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The Professoriate Reconsidered: A Study of New Faculty Models

The following is an excerpt of a longer report from The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success at the University of Southern California.1

NOTE: This online version of the article is missing key charts, impossible to reproduce in this system. To see the charts, please download the PDF at right.

In recent decades, the employment model in higher education has markedly changed. Tenure-track faculty now represent just about 30 percent of the instructional faculty across all non-profit institutions.2 Meanwhile, most faculty members who provide instruction at colleges and universities today are non-tenure-track faculty, the majority of them employed as adjuncts on term-to-term contracts, receiving meager compensation and usually no access to benefits, and encountering unsatisfactory working conditions.

A mounting body of evidence suggests that institutions failure to properly support this segment of the faculty is resulting in numerous negative impacts on the enterprise. Specifically, it is detrimental to student learning and outcomes. This includes problems for first-year persistence, retention, transfers from two- to four-year colleges, and graduation rates, with some of the impacts seen among first-generation and remedial students, who are the object of numerous special initiatives.3 Furthermore, increasing reliance on contingent appointments contributes to a variety of institutional problems, ranging from poor morale to ineffective governance. For example, there are signs of strain as a shrinking pool of tenure-track faculty takes on an increasing and likely unsustainable level of responsibility for satisfying the multiple obligations of curriculum development, departmental and other forms of service, and conducting research.

In the face of these conditions, the Delphi Project has sought to consider different faculty employment models and initiate a nationwide discussion aimed at creating a compelling vision for the future of the professoriate that will:

  • be attractive to new faculty members,
  • more effectively facilitate student learning,
  • respond to external stakeholders critiques, and
  • better sustain campus and systemic operations, and the health of the profession and overall enterprise.

The project emerged from the belief that the best way to begin developing such a vision is to examine the perspectives of a wide array of higher education stakeholders and to identify key areas of agreement that reflect opportunities for groups to work together toward change. With the term faculty model, we mean a set of elements that make up faculty career/ work that includes contracts, roles, values, training, responsibilities, and priorities. We are not presenting a single new faculty model here; rather, we address an array of elements that could forge potential future faculty models.

In recent years, a few notable efforts to envision or create new faculty models have taken shape, although these are as yet isolated cases. Perhaps the best known effort was Ernest Boyers Scholarship Reconsidered, a book proposing what was then a new way to think about faculty work.4 More recently, in their book, The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments, Brub and Ruth suggest a new, teaching-intensive, tenure-track model.5 Medical schools already have developed a set of relatively new faculty arrangements that differentiate roles across clinical, teaching, and research lines; the medical school model also includes a more modest role for tenure, and fosters the participation of all faculty members, regardless of their contract type, in governance. Meanwhile, Northwestern University has proposed to end distinctions among faculty, calling all faculty professors, and ending the use of non-tenure track terminologies. They are also in the process of starting a faculty promotion and advancement model that applies to all faculty, including professional development and involvement in governance. There are other examples of emerging ideas on campuses, as well, but there has been little attention to examining stakeholders view of these and other alternatives on a national scale.

Through the research presented in this report, we hope to identify and better understand the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches and the points of consensus about possible paths forward. This research tried to answer the following question: What might be some key characteristics of the future faculty in the U.S.? No strategic or principled model has yet emerged as an alternative to our current arrangements, nor has any future faculty model been critically examined.


There are some interesting concepts in the survey. I think the challenge overall is that academic institutions, and academics themselves, are not generally open to change. While many of the ideas presented would likely improve the quality of education for students and the quality of life for faculty, I dont foresee a situation where these changes could be made nationally. Individual institutions might implement some of these. Change is hard.

Comment from an accreditor.

In this survey study, we collected the views of faculty (unionized and not, also tenure-track and not), as well as campus administrators, board members, accreditors, and state-level higher education policymakers at a broad range of institutions, including public and private, two-year and four-year, and various Carnegie classification types, to gain a better understanding of these stakeholders views about potential new faculty models.

