March 3, 2003

Schuster says tenure down, turnover up

By Eric Rangus

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 dissecting.

“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 Profound Change.”

Schuster’s lecture, held Feb. 24 in the Jones Room of Woodruff Library, was sponsored by the office of the vice provost for information technology.

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 faculty members.

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 significance.”

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.






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