Reforming tenure in schools of education

Reforming tenure in schools of education

Tierney, William G

Mr Tierney argues that, if the work of schools of education is ever to change, then the reward structure that exists for school of education faculty members must change. He offers five models of reform and suggests what needs to happen in order for change to take place.

PERHAPS no professional school has had a more contentious and ill-defined history than the school of education. Whereas medical schools were held in low regard at the start of the 20th century, for the better part of that century the expectations of members of the medical faculty were relatively clear. Certain other professional schools, such as business and law, have had a variety of roles suggested for them, but in large measure their roles and functions have been defined and constrained by accrediting associations. Still other professional schools, such as public administration or urban planning, have been much more narrowly defined, and they are not found on nearly as many campuses as schools of education.

Schools of education, however, are ubiquitous. They are found in virtually all types of postsecondary institutions – research universities, liberal arts colleges, public state universities, and the like – and they have been called on to do a wide variety of tasks. Some proponents argue that schools of education should mirror their medical school counterparts and perform basic research that leads to consensual findings. Others opine that schools of education should train teachers and do little more. Still others suggest that schools of education must have a close, sustained working relationship with K-12 schools and teachers. Some believe that education should be a discipline-focused endeavor, and others assert that faculty members of schools of education must be responsive to teachers and other educators.

The problem of role definition is only exacerbated by the wide array of institutions in which schools of education exist. Medical schools, for example, are found almost exclusively at leading research universities. Law schools, although located on more campuses than medical schools, are also found primarily in institutions where research is a high priority. Many professions, such as nursing, are found at the opposite end of the spectrum, on campuses where outreach to a specific constituency is important and research is relatively unimportant. However, schools of education are found on the campuses of the nation’s leading research universities, on campuses where research is a low priority, and at small liberal arts colleges that focus almost exclusively on teaching.

The inability to reach a consensus about what schools of education should be and do has multiple consequences for public policy makers and for faculty members in schools of education. Rather than seek a singular definition of what schools of education should do, a more practical and useful approach is to develop campus-based definitions of the role and function of education faculty members. Such a suggestion, of course, follows the work of Ernest Boyer, Eugene Rice, and Judith Gappa in calling for expanded notions of scholarship in the academy.’

However, rather than focus on decontextualized ideas about scholarship, I specifically want to consider the work of faculty members in education and how different frameworks for rewards might be reconfigured to honor various kinds of work. I argue that, if the work of schools of education is ever to change, then the reward structure that exists for school of education faculty members must change. It is not reasonable to expect faculty members to spend time in local schools if the reward structure favors basic research instead. And it is disingenuous to suggest that teaching is a fundamental activity for faculty members but to pay scant attention to the quality of teaching when tenure decisions are made.

Supporters and critics of the reform of schools of education throughout the 20th century have largely argued from a perspective that might best be described as “one size fits all.” The assumption has been that all faculty members in education should work within the same organizational structure, one that rewards a single kind of activity. I wish to suggest, instead, that the work of education faculty members is far too protean for such an approach. Accordingly, the reward structures that currently exist need to be redefined to reflect the distinct interests of the institutions in which schools of education reside.

In what follows, I offer five models of reform and then suggest what needs to happen in order for change to take place. My proposals derive from a three-year investigation of faculty roles and rewards in schools of education. I visited 12 campuses and interviewed some 80 individuals. My goal here is not to suggest that one model is better than another, but to offer an array of frameworks from which faculty members and institutional leaders might choose as they define the role and function of their own school of education in their particular institution.

Models of Reform

Maintaining the status quo. One possibility is for those institutions that have schools or colleges of education to continue their reward structures as they are currently configured. At present, in all institutional types except community colleges, faculty members are rewarded more for research than for teaching, service, or outreach.’ The result, of course, is that faculty members correctly perceive that working with schools and teachers will not be rewarded and that the teaching of future teachers is not as important as the conduct of research.

What is perhaps fundamental to maintaining the status quo in schools of education is that tenure remain the center of the reward structure. Throughout the 20th century the vast majority of faculty members in schools of education were on the tenure track. Although the numbers of clinical and part-time faculty members have increased over the past decade, the core faculty members are still, for the most part, hired on the tenure track. The result is that, when a school of education desires someone to work intensively with the schools or to function primarily as a teacher, that person is apt to be hired in a non-tenuretrack position. Although not all non-tenuretrack hires are second-class citizens, as long as tenure remains the coin of the academic realm, those who do not have tenure will generally be relegated to secondary positions.

