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The Shrinking Role of Faculty in U.S. Higher Education  

The Faculty Factor"One of the key ingredients that made American higher education great is at risk," says Professor Martin J. Finkelstein, Department of Education Leadership, Management and Policy in the College of Education and Human Services. To address this threat, Finkelstein released his latest book, The Faculty Factor: Reassessing the American Academy in a Turbulent Era, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. The "faculty factor," or placing the faculty at the center of university academic life, has propelled American higher education to global pre-eminence. That model is now at risk as American universities face unprecedented challenges – financial and otherwise. The Faculty Factor utilizes new research by Finkelstein and colleagues to address crucial themes affecting American higher education while answering three pertinent questions: What is happening, what does it mean and so what?

"There is a correlation between the ascent of the faculty and America's global standing in higher education," says Finkelstein.

In the last century, American higher education has given rise to some of the world's top universities, becoming the global gold standard in research and graduate education. Finkelstein attributes that rise to, among other things (including federal research report and unparalleled academic freedom), the formative academic role faculty began to play on college campuses after World War II. However, the makeup of faculty workforce in America is changing, becoming more stratified and reliant upon non-tenure track and part-time faculty members. The American model of tenure establishes a core faculty within university departments wherein every individual performs three mutually reinforcing roles: teaching, research and service. In recent years, faculty work has been increasingly specialized, faculty are increasingly being hired only to teach, or only to conduct research or only to administer special academic programs.

According to Finkelstein, the majority of full time faculty hires during the last 20 years have been off the tenure track. Additionally, the proportion of fulltime faculty to part-time adjuncts has fallen to less than 50/50. Reasons for this shift include an effort to combat escalating costs and to increase efficiency by enhancing the capacity of campuses to adapt quickly to changing consumer tastes and opportunities. A drawback is the lack of faculty stability for students, making it difficult to build relationships with professors.

"There has been an enrollment boom over the last 20 to 30 years. As economists would say, the model that worked when you had 8 million students does not work when you have 20 million students," says Finkelstein.

Increasing enrollments and stagnant resources are requiring many colleges and universities to do more with less. The resulting hiring of part-time and non-tenure track faculty may, however, compromise the quality of the student educational experience, and undermine the attractiveness of academic careers for our best and brightest young people. Finkelstein points to the research that has shown increased exposure to part-time faculty leads to lower retention and degree completion. The best and brightest students will be less inclined to enroll in Ph.D. programs to become members of the professoriate if they face a dearth of jobs along with inadequate compensation and working conditions, according to Finkelstein.

The Faculty Factor offers policy recommendations to ensure the American higher education system remains a leader in the global economy. One such proposal in The Faculty Factor to lessen the number of part-time and non-tenure track hires is to mandate the end of tenure at age 70. This proposal recognizes that a central factor promoting the increase in part-time and non-tenure track faculty hiring is the inability of administrators, with the abolition of mandatory retirement, to meaningfully plan for their instructional and research staffing needs. Finkelstein notes that a mandatory end to tenure at age 70 will allow administrators to better plan hiring needs, thus encouraging the continued hiring of tenure track faculty.

The Faculty Factor is a follow-up to The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers, published in 2006 by Johns Hopkins University Press and a collaboration with Jack H. Schuster, Claremont Graduate University. In the decade since publishing The American Faculty, much has transpired in American higher education, especially the transformation to its core, the faculty. Finkelstein and Schuster collaborated with Valerie Martin-Conley, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on The Faculty Factor to provide a comprehensive depiction of what it means to be a faculty member in American higher education in the second decade of the 21st century.

Cathy A. Trower, author of Success on the Tenure Track: Five Keys to Faculty Job Satisfaction praises The Faculty Factor as "A tour de force. This exhaustive, extremely well-written compendium on how the 'condition' of the faculty has transformed in recent decades is truly a magnum opus." Richard Ekman, Council of Independent Colleges, notes, "The Faculty Factor is the book we've needed for two decades. Everyone who cares about the quality of American higher education must read this book and keep a copy ready-at-hand."

Martin FinkelsteinA leading scholar in the field of higher education, Finkelstein served as a Fulbright Senior Specialist and visiting Professor at the University of Hong Kong. He has also been a visiting lecturer or scholar at: Wuhan University, China, Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University, Japan and Center for Educational Studies, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA. For close to ten years he served as the Executive Director of the New Jersey Institute for Collegiate Teaching and Learning. Finkelstein co-authored a book with William Cummings reporting on the U.S. component of a 20 nation international survey of the academic profession, Scholars in the Changing American Academy, published by Springer International Publishing in 2011. Additionally, he worked with TIAA-CREF Institute as co-director for the "Project on the Future of American Faculty" and serves as a Fellow of the TIAA-CREF Institute.

Integral to the creation of The Faculty Factor were Ryan P. Hudes, recent graduate from the Seton Hall Higher Education Ph.D. program, Kevin Iglesias, Seton Hall Higher Education Ph.D. program graduate, and Wendiann R. Sethi, doctoral candidate in the Higher Education Ph.D. program at Seton Hall. While providing leadership over a research team of Seton Hall doctoral students, they dedicated several months to data collection, analysis and research.

Currently, Finkelstein is collaborating with Robert Kelchen, assistant professor in the Department of Education Leadership, Management and Policy, on the U.S. country entry for an international encyclopedia of higher education through Springer International Publishing. When asked, what will be included? Finkelstein adds, "Anything you would want to know about American higher education – its organization, governance, finances and the character of its faculty, students and administrators."

For more information on The Faculty Factor: Reassessing the American Academy in a Turbulent Era, please visit Johns Hopkins University Press.

To read a sample of The Faculty Factor: Reassessing the American Academy in a Turbulent Era, please visit

To learn more about the College of Education and Human Services, click here.

Categories: Education , Nation and World

For more information, please contact:

  • Ryan Rhodes
  • (973) 378-9806
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