A Sea Change in Academia
Expert Describes Metamorphosis in U.S. Professoriate
By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
Speaking May 4 on "Taking Measure of a New Academic Generation: Studying the Professoriate," Jack Schuster, professor of education and public policy at Claremont Graduate University and former Berkeley administrator, said the changes going on in American higher education today are greater than at any time since its inception at Harvard in 1636.
Schuster is co-author of the 1998 book, "The New Academic Generation," published by Johns Hopkins. He was appointed the first assistant to the chancellor at Berkeley in 1970, serving Roger Heyns and then Albert Bowker, 1971-77. He received his PhD in higher education from Berkeley and a JD from Harvard.
Basing his findings on a 1992-93 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics -- the most recent large, reliable study on the U.S. professoriate -- Schuster noted that the biggest change over the past 30 years has been the huge increase in part-time faculty.
Only about a third of faculty now hold traditional, full-time, tenure-track appointments, and the percentage of faculty who are part-time has risen to almost 50, said Schuster. "It's a runaway train.... Faculty composition is being reconfigured.... Tenure is being undermined and circumvented," he said.
The second biggest change in the professoriate, said Schuster, is the increase in faculty who are female and/or minority or foreign-born.
Comparing the "new cohort" (those who have held faculty positions for seven years or less) with the "senior cohort," the national survey shows that women make up 41 percent of the new, compared to 28.5 percent of the senior cohort. The gender difference is most apparent in engineering, where women make up two percent of the senior faculty and 12 percent of the new.
Of senior faculty, 58.6 percent are native-born white men, while only 43.2 percent of the new are, dropping to 20.5 percent in the liberal arts, noted Schuster.
Racial minorities represented 11.7 percent of the senior faculty cohort, compared to 17 percent of the new, he added.
On the other hand, the survey shows that there are still jobs to be had in academia: a third of full-time faculty are part of the new, seven-years-or-less cohort.
Schuster pointed out another interesting statistic: even though there has been a push in the 1990s to improve undergraduate education, faculty in all categories say they want to spend more time on research and less on teaching.
Another big issue in higher education today is quality assurance, or accreditation, said Schuster. He called "astounding" the recent accreditation of Jones International University -- a distance learning, for-profit corporation in Englewood, Colo. with only two regular faculty and courses only in business communications. "This spells the unraveling of traditional accreditation," he warned.
"Higher education is up for grabs," said Schuster. "We're now in the Model T version of the new multiversity . . . which could be accelerated by new providers, like Time Warner or Disney." He noted recent talk of links between Microsoft and Yale.
"I'm deeply concerned that not much forethought has gone into these changes," said Schuster, "and that it will become increasingly difficult to attract the best minds to academia. . . . Higher education is becoming more responsive to market pressures, but it is not paying attention to unintended downstream consequences."
In discussion following Schuster's lecture, it was pointed out that the changing employment picture in academia mirrors what is seen in the rest of society, where jobs are increasingly temporary, contract, and part-time.
Schuster predicted that "Berkeley will continue to be Berkeley," along with 200 to 300 other top U.S. colleges and universities, but that the rest will be "barely recognizable in about 30 years."
He also said that the escalation of PhD production has put the "supply/demand ratio hopelessly out of whack," adding that "first-rate institutions are more likely to self-regulate PhD production than second- and third-tier institutions."
As for recommendations on how to handlethe tumultuous situation, Schuster noted that "no one is in charge of higher education."
He suggested that the American Association of Universities and institutions like Berkeley take the lead in noting that the situation is spinning out of control, and that this is a metamorphosis that can't be reversed, but perhaps influenced.
Schuster's talk was the last seminar for the academic year in the ongoing strategic issues series presented by the Center for Studies in Higher Education.