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Re: Book Review: What Ever Happened to the Faculty?: Drift and Decision in Higher Education


Kathryn Van Wagoner <[log in to unmask]>


Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>


Tue, 10 Nov 2009 10:42:58 -0700





text/plain (328 lines)

Oh DANG!  I sent a private email to the list serve.  Aargh!

Well, since I went public with that message.  Is anyone else interested in contributing to the NADE Political Liason committee????


Kathryn Van Wagoner
Utah Valley University
Math Lab Manager
[log in to unmask] 

>>> "Dan Kern" <[log in to unmask]> 11/10/2009 9:10 AM >>>
What Ever Happened to the Faculty?: Drift and Decision in Higher Education

reviewed by KerryAnn <>
O'Meara, Jill <>  Jones,
Erin <>  Knepler &
Natalie <>  Pullaro -
November 02, 2009

coverTitle: What Ever Happened to the Faculty?: Drift and Decision in Higher
Author(s): Mary Burgan
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
ISBN: 0801892163, Pages: 272, Year: 2009
Search for book at


This provocative and important book examines the deterioration of faculty
influence in higher education and makes persuasive arguments for why higher
education needs faculty back at the table. It is written from a unique
perch, as Mary Burgan is former General Secretary of the American
Association of University Professors, a Professor of English emeriti at
Indiana University-Bloomington and has also served in several administrative
roles. While Burgan observes that she writes primarily from the perspective
of a faculty member, it is clear her arguments are strengthened and informed
from having sat in faculty, administrator, and association policy-making
roles.  It is from years of experience in these roles that she makes several
key points throughout the book's chapters. 


Her first point is that there have been major shifts among the faculty away
from teaching and service, especially among tenure track faculty. A second
point is that as state support has waned and institutions look for
additional sources of revenue, too many major decisions about higher
education have been taken over by market forces. Burgan observes, "the slow
but steady acceptance of the market model of competition now being applied
to American education is a colossal blunder that threatens its very identity
(p. xxi)." Rather than standing up to market forces that negatively impact
resources for instruction or influence issues of access and equity, she
observes that many of her colleagues have simply "joined the flow," and once
they have received tenure become, "content to let well enough alone beyond
their disciplinary enclaves (p. xxi)." Finally, she observes that faculty
have not been as active as they need to be in "defending the immeasurable
value of what they do," as this has had a major cost. The absence of faculty
in the imagination of policy-makers, and in campus shared governance has
allowed higher education to drift from its most important missions and


There are several strengths in Burgan's approach to making these points.
First, she does not let anyone off the hook. Burgan dispenses critique of
faculty, administrators, and national associations and the ways in which we
all need to become more accountable. At the same time, she is cognizant of
the working conditions and contexts within which each group works. Second,
Burgan has an eye for seeing the big picture and how each decision affects
the institution at large from the standpoint of financial responsibility and
preserved identity. Third, Burgan does not simply critique the influence of
the market, perils of distance learning, or flight of faculty from
classrooms and into disciplinary enclaves as if she were not a part of
higher education and it were some distant thing other people need to reform.
Rather, she critiques as someone who is an insider, has made a career in
this space, loves higher education and has found its potential and reality
in her own life, "a gift." As such her critiques seem meant to cajole
colleagues toward reform, toward rebuilding. She wants faculty to resist,
but to do it through engaging in institutional decision-making.  


In the first chapter, Bricks and Mortar: The American Campus, Burgan
addresses the issue of physical spaces on our campuses. She explores the
history of higher education settlement dating back to the Morrill Land Grant
Act of 1862 and then considers the current physical landscapes of higher
education. Here Burgan's appreciation for higher education is most apparent
as she argues for how the minute intricacies of these spaces, whether they
be faculty office doors, libraries, common spaces, or historical landmarks,
act as symbols for these campuses of their purpose, unity, distinctiveness,
and the kind of education they offer students. She is concerned that
misguided institutions have put heavy emphasis on new independently
functioning athletic facilities, centers for specialized research, and
separate wings of the campus for business and science programs which drain
budgets, separate teaching and research, and fragment the campus. 


Burgan observes in chapter two that despite common perceptions of faculty
members being power-centered, stubborn, and indifferent to change, most
faculty care about teaching and their interactions with students. She argues
that while pedagogical reform and technology can support extremely large
classes, the bottom line is faculty and administrators need to work together
to fight for smaller class sizes to allow for better faculty-student contact
and learning. Researchers need to get back in the classroom, and
institutions need both lecture halls (with faculty with gifted forensic
skills) as well as small seminars. 


The third chapter calls for curricular reform that reflects decisions about
what is "liberal" about education, without being "distracted by the raging
politicization of our choices by forces outside the academy" (p. 75). This
idea of choice reminded us of Jaroslav Pelikan's (1994) observation about
the important role of teachers in making good choices in constructing
classes, and role modeling how they make their choices for students. Burgan
tells stories, such as debate about curriculum after the September 11th
attacks, which bring curriculum debates to life. 