Developing a charter. A second model for a school of education is based on the idea of charter schools. The faculty and administration of a school of education would have greater leeway to conduct the school’s affairs if they were to write a charter exempting them from the constraints of a system. The basic structure within the school of education would remain the same – tenure-track faculty members would still be hired and evaluated – but the school would be freed from the bureaucracy of university committees and allowed to pursue its own unique objectives and goals. The strength of such an approach is that it would ostensibly enable faculty members to define what they believe to be most important. Whereas the university might make publication of research central and not value community outreach at all, a charter school of education might make just the opposite decision.3

Although there are many strengths to such an approach, it might seriously weaken any overarching sense of institutional identity. Some might ask why a school should be part of an institution if it has no desire to follow the goals and objectives of that institution. Others will wonder whether awarding a charter to a single unit within a university will erode faculty prerogatives and decision making. An additional concern has to do with quality control. In an institution where student enrollment is important, for example, the temptation always exists for faculty members to devise curricula that attract students at the expense of substance. Similarly, if faculty members in a charter school create their own curricula without peer review, it is likely that some programs will be duplicated. A traditional way to guard against such problems is through multiple levels of peer review.

Reforming the tenure codes. A third possibility is less structural than the adoption of a charter and focuses more directly on the processes of tenure. In this model, faculty members redefine what one needs to do to achieve tenure; in doing so, the manner in which tenure is evaluated is also redefined. What one needs to do to achieve tenure varies from institution to institution and oftentimes from school to school. I have seen some institutions, for example, in which the tenure code is a tightly defined document that pertains to all faculty members in the institution regardless of discipline or professional background. At other institutions, each school has the latitude to define its own requirements for tenure.

However, for the last generation, tenure has been awarded primarily as a token of an individual’s research efforts; until recently, the evaluation of alternative forms of scholarship was neither thoughtfully considered nor well documented. Under this new model, members of a faculty could focus specifically on what they wish to honor in the evaluation of their work, and they could then consider ways to document and evaluate the work of candidates. External letters of reference, for example, are usually solicited from scholars deemed capable of evaluating the published work of a candidate. However, if work in a school is important and publication is not, then one might turn to different sorts of reviewers.

At some institutions, rough equivalencies are specified for how individuals seeking tenure should spend their time. A standard statement in a research university, for example, is that faculty members should spend 40% of their time on research, 40% on teaching, and 20% on service. If a faculty of education were to redefine its tenure system, it might take greater account of work with schools and teachers. Thus one might see a formula in which teaching is 40% of one’s workload, work with the schools is 40%, and committee work makes up 20%.

One strength of this approach is that it would end the often-acrimonious debates over whether tenure requirements keep faculty members from becoming more involved in local schools. The short cuts of a charter school of education that do not allow for peer review would also not be a problem.

However, the redefinition of tenure in this manner is not without consequences. If the tenure process remains fixed throughout the U.S. and if one school chooses an alternative system, then professors at that school will not be able to find jobs elsewhere. Similarly, within a university where education is often at the bottom of the intellectual totem pole, the redefinition of tenure could further erode the status of education faculty members.

A long-term consequence of redefining tenure in this way might be to raise the question of whether tenure is even necessary. After all, tenure came about in the 20th century in large measure to protect the academic freedom of professors in the classroom and in the conduct of their research. If the bulk of an individual’s time is spent in schools, one might ask if tenure is necessary for such tasks. Is academic freedom at risk when one works in a school? The point is not that there is a clear answer, but that new tasks placed under the umbrella of tenure are sure to generate questions. Tenure is expensive. If tenure and academic freedom are uncoupled, one might even envision institutions that opt for alternatives that do not include tenure at all.

Including alternatives to tenure and differentiating tasks. The fourth model maintains tenure as an option for hiring but differentiates between jobs that require tenure and those that do not. Such titles as “clinical professor” and “instructor” could be used to designate faculty members who are performing tasks that do not demand tenure. Three assumptions guide the desire to follow such a course of action. First, the model is more goal-oriented than merely maintaining the status quo. In this model, faculty members and the administration come to a clear understanding of what is expected of tenure-track and non-tenuretrack faculty members. Second, this model assumes that a substantial number of positions will remain on the tenure track so that the academic freedom of the school will be protected. The third assumption is that both the tasks and the backgrounds of non-tenure-track faculty members will be substantially different from those of their tenure-track counterparts.

Some of the work that I mentioned above, such as engagement with a school district or with K-12 teachers, might be defined in this model as important, but not requiring tenure. Tenure would be preserved for the traditional work of the professoriate – teaching and research. Of course, the challenge of any dual-track system is that there may be a split between the haves and have-nots so that those who hold tenure are viewed as essential and those who do not are seen as second-class citizens.

Those who support such a model see a school of education broadening its roles and responsibilities. Tenure-track faculty members, they argue, are best at what they currently do – conducting research and teaching students. Conversely, there are many talented individuals whose strengths do not lie in attempting to do research and publish articles. If a school of education can maintain tenure for those who need it and hire individuals with other skills for other purposes, then the system as a whole will benefit.

Non-tenure-track faculty members might be hired on contracts that provide them with some level of job security. One possibility is a fixed-term contract for a period of perhaps three or five years. At the end of the contract, the school and the individual would decide whether or not to renew it for another term. A second possibility would be a rolling contract for a similarly short period that is renewed at the end of each academic year. Obviously, such contracts do not provide the ironclad security of tenure, but, in a system where differentiated tasks are essential, not everyone should necessarily have the fiscal commitment that tenure demands. If individuals hired on a contract are included in most, if not all, decisions that affect the institution and if their salaries are in line with those of their tenured colleagues, then it seems possible that nontenure-track faculty members will be seen as equals.

