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Faculty Roles and Responsibilities

The Teaching Role, The Research Role, The Service Role, Integration of Faculty Roles and Responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of college and university faculty members are closely tied to the central functions of higher education. One primary formal description of these functions was contained in the 1915 "Declaration of Principles" formulated by a representative committee of faculty members including members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). According to the Declaration, the functions of colleges and universities are "to promote inquiry and advance the sum of human knowledge, to provide general instruction to the students, and to develop experts for various branches of the public service" (Joughin, pp. 163–164). Correspondingly, college and university faculty members undertake research, teaching, and service roles to carry out the academic work of their respective institutions. Each of these roles enables faculty members to generate and disseminate knowledge to peers, students, and external audiences. The balance among teaching, research, and service, however, differs widely across institution types and by terms of the faculty member's appointment. The major portion of this article will deal with these kinds of differences while latter sections will focus on the faculty as collective entities and related trends within higher education.

The Teaching Role

The teaching role of faculty members reflects their centrality in addressing the primary educational mission among colleges and universities. As faculty members teach, they disseminate and impart basic or applied knowledge to students and assist students with the learning process and applying the knowledge. In this construction of the teaching role, the teacher is the content expert, and students are regarded as learners or novices to the academic discipline or field of study. Faculty members are expected to follow developments in the field so their expertise and knowledge base remain current. At many universities, faculty members are also expected to participate in creating the new developments that are taught, which sometimes leads to tensions about appropriate priorities for research and teaching roles.

In the 1980s and 1990s the teaching role came under increased scrutiny as studies such as the Wingspread Report (1993) appeared, outlining the shortcomings of undergraduate education and the failure of higher education to prioritize appropriately its educational mission. New approaches to revitalizing teaching effectiveness include placing an emphasis on effective pedagogy and paying increased attention to the learning needs of students. Consequently, an emphasis on faculty members as facilitators of students' learning has emerged. This focus on learning incorporates a broad set of goals for learners, such as students' mastery of content, their abilities to consider and critique, and particularly in professional fields, the development of skill sets that enable students to undertake career positions.

Faculty members employ a variety of teaching strategies based on the institutions where they work. In a large undergraduate lecture section, a faculty member may deliver lectures that are complemented by regular and smaller recitation sections led by graduate teaching assistants. At a community college, faculty members may work side by side with students diagnosing and addressing a mechanical problem in a piece of machinery. At a liberal arts college, faculty members from different disciplines may team teach a small first-year survey course on human civilization.

In a natural sciences class, students may conduct experiments or field work in regular laboratory sessions to complement their growing conceptual knowledge and hone their inquiry skills. Students in a theater class may work alongside faculty members, fellow students, professional actors, and house staff to produce a stage performance. In a graduate seminar, students may lead selected discussions supplemented by a faculty member's input and appraisal. Students enrolled in a distance-learning class may attend class using technological real-time hookups or may independently complete learning modules and communicate with the instructor through e-mail only as needed or stipulated. The teacher is also responsible for assessing students' learning, and a wide range of strategies may be used, such as tests, papers, and project-oriented demonstrations of knowledge.

Of the three roles of teaching, research, and service, the teaching role is the most widely shared among faculty members across institutional types. At liberal arts colleges, regional universities, and community colleges, the teaching role takes precedence for most faculty members. Faculty members spend the majority of their time in teaching-related work, and effective teaching is rewarded. At research universities, some faculty members may hold research-only appointments, but the vast majority of faculty members teach courses in addition to maintaining a research agenda. Although effective teaching is rewarded, teaching may be seen as less prestigious and less well rewarded than success in conducting research and securing external funding. At virtual universities, faculty members may not teach so much as participate in creating instructional modules and provide feedback to students on their degrees of success in mastering specified knowledge.

Depending on the history of an institution, imparting knowledge and developing students' learning abilities may not be the sole purpose for teaching. In religiously affiliated colleges, institutions may expect a faculty member's teaching to be consistent with and complemented by tenets of the sponsoring religious organization. In these institutions, faculty members may be expected to support the college's ministerial or evangelical objectives. In historically black colleges and universities, women's colleges, and tribal colleges, a complementary teaching focus may be on issues of social justice and empowerment of students from these underrepresented and less empowered groups.

Other institutional personnel increasingly have positioned themselves as educators to complement or enhance the traditional teaching role of faculty members. Student affairs professionals, for example, have placed greater focus on out-of-classroom learning opportunities, learning communities, and community service learning as mutually-reinforcing learning opportunities to create a more complete campus learning environment.