A real strength of chapter four is a timeline and historical description of
the ways in which proprietary/for-profit universities engaged in higher
education politics at the federal level in the late 1990s and early 2000s to
achieve federal student aid for their students, accreditation for online
programs, and a reduction in the twelve credit hour rule for full-time
student enrollment. While her critique of distance education in this chapter
makes some excellent points, it often lumps for-profits and distance
education into a single group, when many for-profits run face-to-face
classes and many traditional colleges run online classes. Also, new software
programs like Elluminate, Skype, interactive discussion boards and other
collaboration software, as well as the ready use of these in the workplace
make some of the critiques of distance education as having no professor seem
dated. Burgan implores us to remember the important human interaction and
motivational aspects of higher education and its role in retention, while
also recognizing that technology can enhance that human interaction. 


In chapter five Burgan describes three models of governance: management as
defined by business culture, traditional shared governance between faculty
and administrators, and academic unionization. Here concerns are raised
regarding Governing Boards following a more corporate model and moving away
from shared governance, departments acting in self-interested ways and not
taking part in institutional governance, over-representation of veteran
faculty members, and under-representation from younger faculty in faculty
senates and unions. Her many stories illustrate that faculty involvement
provides needed checks and balances in governance. We wondered here though
about the role of tenure in limiting shared governance as many non-tenure
track and untenured (even associate professors who want to advance) faculty
express that they feel a lack of agency or voice until they are full
professors. This may be unnecessary self-censorship, but nonetheless this
might be one response from tenure track faculty as to their missing voice. 


Chapter six involves a critique of the competitive nature of faculty
recruitment in high research institutions. Burgan is concerned that, "when
schools depend on achieving a national identity by luring superstars to
their staffs the results can be demoralization among long-term professors,
erosion of loyalty, failure to collect on institutional experience and
sometimes, really bad bargains" (p. 126). While this situation is not
transferable to most other institutional types, she effectively describes
the overall effect of rewarding faculty for their "superstar" research, and
not their participation in institutional governance. 


Chapter seven uses several historical examples (e.g. Project Chariot, a
1950's scientific study on atomic energy and the Challenger explosion in
1986 among others) to consider the problems modern science deals with in
terms of who owns research findings and how to balance the interests of
outside sponsors of university science with the public benefits of academic
freedom. Burgan also provides thoughtful reflections on an American culture
of anti-intellectualism. This discussion reminded us that one of the bigger
critiques of then candidate, now President, Barack Obama, was when he was
called, "a professor" in how he explained his positions on topics from the
economy to health care (O'Meara, 2009) and goes back to Burgan's earlier
point that academics need to do a better job of claiming the value that they
add to discourse. 


A historical timeline for the shift toward non-tenure track positions, as
well as encouragement for more institutions to redefine scholarship as
Ernest Boyer (1990) suggested (to include the discovery, teaching,
integration, and application of knowledge) is included in chapter eight. We
disagreed, however, with Burgan's argument that there was "no doubt that a
major goal of [AAHE's New Pathways Project] was to rationalize the erosion
of tenure through the hiring of disposable faculty" (p. 181). Admittedly the
first author is biased on this account as she has collaborated with the
Chair of the former project, Gene Rice (O'Meara & Rice, 1995), and worked
for Harvard's former Project on Faculty Appointments. It did not follow for
us that these movements to ask questions about the nature of tenure, how it
needed to be reformed, and what could be done to ensure academic freedom for
untenured faculty would necessarily have weakened the case for tenure any
more than Burgan's own acknowledgement of the need to find models for how to
ensure non-tenure track faculty are not exploited. 


The last chapter concludes that universities need to use success stories
from other institutions to engender change throughout their own campuses and
provides five exemplary cases related to faculty governance, reflection on
curriculum, review of salaries, protection of non-tenure track faculty, and
academic freedom. 


Burgan ends the book by reminding readers that higher education is important
and so are the faculty. Faculty need to come out of hiding, reclaim their
power to influence the big decisions on their campuses, and in doing so
guide higher education to better days.  These are, in fact, "fighting words"
but come from an author who is clearly a strong advocate of the faculty. We
recommend this book to faculty, union and senate presidents, and scholars
who study the academic profession as it provides a very engaging and
interesting examination of some of the most important issues that higher
education has faced in the last 20 years, by an author who was and continues
to be fully engaged in them.




O'Meara, K. A., & Rice, R. E. (Eds.) (2005). Faculty priorities
reconsidered: Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship. San Francisco:


O'Meara, K. (2009). Making the Case for the New American Scholar. An essay
for the Toolkit for Service-Learning in Research Universities.  Edited by
Jeffrey Howard and Timothy Stanton.


Pelikan, J. (1992). The Idea of the university: A Reexamination. New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 02,
2009 <>  ID Number:
15817, Date Accessed: 11/10/2009 9:38:42 AM




Dan Kern

AD21, Reading

East Central College

1964 Prairie Dell Road

Union, MO  63084-4344

Phone:  (636) 583-5195

Extension:  2426

Fax:  (636) 584-0513

Email:  [log in to unmask] 


Veterans Day 2009: 


Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is
it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks
the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a
position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it
because one's conscience tells one that it is right. (Martin Luther King,

Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner. Put

yourself in his place so that you may understand what he learns and

the way he understands it. (Kierkegaard)


To freely bloom - that is my definition of success. -Gerry Spence, lawyer
(b. 1929)    [Benjamin would be proud, I think.]


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