The survey included 39 two-part scaled response items, each presenting a potential attribute of a future faculty model, and it was disseminated between February and March of 2015. More than 1,500 responses were received, including about 900 from tenured or tenure-track faculty, and about 130 from non-tenure-track faculty. A little less than half of faculty respondents were union members.These survey items were organized into eight categories related to faculty roles: 1) faculty pathways; 2) contracts; 3) unbundling of faculty roles; 4) status in the academic community; 5) faculty development, promotion, and evaluation; 6) flexibility; 7) collaboration, and community engagement; and 8) public good roles. Key findings include:

  • Overall, we found general agreement across many of the questions and categories in this survey, indicating greater-than-anticipated potential for common ground and a way forward to create new faculty roles.
  • Areas of strong agreement included the need for more full-time faculty, ensuring some sort of scholarly component in all faculty roles, fostering more collaboration among faculty, allowing some differentiation of roles focused on teaching and research, and developing a more complex view of scholarship, as epitomized by Boyer.6
  • A major theme that emerged was the overarching need to maintain and restore professionalism to the faculty role, which relates to issues such as protecting academic freedom, inclusion in shared governance, equitable pay, career advancement, professional development, and the like.

We did not find remarkably resistant views among unionized faculty in our survey nor, indeed, views that were much different from those of faculty overall. Although the collective bargaining process might add a layer of complexity to making decisions about faculty employment and contracts, our survey responses indicate that the views of faculty members (both full- and part-time; tenure track and non-tenure track) who are in collective bargaining agreements are not distinctly different from their non-unionized peers.

Although many stake-holders had interest in and found many areas of a future faculty model attractive, there were gaps in interest in some proposals and in views on their feasibility in certain areas. Stakeholders registered concerns about the feasibility of proposals such as creativity contracts, more customized faculty roles, more flexible faculty roles, and creation of consortial hiring arrangements.

An important contribution of our survey is that the data collected challenge several pervasive myths. The notion that faculty members, administrators, and policymakers do not and cannot share similar perspectives on changing the future of the facultyor, in the very least, some basic components of a potential future faculty modelis simply not borne out by the data. The view that unions are unwilling to engage in new models of faculty work is not at all reflected in the data, either.

While this study does not speak directly to financial concernsthe idea that the cost of change is too much to bear, particularly if that change involves equitable compensation for all facultywe have conducted other work that complicates the myth that finances are preventing the pursuit and implementation of changes to the faculty model. In our publication, Dispelling the Myth, for example, we identify ways that institutions can find the funds necessary to better support faculty and improve the quality of instruction. Our work suggests that the willingness to fund these changesor the lack thereofspeaks to leaders priorities.7

The following pages more closely examine our survey findings in three areas of faculty work: faculty pathways, contracts, and unbundling of roles. Additional findings in five other areas are available online.8


Currently, faculty work is dominated by two types of tracks or pathways: a tenure track, which typically involves faculty in research, teaching, and service in varying, and sometimes unbalanced pro- portions, and a non-tenure track, which typically employs faculty to focus primarily on one of those activities. However, due to the poor working conditions and lack of status typical of non-tenure-track positions, non-tenure-track pathways at many institutions fail to engage faculty optimally in even the one area of work that is their intended responsibility.

The first section of the survey sought to explore stakeholders views about alternate pathways and arrangements that could help to create a broaderand in some cases, a more customizedrange of work roles, which would allow faculty to maximize their engagement in scholarship, creativity, satisfaction, and productivity.


Multiple pathways and differentiated roles

There was unified agreement and moderate interest across the stake- holder groups in providing multiple pathways or tracks for faculty to pursue appointments that focus their primary, long-term responsibilities in a particular area such as research, teaching, or professional or clinical practice. Here, rather than maintaining a focus on teaching, research and service (with a dominant role for research), faculty would have greater flexibility to primarily focus on one area. This was determined to be an item to consider for the future professoriate. There also was strong agreement across groups that faculty roles should be differentiated among different types of institutions. For example, liberal arts colleges might need a different type of faculty role than, say, research universities: those varying missions wouldnt be served by a one-size-fits-all faculty model.

