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The Multiple Roles of the College Professor

What is a Meta-Profession?

College teaching is a profession built on top of another profession—a meta-profession. Individuals come to the professoriate with specific—professional—knowledge and skills, including content expertise, practice/clinical skills, and research techniques. These skills constitute what may be called the base profession of college faculty. But college professors are immediately called upon to perform at professional levels in four possible roles: teaching, scholarly or creative activities (including research), service to the institution and community, and administration.

These roles require skills beyond the base profession and are characterized as “meta-professional” skills. The base profession and meta-profession skills and the various faculty roles are arrayed in the matrix below.

Figure 1, below, summarizes the spectrum of skill sets that may be called upon in the broad faculty roles of teaching, scholarly and creative activities, service, and administration. Additional matrices that provide a further detailed itemization of the skills required by each faculty role may be seen at the Meta-Profession Project website.

The summary matrix shown in Figure 1 also indicates the frequency with which faculty skill sets are called into play in the successful performance of each faculty role. The frequency coding was based on evidence in existing literature, our own work in faculty development and evaluation over the past three decades, and in consultation with colleagues. The meta-profession matrix uses the following scale: Almost Always—Frequently—Occasionally—Almost Never.

The Meta-Profession Project website contains six interactive matrices: Summary; Teaching; Scholarly & Creative Activities; Service; Administration; and a special Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) matrix. This latter matrix shows how the SOTL may be seen as a subset of base profession and meta-professional skill sets. What is apparent is that graduate school training focuses on the base profession role but rarely provides preparation for the other requirements of the meta-profession.

Figure 1.


The Meta-Profession Project

The Meta-Profession Project has four main objectives:

  1. Engage college faculty in providing precise information about the frequency with which various identified skills are required in their work;
  2. Gather information that will permit the determination as to whether the skill set use patterns vary from institution to institution;
  3. Provide a structure (the meta-professional matrices) that can be effectively used in faculty development and evaluation, policy decision-making, research, and in important campus dialogue; (For an example, see the report on nurse education at Florida State University at the Meta-Profession Web site.)
  4. Gather information on and provide a central source for resource materials about faculty skill sets that can then be applied to faculty evaluation, faculty development, research, and the development of campus policies and programs.

The goal of the Meta-Profession Project, as for any true program for faculty development and evaluation, is to improve instructional effectiveness and promote the recognition of the professoriate as a truly complex and higher calling.

Implications for Professional Development

Using the meta-professional approach, institutions can initiate campus dialogues that will define and clarify faculty roles, work, and expectations, and form the basis for the development of authentic and responsive faculty development programs. Here are two examples of process guides for these activities.

Arreola has proposed an eight-step process for developing a faculty evaluation system. In brief, the steps are:

  1. Determine the faculty role model: Specify the work that defines the roles of teaching, scholarly and creative activities, service to the college, professional growth, and other roles.
  2. Determine the range of weights assigned to the faculty role model: Establish precisely the relative weights or values to be assigned to the roles of teaching, scholarly and creative activities, service, and the other activities.
  3. Specify the components of these roles: Identify subcategories of the faculty roles (such as instructional design, delivery, and assessment in teaching) as well as content expertise.
  4. Determine the component weights: Decide the weight of each component (for example, instructional delivery may be worth 30 percent of the evaluation of teaching, content expertise 25 percent, course management 10 percent, and so on).
  5. Determine sources of information: Decide whether students, peers, administrators, or others will provide information about various components of the teaching role.
  6. Determine source weights: Determine what percentage of the data each source provides (for example, students provide 75 percent of the data on instructional delivery and peers provide 25 percent, while peers provide all of the data on content expertise).
  7. Determine general data collection tools/process: Decide whether to use a student ratings instrument, peer observation, a teaching portfolio, or a combination.
  8. Select/design instruments/protocols/reports: Select, adapt, or create a ratings questionnaire or determine the content and organization of portfolios.

In a parallel approach, Theall has proposed eight steps in the creation of a faculty development system. In brief, these are:

  1. Determine needs and associated development functions: Use surveys and interviews that inform decisions about users’ needs and institutional directions.
  2. Determine the principal clients of development services: Decide whom the range of programs will serve (faculty, chairs, the administration, and/or students).
  3. Determine the configuration and location of development programs: Create a unit or center, decide who should direct it, and to whom that person should report.
  4. Determine the allocation of development resources: Determine the percentages of time each function allocates to each client group, and then assign resources proportionately.
  5. Determine the intended impact of development programs: Decide on program goals and activities, as well as the process and criteria to be used to assess performance and determine success.
  6. Determine the connections to other campus programs: For example, plan joint activities or data sharing to maximize the combined effectiveness of efforts in areas like assessment, evaluation, and institutional research.
  7. Establish leadership in faculty development: Ensure a priori and continued support from faculty and administrators and guarantee necessary resources.
  8. Ensure operational stability: Use long-range resource allocation; staff with qualified and dedicated people; create a client advisory body; regularly interact with faculty and administration; assess results; and report activities and accomplishments.

For a more detailed description, visit the Meta-Profession faculty development project.

References & Resources

Arreola, R.A. (2000) Developing a Comprehensive Faculty Evaluation System: 2nd ed. Anker Publishing, Bolton, MA.

Arreola, R. A. (2000) “Higher Education's Meta-Profession.” The Department Chair, 11 (2), 4-5.

Arreola, R. A., Theall, M.,& Aleamoni, L. M. (2003) “Beyond Scholarship: Recognizing the Multiple Roles of the Professoriate.” Paper presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Chicago: April 22. Available at:

Arreola, R. A. (2005) “Monster at the foot of the bed: surviving the challenge of marketplace forces on higher education.” To Improve the Academy, 24. 15-28.

Boyer, E. L. (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Glassick, C. E., Huber, M. T. & Maeroff, G. I. (1997) Scholarship Assessed. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Theall, M. (2001) “Beyond the Scholarship of teaching: searching for a unifying metaphor for the college teaching profession.” Paper presented at the 81st Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Seattle: April 14. Available at:

Theall, M. (2002) “Leadership in faculty evaluation and development: some thoughts on why and how the meta-profession can control its own destiny.” Invited address at the 82nd annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. New Orleans: April 3. Available at:

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