Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#worthassigning: Matt Reed on the tensions caused by loss of local faculty governance

Matt Reed, who writes the Confessions of a Community College Dean blog at Inside Higher Ed, has a post up that traces the shifts in decision making on policies and curriculum in higher education, a shift that's veering away from faculty governance/local control.
The post is at https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/bossypants-conundrum

Here's an excerpt:
In many ways, higher education’s mode of production is still artisanal. Each professor sets her own standards for grading, selects her own materials, and to a significant extent reigns supreme in the classroom.  The apprentice-journeyman-master structure of grad school makes some sense in the context of an artisanal model. The artisanal model has its own dogma, in which academic freedom and shared governance are supposed to ensure that the artisans are substantially left alone.  As with any working dogma, it has its own internal contradictions -- shared governance can work against the autonomy of dissenters, for example, which is why dysfunctional department meetings are endemic to the industry -- but it has held up for long enough that some people think it’s natural.

Over time, the economic limitations of the artisanal model led to a wave of unionization based on the industrial model.  Unionization had clear benefits, although it introduced a whole new set of tensions.  For example, the artisanal ideal that every professor is a special snowflake sits uneasily alongside payscales determined solely by seniority.  “Master” status relies on being somehow special; collective bargaining relies on solidarity.  And the boundaries between curricular decisions, which are subject to shared governance, and economic decisions, which are subject to collective bargaining, aren’t always clear.  Is program elimination curricular or economic?  (The correct answer is “yes.”)  Still, to the extent that the unionization drive reinforced the artisanal ideal of faculty being substantially left alone, most of the contradictions could be contained.

Now a new logic is emerging, and it’s bringing new tensions.  State governments, often following initiatives from national foundations, are starting to look more intentionally at community and state colleges as branches of state workforce development systems.  In so doing, they’re working to shift the locus of decision-making from the campus, where shared governance remains the preferred method of decision-making, to the state.
I recommend the link for the full context. 

Why is this a piece worth assigning?

The changes Reed describes, even if you don't agree with his description of them or if what he says isn't true for you locally, are broadly true that the analysis is useful. The piece will be useful especially for graduate students to read, as they begin their careers and need to think strategically about where they want to be in ten and twenty years. It's a hard thing to do, think ahead about where a career in learning and teaching will go, but as tenure and full-time positions are already being reduced, it's also the new reality. 
The skill sets that most current faculty needed and used to get jobs still apply, but onto that, adjuncts and graduate students and newly hired assistant professors, need to develop other skills, and will need to be ready to adapt to conditions that most of their graduate school mentors cannot imagine. Newly minted or early career faculty in traditional programs will need to do the traditional things -- publish, present at conferences, serve on committees -- but they'll also need to be ready to shift gears if their programs are cut, or colleges are reorganized, or simply because opportunities for full time work that do not emerge in traditional colleges might be found in nontraditional programs.

What's also true is that new models of teaching are emerging, ones that are clearly not artisinal. Competency based education programs (see shar.es/10oyYn for new programs announced at public colleges)  -- where entire degrees and certificates are offered -- often do not follow an artisanal model at all. Faculty roles are unbundled -- curriculum and course design is separated out from leading discussion, giving feedback to students on their work, tutoring, and mentoring. In that world, what will professional development look like?
Will the raw numbers of traditional faculty roles in traditional colleges and campuses remain steady, either as adjuncts or full-time tenured artisans,  and will competency based programs, or badging programs, or other alternative educational ecosystems  simply emerge side by side, creating an alternate higher ed universe? Or will competing models merge, will institutions become hybrid, and faculty roles hybrid?

If faculty lead hybrid lives -- doing some artisanal course sections on brick and mortar campus where they design the curriculum and buttress their choices with academic freedom, but also serve on a curriculum review/design board for a competency based program, are hired to design a course for continuing education, or teach as learning coach in an online degree program -- what does that mean for their professional identity, how their work is valued, how promotions and pay increases are determined?

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