Broadly defined scholarship for all

Faculty members, administrators, and policymakers alsoshowed strong agreement andinterest in ensuring that faculty members were supported inmaintaining some role in scholarship, regardless of whether their primary focus is on teaching, service, or research. (Scholarship was broadly defined and involves not only traditional research but also application of research or scholarship on teaching.) Many adjunct faculty members currently lack access to such opportunities. Or, when opportunities are available, support through compensation and funding is not always available.

Multiple definitions of scholarship

Another area of strong agreement and interest across surveyed groups was around a more widespread implementation of the broader view of scholarship advanced in Boyers Scholarship Reconsidered. Boyer asserted that scholarship should be broadly defined to encompass research on teaching, institutional service, and community engagement, and more varied forms of research that include synthesis. Although parts of Boyers proposal have been adopted in varying degrees at some institutions, the data from this study suggest strong agreement to prioritize this work.

Creativity contracts

Another component of Boyers Scholarship Reconsidered included in the survey met with moderate interest and strong agreement across stakeholder groups. Creativity contracts are a tool for facilitating faculty members participation in a broader range of scholarly activities by engaging them in highly customized and continuously changing faculty roles. Each group agreed that giving faculty members the ability to negotiate involvement in a variety of roles over the course of their careers is an important feature to consider for future faculty models, rather than the more narrow foci and largely unchanging roles that define faculty work today.

Key areas of disagreement

One area where the data revealed disagreement was the proposal to focus the majority of faculty roles on teaching, reserving research and service as more exceptional roles for only a small subset of faculty at research-oriented institutions. While state executive officers, board members, accreditors, and provosts were interested in reducing research and service responsibilities, faculty members (tenure-track and, to a lesser extent, part-time and full-time non-tenure-track, too) and deans did not find an increased focus on teaching at the expense of research and service to be an attractive idea.

Another point of disagreement was the survey item that called for more closely aligning faculty work to departmental and institutional needs, rather than having a more individual orientation. Board members, state executive officers, provosts, and deans were more interested in this propos- al, while faculty of all types found it to be unattractive. Autonomy has long been an important part of faculty work. Conversations about future faculty roles need to take this historical context into consideration, and supporters of greater alignment with departmental and institutional goals will need to make clear justifications for why this might be an important priority.


The current range of faculty contract typestenured, tenure-track, full-time non-tenure-track, and part-time or adjunctsdominates the higher education landscape. If this system is in need of revision, what types of contracts might replace them? Or, how might current contracts be altered to best suit the needs of faculty members, students, departments, and institutions, as well as the needs of the communities they serve? The second section of the survey explored views about potential changes to contracts, ranging from mere modifications of the current model to more extensive changes that would dramatically alter the status quo. This section also acknowledged that the type and degree of change necessary might be differentiated across the enterprise, depending on the different missions and conditions on the ground at individual institutions and within academic units.


Incentive and reward structures

Unified agreement and moderate interest was found among all stake-holder groups in revising incentives and reward structures and policies to better reflect institutional priorities. For example, teaching institutions could tie promotion and salary increases more directly to measures of teaching excellence, rather than to research productivity.

Institutional consortia

There also was unified agreement and moderate interest across groups that consortium agreements were an approach to consider. Consortium agreements allow neighboring institutions to create shared, full-time faculty positions for individuals who otherwise would be hired by multiple institutions in the consortium individually and often on part- time contracts.9

Full-time, non-tenure-track and teaching-only tenure-track positions

There was agreement among most stakeholder groups on creating more full-time, non-tenure-track positions to reduce reliance on part- time positions, although the levels of interest were mixed across groups.