The Research Role

Many university faculty members engage in research, thereby contributing to the knowledge base of the discipline or academic field. Research commonly is associated with conducting empirical studies, whether confirmatory or exploratory, but in some academic disciplines research also encompasses highly theoretical work. The extent to which faculty members have a research role as part of their work responsibilities depends largely on the mission of the employing institution, with larger universities more likely to have research and knowledge creation as a significant part of their missions. Although higher education institutions are most often the sites for and sponsors of faculty members' research, the primary audience for most academic researchers is their national and international community of disciplinary colleagues. Faculty members with active research agendas and involvement in their disciplinary communities have been regarded as more cosmopolitan in orientation, with stronger allegiances and loyalties to their disciplines than to their home institutions.

More emphasis is placed on the faculty research role in large universities in part because large universities also house the majority of graduate programs and provide resources to support the pursuit of research agendas. Additionally, research-oriented faculty members often participate actively in generating internal and external monetary support to underwrite their laboratories or specific research projects. Faculty rewards often are based on the extent to which faculty members contribute to their disciplines through publishing articles and books, presenting research findings, giving performances and exhibits, or disseminating their work to external audiences in other ways. Additionally, rewards may also be based on the faculty member's success in securing funding from external public agencies or companies.

With the growth of externally funded research, concerns have been raised about the potential conflicts of interest between academic freedom to research and disseminate findings and the proprietary ownership of data and findings from externally financed research. This issue is reminiscent of post–World War I concerns, as articulated in Upton Sinclair's study of American education in 1923, about an "interlocking directorate" of higher education and business representatives that disproportionately served the needs of private companies. However, concerns surrounding this trend have increased as support from traditional funding sources for large public universities, including research support, has declined. Faced with this situation, faculty members have become more entrepreneurial and in some cases more reliant on alternate funding streams such as those accompanying research contracts and grants.

Research is seldom, if ever, a significant part of a community college's or virtual university's mission, and participation in research by faculty members at these institutions is not especially common. Although these institutions may employ part-time and adjunct faculty members who work in the research and development divisions of their companies and agencies, their primary work at the community college is to teach. However, the research role is not restricted to faculty members at research-oriented universities. Faculty members at institutions other than research-oriented universities conduct research as part of their faculty role, partly because faculty members who have earned terminal degrees from large universities likely were socialized to conduct research and seek funding for such pursuits. Also, colleges and universities increasingly have focused on faculty research as a way to increase their institutional profiles and prestige. Over the last quarter of the twentieth century, many higher education institutions saw their missions expand to encompass graduate education and research endeavors.

The Service Role

Institutional service performed by faculty members includes serving on internal committees and advisory boards, mentoring and advising students, and assuming part-time administrative appointments as program or unit leaders. In some cases, faculty members also assume term appointments in fulltime roles as mid-level or senior level institutional administrators. Some level of faculty members' service to the institution is expected, although tenure-track faculty members may be discouraged or exempted from heavy service commitments to permit greater focus on their research and teaching. Some institutional service roles may carry some prestige, and appointments may include a salary supplement. However, institutional service is not as highly regarded as research and teaching with respect to advancement within faculty ranks.

The public service role for faculty is associated with colonial colleges' preparation of ministers and teachers to serve the citizenry. A local, outreachoriented faculty service role was codified through land-grant institutions, with their instruction in agricultural, mechanical, and practical subjects. In addition to incorporating these subjects within the curriculum, land-grant institutions also disseminate scientific knowledge and best practices to residents of the state. These universities utilize extension services, often with satellite offices, to provide information in areas such as agricultural innovations, economic and community development, child development and nutrition, and environmental conservation. Faculty members' extension and service roles tend to be less highly valued and rewarded than the research and teaching roles at universities. However, revitalizing the service role has also been offered as an important way to recapture public trust in higher education and demonstrate institutional responsiveness to society and its concerns.

Faculty service is a more central role in community colleges and regional institutions, both of which are characterized by relatively closer ties to the surrounding area. In these institutions, although teaching is the primary faculty role, faculty are also expected to address local needs. Many community colleges develop educational programs that are tailored to the needs of local industries, thus assuming partial responsibility for employee training or retraining. The service role and faculty members' outreach and demonstrations of responsiveness to local needs are valued and rewarded more highly at these institutions.

