Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Understanding the New Majority of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty in Higher Education

Reviewed by:  Kathryn Linder, Suffolk University

Adrianna Kezar and Cecile Sam’s text, Understanding the New Majority of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty in Higher Education, offers an excellent starting point for both researchers and policy makers.  Written to “fill the void in the literature that lacks a meta-analysis of the research about non-tenure-track faculty” (p. 4), the authors methodically explore the literature around who comprises the non-tenure-track faculty population (including full-time and part-time workers) and their experiences in terms of work conditions and expectations.  Through their acknowledgment of the importance of non-tenure-track faculty in the current higher education climate, Kezar and Sam also successfully tackle some of the most relevant questions in contemporary higher education regarding the role of tenure and the future of higher education more generally.  Importantly, almost one third of the text is devoted to suggestions for future directions in policy-making, hiring, and the professionalization of non-tenure-track faculty.  It should also be noted that this is the first volume of two, with the second (ASHE Higher Education Report 36, 5) focusing more explicitly on “theories applied to study on-tenure-track faculty and philosophical and practical tensions represented in the literature” (p. x).

Kezar and Sam’s text stands out from other research regarding non-tenure-track faculty members because of their intentional focus on presenting a “holistic” view that includes both “ideological and data-driven perspectives” (p. 2).  In this way, the authors offer a jumping off point for additional research on non-tenure-track populations while also illustrating how this research can be done most effectively.  Kezar and Sam convincingly portray the lack of data-driven research that has been conducted on the growing population of non-tenure-track faculty and issue a call for more depth and breadth in explorations of their work and experiences.  Perhaps most importantly, Kezar and Sam note the positive impact that research can have on the day-to-day lives of non-tenure-track faculty.  Indeed, they state that “a powerful mechanism for breaking invisibility is to distribute data, making other people aware of the sheer number of non-tenure-track faculty on campus” (p. 103).  Kezar and Sam’s combination of current data with recommendations for future actions offers a strong model for how researchers can continue to contribute to the growing literature on non-tenure-track faculty.

One critique I have of Kezar and Sam’s text is their presentation of statistics and numbers.  In particular, the “Portrait of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty” chapter contains lots of numbers regarding disciplinary fields of non-tenure-track faculty, full-time versus part-time placements, hiring practices, and gender and race statistics of the population.  This chapter would have benefited from some graphic representations to help readers see the impact of changing numbers over time. 

As non-tenure-track faculty populations continue to grow, Kezar and Sam’s text responds to a significant gap in the literature.  Most significant, however, is their emphasis on the need for more contextualized research on the non-tenure-track faculty population that takes into account institutional structures and geographic regions.  As the authors acknowledge, any path forward will be most successful if it is based on “research, principled thought, and evidence-based decisions” (p. 115). Kezar and Sam’s contribution to the literature on non-tenure-track faculty certainly makes that success more likely.

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