Faculty Careers in Rapid Transition: The Salience of the Redistribution of Faculty Appointments

June 2013

In The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers (Johns Hopkins University Press) we documented how the faculty and their careers were being reshaped in fundamental ways. Our most salient finding was documenting the sharp rise of “off track”, contingent faculty appointments. This phenomenon took the form of the rapid escalation of full-time but non-tenurable faculty, as well as the extraordinary growth of part-time (adjunct) faculty. This Research Dialogue attempts to answer these questions: Have trends identified in The American Faculty continued apace or even accelerated? And, what are the implications for the future of the academic profession? We analyze several dimensions of the core issue of the redistribution of types of faculty appointments. First, we explore and update trends in faculty appointment types as we pose the question: Has the academic career trajectory been fundamentally altered? Next, we examine whether the job itself - the components of academic work - has been further transformed. This update of our earlier analyses suggests that the “new” appointment types appear to be permanently ensconced in American higher education. We conclude that contingent appointments tend to form a largely separate and alternative career track to the traditional, full-time tenure-track position. Institutional type and academic field remain powerful arbiters shaping how faculty members go about their work. Taken together, the findings suggest that we are witnessing a re-shaping and increasing differentiation of academic careers and work. We maintain that this has pivotal implications for the faculty and their work-- and thus for the future role and effectiveness of post-secondary education.