A Changing Faculty Requires Change Leadership: Implications of The Gig Academy for Provosts and Deans

by Adrianna Kezar, PhD. Dean's Professor of Leadership, University of Southern California; Co-director, Pullias Center; Director, Delphi Project

For this guest blog post, we asked Prof. Adrianna Kezar to apply her research and experience to cite, critique and extend two recent Change Magazine articles on cultivating faculty leadership and indicators of institutional resilience. Kezar considers implications of her latest work, The Gig Academy, and the new edition of How Colleges Change, for leadership of and by the faculty.

Every time I hear a proclamation about the need for change on college campuses, it is followed by “…and faculty leadership is essential to this effort.” To that end, we are increasingly hearing calls for revitalizing shared governance, including from the Association for Governing Board’s blue ribbon commission from 2014 that specifically warned that today’s campuses are being harmed by too little, not too much faculty involvement and a general decline in shared governance.

Yet, garnering faculty leadership is an emerging challenge due to the reshaping of the professoriate in recent years. With 70% of faculty off the tenure track, and 52% of faculty being part-time, there is less time among faculty for institutional service, leadership and engagement. The challenges extend beyond obtaining leadership among, but also how to lead this dramatically changed faculty who have such limited time and attention. This erosion in campus human resources is a topic that I take up in the recently released The Gig Academy from Johns Hopkins Press.

In his article on Growing Our Own, Kiernan Mathews makes clear that administrators are still getting up to speed about the changes in the professoriate. They are struggling to adjust professional development to best engage faculty and develop them as leaders who can meaningfully contribute to shared governance and change. Perhaps they struggle because most of them–the department chairs, deans and provosts–emerged from and were shaped by the norms of the tenure-track faculty.

On many campuses now, this will no longer be possible. As their faculties transform, academic leaders must ask themselves: how are we preparing our campuses for a leadership succession when many faculty are likely to be coming from non-tenure track positions? And how do we lead faculty that may be teaching at multiple campuses, never step foot on our campuses, or that may have other part- and even full-time positions?

So far, most of the recommendations to address this challenge of faculty engagement and leadership have been too superficial to make non-tenure track faculty part of campus communities. The University of Southern California’s Pullias Center, which I direct, has recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation that aims to remedy this problem.

In partnership with the Association for American Colleges and Universities, we will be developing an Institute for campus teams (made up of faculty and administrators) to change campus policies and practices so that non-tenure track faculty (NTTF) can be engaged members of the campus community. The campus teams will have two major goals:

  1. Develop a design team that will go back to campus, audit current policies and practices, and offer changes that need to be made to campus to engage NTTF; and,
  2. Develop models of learning communities for NTTF so they can improve their teaching and the learning environment for students.

Because the problem is ill-defined and involves various levels of complexity, teams will follow a design thinking approach: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

The groups will empathize by learning more about NTTF experiences within the Institute. They will further define the issue through review of data from their campuses. After empathizing and defining problem, they will experience sessions focused on ideas to improve NTTF support and team time to brainstorm. They will create a prototype for improving NTTF support and engagement before they leave. This prototype will then be tested back on campus. Design thinking will continue as they re-organize the campus to ensure NTTFs will be part of shared governance, mentored for leadership roles, and engaged in meaningful service.

While the Pullias-AAC&U project works with 40 campuses over the next four years, any institution can engage this process on their own. Resources to support such a process are available on the Delphi Project website, where we will be capturing the changes campuses participating in the Institute make to serve as models for other campuses. Through our Delphi Award, we also have examples of campuses that have made a serious effort to improve faculty engagement, like Santa Monica College, which has been finding success in including and connecting adjunct instructors.

In the meantime, there is cause for optimism. Recent trends in consolidating part-time positions into more secure, full-time appointments could bode well for reinvigorating faculty leadership and engagement. These faculty may in fact be ready to engage more deeply in their institutions; in Envisioning the Faculty for the 21st Century, scholars of the professoriate and I demonstrate that many NTTF identify primarily as teachers tied strongly to their campus. While they also identify with their fields, NTTF perhaps more effectively engage their dual identity than do tenure-track faculty, whose stronger identification with discipline pulls them away from campus engagement in a tension that is often unresolved. Provosts, deans and faculty senates need to change their traditional structures to engage the NTTF who are inclined to be leaders in governance.

Yet, it is as unwise to believe that all are interested in leading as it is to believe that there are none; many NTTF have competing commitments, too. Baseline data collection is necessary to understand our NTTF better and ultimately to decipher the capacity of a campus for leadership. Wiser for the insights, academic leaders must interrogate the policies and norms that prevent NTTF involvement in the civic life of their institutions.

How will all of our faculty be led? The notion of the “design team” is our path to decipher this puzzle for each campus. This is a case where one size will not fit all—so let’s design our way forward.