Additionally, there was agreement among most groups and moderate interest in adding teaching-only tenured positions to the faculty. Note that the teaching-only concept presented here is not the same as the item in an earlier section that calls for teaching to be the primary focus for a majority of faculty. By contrast, the contracts proposal discussed here suggests making teaching-focused tenure-track positions an option, one type of faculty position among several position types.

Key areas of disagreement on contracts

Much of the current discussion about future faculty models focuses on a choice between two contrasting ideas: maintaining a model closely resembling the status quo or taking the more radical step of eliminating tenure and replacing it with some alternative system, such as one built on multi-year con- tracts. We included three questions that cut to the core of the debate between these different approaches, asking respondents to evaluate the following three proposals:

1. On maintaining the status quo: Maintaining a faculty model that closely resembles the current system of tenure-track, full-time non-tenure-track, and part-time faculty, but with some modifications.

2. On phasing out tenure: Phasing out tenure in favor of multi-year, renewable contracts (typically shorter contracts during a probationary period, then increasing to five years later on) with clear protections for academic freedom, clearly defined grievance processes, and clear expectations for faculty members contributions to teaching, research, and service.

3. On a middle option, keeping tenure but moving toward renewable term-tenure contracts: These contracts would be eligible for renewal every 10 to 15 years.

To many groups, the idea of sticking with the current arrangements, even with some modifications, is unattractive; these groups include full-time non-tenure-track faculty, part-time non-tenure-track faculty, state executive officers, and board members. The highest level of responses against the status quo came fromstate officers. For non-tenure-track faculty specifically, the status quo represents a system that has not worked particularly well for them. There is unease about sticking with a system that many view as broken.

Proposals that involve eliminating tenure are just as unattractiveif not more soto other groups, notably tenure-track faculty and deans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, tenure-track faculty expressed the strongest opinions that phasing out tenure in favor of multi-year, renewable contracts was unattractive. Accreditors, board members, and state officers were the most interested in the idea.

On the third proposal, regarding term-tenure contracts, opinions were mostly divided between the internal institutional stakeholders and external policymakers. While faculty groups, deans, and provosts found the idea unattractive, accreditors, board members, and state officers approved.


The unbundling of faculty roles is a phenomenon that has been unfolding since the inception of American higher education. Generically, unbundling is the differentiation of tasks and services that were once offered by a single provider or individual (bundled) and their subsequent distribution among multiple providers and individuals.10 The third section of the survey contained a number of potential attributes of future faculty models that involved professional and instructional unbundling, thus breaking the triad of research, teaching, and service. Instructional unbundling refers to separating the different roles involved with teaching into course design, delivery, assessment, and advising.11 Many experts on faculty issues believe that the unbundling of faculty roles is a trend that is likely to continue; in light of this, it is important to understand some of the ways that unbundling will affect faculty roles in the years to come.12


While the survey responses revealed several key points of agreement on possible changes to faculty pathways and to contracts, reactions were generally more mixed on the question of unbundling faculty roles. Among these contested questions, the survey item with the most agreement among groups was the proposal to expand the number of positions that focus more exclusively on one of teaching, research, or service, rather than retaining the emphasis on all three roles within most faculty positions. This proposal reflects a trend that has already been occurring over the last 30 to 40 years. It is possible

Areas of disagreement on unbundling

The greatest area of disagreement emerged from responses to the last proposal in the section: unbundling the teaching role into many discrete responsibilities. In comparison with other proposals in this section, the fourth proposal entails more dramatic unbundling of the instructional role by only involving faculty members in such tasks as curriculum development, course design, and outcomes assessment.

Respondents from the accreditation community and state officers supported unbundling instruction in this way, and their support was mirrored in their interest in taking care of other instructional activities through some combination of technology and additional education- al professionals. However, these stakeholder groups responses on this fourth proposal contrast with the views expressed by all faculty groups, provosts, and deans. Although there was some mixed interest in the other proposalssplitting faculty roles into teaching, research, and service, and introducing technology or paraprofessionals to support instructionthis final survey item found only weak interest among these key groups. The responses suggest a concern that unbundling the faculty role in instruction can lead to faculty members losing meaningful involvement in work related to one core institutional mission: teaching.

