Tuesday, August 24, 2010

College Faculty Professionalism – Ethical Responsibility and Precarious Work Pt. 1

I'm posting this in multiple parts. This is the current draft of a paper on the precarious nature of college faculty work (70+% of us work without tenure eligibility, 50+% work part-time) and what happens to ethical responsibility in those work conditions.

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Draft completed August 15, 2010

1. College faculty as professionals

In graduate school, I heard no end of discussion of how our educations and apprenticeships were preparing us for entry into “the profession.” For the past two decades, disciplinary groups like the American Philosophical Association (the general professional association of academic philosophers in the US) have dedicated resources to consider the status of their various “professions” as well. Professors appear to possess typical markers of professionalism: expert knowledge, a high degree of self-control of their work, social prestige, and a conception of their work as providing a public benefit. By these measures, at least, professors seem to be professionals, or at least seem to regard themselves to be professionals.

The status of college faculty as professionals is destabilized when we unpack the concept of professionalism, and in particular when we consider the widely varied working lives of the people who, in one condition or another, serve as college faculty. My intention in this paper is to articulate briefly the social contract model of professionalism as it applies to the work of college faculty, and in particular how that model helps describe a contemporary crisis in college faculty professionalism, before considering the significance of that crisis for the working lives and careers of college faculty in the United States. The occasion for this discussion is presented by two events — the publication of the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ 2009 report, The Future of the Professoriate: Academic Freedom, Peer Review, and Shared Governance (hereinafter AACU report); and the surpassing of majority part-time employment status of college faculty in the United States, probably some time in 2008.

My focal interests in considering the professional status of college faculty arise from my academic interest in professional ethics as well as my experience as a college faculty member in an ambiguous work status (an issue I’ll clarify along the way). Though one primary concern in this paper is the professional ethics of college faculty, I take that in an expansive sense and a deliberately provocative direction. I will attempt to articulate a critical question about faculty professional ethics, namely, what is the relationship between faculty employment status, the social contract between academic labor and society, and faculty professional ethics responsibilities. I must admit that in this paper I will not be resolving any fundamental issues, but merely presenting them as I see them. The situation for those who work in the crisis professions is dynamic, and possibly historic, and there is to my way of thinking no way to establish what the next phase will be.

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