Wednesday, September 24, 2008

College and University Faculties Experience Demographic Crunch

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education’s news blog, a new study (PDF) from the American Council on Education shows that the traditional methods of promoting faculty through department chair, dean, and chief academic officer may soon become a thing of the past. The problem is twofold: First, since mandatory retirement ended in 1994 there are far more older professors than ever, and the recent squeeze on investments has caused many to delay retirement. Second, there are very few young faculty (under the age of 34) in permanent positions. Many doctoral students are taking longer to complete their programs or taking time off (especially women) once they’ve completed them. Community colleges in particular have many faculty members who work part-time or come to teaching as a second career.

This is especially bad for the promotion of women and minorities because they make up so few of the younger permanent faculty. According to the study, “Women under the age of 45 in permanent positions make up 5 percent of faculty at four-year institutions and 6 percent of community college faculty. People of color under the age of 45 in permanent positions represent 4 percent of faculty at four-year institutions, and 6 percent of faculty at community colleges.” In other words, when senior faculty look around at the permanent faculty for promotion, most of the candidates are going to be white dudes.

The study’s authors call for universities, colleges, and community colleges to reevaluate the methods they use for promotion. They may have to start looking at faculty with less experience than they might traditionally have in the past. Perhaps schools should start to include other life experiences when evaluating a candidate for promotion rather than strictly looking at academic experience. In any case, once older faculty do start to retire, academia will be facing major problems to fill leadership positions.

Cross posted at Pushback.

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