Said one tenured/tenure track faculty member: This unbundling concept is troubling. These tasks are the faculty role. A full-time, non- tenure-track faculty member agreed: I think unbundling is a terrible idea. The experience of teaching real students in the classroom is necessary for knowing how to design a course, a curriculum, and knowing what standards to use for assessment.

These quotes indicate faculty concerns that the various instructional tasks of faculty are too intertwined to be unbundled this way, and also that such unbundling would lead to an increasing undervaluing and de-professionalizing of the faculty role.

Technology and education support professionals

The second proposal, to increase the use of technology for content delivery to free up class time for in-person student engagement, was met with strong interest among all groups except faculty. A similar split can be seen in the responses to the third proposal, to complement traditional faculty with other educational professionals. Faculty members responded to this idea with far less interest than was expressed by other stakeholders.

It is important to note that we have examined the issue of unbundling the faculty role in earlier research and we discovered that very little research exists on the efficacy of unbundling; rather, most existing research points to potential problems.13


Collective bargaining agreements will constrain most public universities with unions making most of these options impossible.Comment from a dean.

Because unions have been characterized so regularly and fervently as a major obstacle to change, we decided that it would be particularly important to compare the responses of faculty members in collective bargaining agreements to the full sample of faculty members in our study. Our analysis found that union members perspectives on proposals were not remarkably different from the views expressed by members of the faculty overall. In this section, we present some of the differences that did emerge in our analysis, organized by faculty rank. An important point to take away from this section is that, although the collective bargaining process might add a layer of complexity to making decisions about faculty employment and contracts, the views of faculty members who are in collective bargaining agreements are not distinctly different from those of their non-unionized peers.

Unionized tenure and tenure-track faculty

Tenured or tenure-track faculty in collective bargaining units showed little, if any difference in their responses on the attractiveness or feasibility of proposals in the survey, as com- pared to tenured and tenure-track faculty overall. In those cases where differences were exhibited, survey responses showed a difference of a very few percentage points. The section on unbundling of faculty roles was the one section of the survey in which a major difference appeared to correspond to unionization. In that section, eight percent more of the unionized tenure-track faculty express interest in expanding the number of teaching-, research-, or service-only positions among the faculty as compared to the tenure-track faculty average, and nine percent more unionized tenure-track faculty find increasing use of technology to supplement instruction attractive. Additionally, about five percent more union members find the use of paraprofessionals attractive. Thus, unionized faculty demonstrated views that were more favorable of the attractiveness of these elements of new faculty models, as compared to the overall averages.

Unionized full-time non-tenure-track faculty

Full-time non-tenure-track faculty members in collective bargaining units were also highly similar in their responses to their peers overall. There were only a few areas of pronounced difference. In the faculty path- ways section, more union members express interest in providing multiple pathways for long-term focus on teaching, research, or clinical practice (11 percent more in the unionized group find this attractive), in creating different contracts and roles among different institution types (14 per- cent more find this attractive), and in focusing a majority of faculty roles around teaching and student development. An additional eight percent more of union members found phasing out tenure attractive as compared to full-time non-tenure-track faculty members overall. Like their tenured and tenure-track colleagues in bargaining units, these faculty were more interested in unbundling than the full-time non-tenure-track average: 12 percent more unionized faculty found expanding exclusive teaching-, research-, and service-only positions attractive, 17 percent more found increasingly technology in instruction attractive, 10 percent more found making greater use of paraprofessionals attractive, and 12 percent more found it attractive to unbundle ethe faculty role to focus on essential tasks.