Integration of Faculty Roles and Responsibilities

The teaching, research, and service roles of faculty members overlap conceptually and practically. For example, instruction in a particular discipline or skill yields a service in the form of educated or appropriately trained persons, and outreach to a farmer or small business owner may lead to an applied research project undertaken by the faculty member. Some attempts have been made to validate the various forms of faculty work and unify them conceptually. Perhaps the most famous recent model has been the American educator and government official Ernest Boyer's 1990 stipulation of discovery, application, integration, and teaching as separate but related forms of scholarship. Among other outcomes, these models address concerns regarding the implicit hierarchy that grants the most prestige to research and the least to service.

Variable career emphasis programs can also help to integrate these faculty roles by offering opportunities for faculty members to stipulate their role emphases at various points in their work lives. Institutions with such programs acknowledge changes and evolutions in faculty members' professional interests and commitments. In some cases negotiations about role emphasis are part of a developmental post-tenure review program. Posttenure reviews are considered to be responsive to concerns about faculty members' continued vitality and contributions in their later years, particularly since the abolishment of most mandatory retirement age provisions. However, concerns remain about the potential for post-tenure review and variable role emphasis negotiations to be used for punitive rather than developmental purposes.

The Collective Faculty

Although the faculty of an institution is traditionally considered to refer to full-time faculty members, part-time and adjunct faculty members at many institutions have assumed a larger proportion of teaching responsibilities. Although the proportions of women and minority group members in the fulltime faculty ranks grew slowly in the last quarter of the twentieth century, women and minority group members also are concentrated in the lower faculty ranks such as instructors and part-time and adjunct faculty positions. Some blame this slow progress on inadequate numbers of diverse students in graduate programs, market factors that make other career choices more attractive or lucrative, or individual lifestyle choices. However, focus also has been shifted to institutional structures and norms, professional socialization experiences, and tacit assumptions that serve as barriers to progress within faculty ranks. For example, William G. Tierney and Estela M. Bensimon suggest that faculty members from underrepresented groups are found to pay a cultural tax in the form of increased service loads and disproportionate expectations for student advising and mentoring–service roles that often are not valued or rewarded.

The identity, authority, and functions of an institution's collective faculty are largely dependent on institutional type, history, and traditions, as well as on formal codifications of faculty authority and role. The faculty traditionally is responsible for planning and delivering curricula and instruction consistent with the educational goals of the institution and selecting and evaluating probationary faculty members within their colleges, departments, or units. Individual faculty members also may serve term appointments as administrative officers responsible for various functions of the institution, and faculty members may participate in representative assemblies like faculty senates. These bodies provide arenas for faculty deliberations and decision-making where representative faculty members articulate, endorse, or dissent from positions and draft and pass senate resolutions.

While resolutions or legislated outcomes from faculty senates often do not ultimately become university policy on the targeted issues, at institutions with traditions of strong faculty senates, senate actions represent steps in ongoing negotiated processes with administrators in determining institutional policies, especially but not only with respect to academic matters. Faculty senates also provide a regular, representative forum for administrators to meet with the faculty about proposed or enacted institutional decisions and policies.

Faculty members often are less routinely involved in institution-level budget processes, including retrenchment decisions and strategic planning–with the exception of academic planning, curriculum planning, and degree program implications. In general, faculties at older institutions and larger institutions have tended to play a more significant role in shaping or influencing institutional governance decisions.

By contrast, many institutions are now more likely to vest a majority of institutional governance functions with professional administrators. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, the number of administrative personnel at universities expanded concurrently with faculty members' becoming more oriented toward their disciplines and less toward the institution. Because of their academic, curriculum, personnel, and shared or dual governance functions, a university's faculty or the faculty at an established liberal arts college may hold a more central and influential position within the organization. In other institutions, faculties are less likely to have such collective identities and influential statuses, perhaps with the exception of unionized faculties.

Faculty collective bargaining units provide faculty members with a formal voice in institutional deliberations and decision-making, and many faculty members regard collective bargaining as a check against the growing degree of professional administrators' authority. A wave of faculty labor organization in the 1960s and 1970s has been followed by a period of less organizing activity by non-unionized faculties. However, more recent participants in academic labor organizing have been graduate students, particularly teaching assistants, in the 1980s and 1990s at relatively prestigious, research-oriented universities. This turn to collective bargaining measures by graduate teaching assistants may presage a resurgence of academic unionization as these teaching assistants become future faculty members at colleges and universities.


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