the
drive to run them like other types of market-driven institutions.