Unionized part-time non-tenure- track faculty

These faculty in unions were similar to their peers who were not in unions. The main differences were in the contracts section. As compared to the non-unionized peers, 13 percent fewer unionized part-time faculty found the idea of phasing out tenure for multi-year contracts attractive and nearly 10 percent fewer showed interest in implementing term tenure. An additional 10 percent of unionized part-time faculty found adding teaching-only tenure positions attractive, as compared to part-time faculty overall, and 10 percent more showed interest in maintaining the status quo.


Our report points to many areas of agreement that can serve as starting points for discussions, lending points of consensus to move from idea to reality and promote greater dialogue about the future of the faculty. It dispels pervasive myths that suggest there is a tremendous and impassable gulf between stakeholder groups views about the purpose and structure of the faculty. If this report has any effect, we hope that it will help to provoke a collaborative dialogue about change. We believe that efforts to consider, design, and implement future faculty models are more likely to be successful when a diverse group of stakeholders are involved and engaged in each stage of the process.

As these conversations unfold and new visions for faculty work move forward, it is necessary to continue conducting research on how changes in these roles impact faculty work, performance, institutional goals, and student outcomes. Very little research has been done on faculty roles, and changes in faculty roles have rarely been guided by research.14 In our work, we continue to trace the changes taking place in faculty roles, and we seek to push back against the lack of accountability for changes that ignore data on the impact they have on students and faculty and neglect existing knowledge about best practices.

Fortunately, our survey data reflect enthusiastic interest in new approaches and in certain key attributes of future faculty models. Here there is the potential to envision and adopt a greater diversity of roles beyond the traditional tenure track and the non-tenure-track positions that have grown to become a majority of the professoriate. The data presented here offer some valuable insights about proposals that might be discussed, adapted, adopted, and implemented as institutionsand the enterprise as a wholeexplore the future of the faculty.


  1. Learn more about the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success by visiting For the full report, see
  2. Kezar and Maxey, Adapting by Design: Creating Faculty Roles and Defining Faculty Work to Ensure an Intentional Future For Colleges And Universities; NCES, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
  3. See Bettinger and Long, Does Cheaper Mean Better? The Impact of Using Adjunct Instructors on Student Outcomes, pp. 598-613; Gross and Goldhaber, Community College Transfer and Articulation Policies: Looking Beneath the Surface; Eagan and Jaeger, Effects of Exposure to Part-time Faculty on Community College Transfer, pp. 168-88; Ehrenberg and Zhang, Do Tenured and Tenure-track Faculty Matter? pp. 647-59; Harrington and Schibik, Caveat Emptor: Is there a Relationship Between Part-time Faculty Utilizationand Student Learning Retention?; Jacoby, The Effects of Part-time Faculty Employment on Community College Graduation Rates, pp. 1081-103; Jaeger and Eagen, Unintended Consequences: Examining the Effect of Part-time Faculty Members on Associates Degree Completion, pp. 167-94; Kezar and Maxey, Understanding Key Stakeholder Belief Systems or Institutional Logics Related to Non-Tenure-Track Faculty and the Changing Professoriate.
  4. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate.
  5. Brub and Ruth, The Humanities, Higher Education and Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments.
  6. Boyer, op cit.
  7. The Delta Cost Project and other sources have shown how funding for instruction and academic budgets has declined, as other priorities subsume larger shares of budgets. Informative reports on this topic and others related to higher education finance and costs can be found on the projects website at
  8. Due to space limitations, we cant share perspectives on all eight categories of the survey.
  9. An example of an existing consortium agreement is the Five Colleges Consortium in Massachusetts. Information can be found at
  10. Smith, The Unbundling and Rebundling of the Faculty Role in E-Learning Community College Courses, pp. 43-5.
  11. Paulson, Reconfiguring Faculty Roles for Virtual Settings; Smith, op cit.; Smith, Essential Tasks and Skills for Online Community College Faculty, pp. 123-40.
  12. Kezar, Gehrke, and Maxey, Unbundling versus Designing Faculty Roles.
  13. Gerhke and Kezar, op cit.; Kezar, Gehrke and Maxey, op cit.
  14. Gerhke and Kezar, op cit.


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