From Inside Higher Education
January 10, 2007
‘The Academic’s Handbook’
Almost 20 years after the first edition came out, the editors of The Academic’s Handbook (Duke University Press) have released a new version — the third — with many chapters on faculty careers updated and some completely new topics added. Topics covered include teaching, research, tenure, academic freedom, mentoring, diversity, harassment and more. The editors of the collection (who also wrote some of the pieces) are two Duke University professors who also served as administrators there. They are A. Leigh Deneef, a professor of English and former associate dean of the Graduate School, and Craufurd D. Goodwin, a professor of economics who was previously vice provost and dean of the Graduate School.
Deneef responded via e-mail to questions about the book’s themes and evolution.
Q: As you look at all of the changes in academic careers since the first edition, which ones have been the most significant?
A: I suppose that 10 academics would give 10 different answers to that question, but, to me, two changes ? — possibly connected ? — stand out: first, the explosion of inter/intra/cross-disciplinary studies and the commensurate rise of inter/cross-departmental programs, centers and institutes; second, the relative ease with which individual faculty members can move across traditional academic boundaries, e.g., between faculty and administration, between departments and programs.
I would add that I think these changes have been good for the academy as a whole because they have broadened the focus of faculty members. Of course, we all served from time to time on various university or college-wide committees, but many faculty felt that their primary responsibility was protecting the turf of the department or discipline: Administrators, controlling the funds, were inevitably enemies and other departments/disciplines inevitably competition. It seems to me that there is a much clearer sense now of academic institutions as collectives, communities of various collaborations.
The other significant change I would note is the dramatic increase in the number of faculty employed off the tenure lines, often, as in my university, with titles such as “professor of the practice". This change has serious implications not only for those seeking employment but also for the employing institutions. At some institutions, the number of hires over the last five years in non-tenure-track lines has been equal to if not higher than those in tenure-track lines. Some may find the consequences of this trend disturbing in light of other national reconsiderations of the traditional tenure system.
Q: You have new material both on diversity among employers (section on small colleges) and among academics (minority and female professors). Is there less of a common experience of being an academic today then when you started this book?
A: For a start, I don’t think diversity necessarily changes the levels of commonality among academics. When we first published The Academic’s Handbook, minority faculty — ?primarily African American — ?and women faculty certainly faced different problems than white male faculty members in virtually all departments. This is no longer the case in large state and private universities where minority and women faculty in various humanities and social sciences may now be the majority. In the natural sciences and engineering, women faculty remain a distinct minority, as do African Americans, particularly in contrast to rising numbers of foreign-born faculty in these fields. Diversity now has moved much beyond the categories of 20 years ago: The academy, since the late ’70’s has seen a steady rise in faculty with origins in all countries of the world. I am speaking, obviously, of the AAU-type institution, not small colleges and certainly not community colleges.
Q: You wrote (and revised) the essay on faculty salaries. Is there any general advice you’d provide our readers on how to think about what they earn?
A: I do not know what to say here other than what I said in the article unless it would be the need for new faculty to realize that the economies of the academy are complex and often difficult to decipher. How can one not feel slighted when the person hired a year or two after you were is making considerable more than you are now? I still believe faculty pay far too little attention to salary figures across the nation, or to general salary averages in certain kinds of schools in specific areas of the country. Being aware of these averages might not make you feel all that great about what you’re earning, but it gives you a realistic base upon which to think about — ?or even argue with the chair or dean about- ?those earnings.
The only other thing I would mention here concerns retirement accounts. When we read every day about one or another company filing for bankruptcy because they are so indebted to their own retirements systems, when we read about other companies drastically altering the benefits packages offered to their employees, we need to remember that academic institutions are themselves economic entities struggling with the same financial concerns. One message may be that for those with the option to take part in TIAA-CREF, with the safety and flexibility that that provides, they should think carefully about doing so. As mentioned below, a faculty career can last upwards of 40 years, a tremendous investment opportunity for those who consider it carefully with a qualified financial planner, whether that person be an institutional employee or someone outside the system altogether.
Q: Do you think the “star system” has more of an impact these days on hiring and salaries? What do you think of that impact?
A: This is a question better posed to a few deans and provosts. My own sense ? — and it is an admittedly limited one ? — is that the so-called “star system” (as imprecise as this term is) has less impact these days than it did 15-20 years ago. I suppose that when some university decides to create a major center in one of the sciences ? — say cognitive neuroscience or genomics — ?it generally seeks a “star” and commits to X number of additional hires, but I don’t think that is the way most hiring takes place these days. Administrators recognize as well as the faculty the need to sustain a reasonable spread of junior and senior faculty. A rising “associate” may well, these days, be a better bet than a fleeting “star.” To a dean or a provost or even a president, high compensation for an academic leader who contributes much to the college or university community may be thought of as a sounder investment than getting involved in a bidding war for another “star” who may contribute in name only.
Q: What do you think are the major misconceptions new Ph.D.’s have about academic careers?
A: First, I would hope that some of the changes in doctoral education over the past 15 years or so have helped to minimize “major misconceptions” about academic careers. Most new Ph.D.’s are smart enough to realize now that the majority of their colleagues do not go on to become brilliant Nobel laureates in top-10 research programs. Most understand as well the need to balance their research responsibilities with teaching and service responsibilities — at research universities as well as liberal arts colleges. Most may even sense that faculty movement across a number of colleges and universities is perhaps less common today than it was a decade or two ago.
So what misconceptions remain? I wonder if that’s even the appropriate term? Perhaps it would be easier to ask what new Ph.D.’s don’t yet know enough about and need help understanding. That list would include, I think:
How particular institutions really weigh scholarship, service and teaching? What, very literally, are the expectations for tenure and promotion in each of these three areas? Are they changing in any clear way over time?
How do critical decisions get made at their institution? How central a voice is the provost or the president in matters of the development of academic programs? What role does the faculty senate play? How powerful is the department chair? Or the dean(s) of the various colleges? Who controls the purse?
What is the social atmosphere of a department or a college? Do colleagues meet frequently, with their families, outside of the academic setting? Do colleagues from different disciplines interact socially? What are the expectations on new faculty for attending institutional gatherings (concerts, lectures, parents’ or alumni weekends, football games, etc.)? What is the climate for alternative lifestyles?
Many new academics fail to appreciate the length of an academic career, which can easily approach 40 years. At times in the past this length has been broken up by military service or some other interlude (including government, foundation or administrative service). If these kinds of opportunities are not available, the thoughtful academic might wish to contemplate some planned interruption to prevent academic ennui.
— Scott Jaschik
The original story and user comments can be viewed online at http://insidehighered.com/workplace/2007/01/10/handbook.