Dispensing with tenure altogether. A final alternative would be to forgo tenure entirely. In such a system, faculty members might come together each spring term and develop plans for their work in the coming year. For example, teaching six courses during an academic year might be thought of as 40% of a full-time load, advising teacher educators might be seen as 30%, and administrative responsibilities might make up the remaining 30% for a given individual. A second person might also teach six courses for a 40% load, but a grant might enable that person to buy out 40% of his or her time for research and devote the remaining 20% to committee work and service. A third person might choose not to teach at all but instead spend 50% of his or her time helping develop a charter school and the remaining time working with an urban school district in training teachers.

The advantage of such a system is that a broad array of possibilities exists for what a faculty member chooses to do. As needs and interests change, work requirements can change as well. Since the creation of a faculty member’s workload involves a negotiation between the individual and the school, the needs of the school must also be met. One cannot simply “do one’s own thing,” which some critics allege tenure allows. Since this model differs most from the current system, faculty members would need to develop a strong sense of communal ties to ensure that their rights are protected.

The dangers of such a system are numerous. Those who see tenure as the only guarantor of academic freedom will argue that such a system denies education faculty members the rights accorded to other professors. It is also not entirely clear what happens in such a system if the classes one proposes to teach do not fill. Would cancellation lead to a reduction in salary? Would alternative assignments be available? One response might be that faculty members would look out for one another and monitor the curriculum closely to ensure that no one would be penalized.

Implementing Models of Reform

With the exception of maintaining the status quo, the suggestions proffered here underscore how education faculty members might be able to change their roles if a different reward structure existed. hi what follows I first delineate how these roles will change. Then I turn to a brief discussion about what needs to happen if these suggestions are to be implemented.

The changing role of education faculty members. When one changes the traditional reward structure, alternative kinds of work may be rewarded and honored. What might these new kinds of work these new roles – be for faculty members in schools of education? Again, I am not suggesting that the traditional roles of research and college teaching be dropped at every institution. Indeed, it is entirely possible that certain kinds of institutions or particular individuals will maintain what has been the status quo for nearly a century.

However, there are at least four additional activities that a broadened reward structure might enable. First, faculty members can be rewarded for working with schools and teachers in a sustained manner. Today, such work often goes unrewarded and so is done in short bursts rather than over long periods. A professor finds a particular need in a school and wants to involve teachers in the new project, but after a year or two the professor discovers that the project counts for nothing in promotion, tenure, or salary raises. If the alternatives that I have outlined above are put in place, some faculty members might engage in sustained work with the schools and be rewarded for their activities.

The second kind of work that might be enhanced pertains to teacher education. Many have bemoaned the fate of teacher education over the last generation, but few have thought about how to change the reward structure so that alternatives and experiments would be encouraged.4 With the kinds of models suggested above as possibilities, some faculty members might be encouraged to think about teacher education in new ways, to try out new ideas, and to have their innovative thinking rewarded.

The third activity is the ability to undertake different kinds of scholarship. The traditional notion is that research counts toward tenure only if an individual can publish articles in refereed journals. This is fine for some individuals in some institutions. But education is perhaps the most public of all the professions and disciplines in the academy. Faculties of education are largely silent in the mainstream media outlets because they have not learned how to communicate to a broad constituency. Again, this inability to communicate has come about in large part because such communication has been seen as unnecessary. Even though some faculty members might have wanted to reach the broad public in their writing and speaking, a reward structure that was geared toward refereed journals and professional conferences left them little time to learn an alternative skill that is not rewarded. Indeed, public outreach of this kind has often been seen as a detriment to one’s academic career. A reward structure that takes a broader view of scholarship would find room for the publicly engaged intellectual.

The final activity relates to the idea of experimentation. It is ironic that the tenure system, though it is supposed to enable faculty members to take risks, more often than not makes tenure-track faculty members risk averse.’ Faculty members tend to turn out standard articles and presentations because they fit the requirements of the tenure system. However, a broader definition of scholarship that is coupled to a reward structure that applauds experimentation would enable faculty members to explore new ideas about schooling and education policy.

The culture of the institution and changing the reward system. There is no cookbook with recipes for organizational change. Offering such simple formulas is foolhardy. Nevertheless, three issues arise that demand attention if any alternative models of rewards are to be discussed, debated, and ultimately implemented.

First, the fundamental assumption on which I have outlined these models is that different institutions will have different purposes. I am suggesting here that institutional and school-level dialogues need to take place regarding the kind of mission that best suits a given institution in the 21st century. If the 20th century was a time of assimilation of sectors of the education community, the new century must be one of sector segregation, in which different institutions do different things.6

Second, although I have just suggested that a dialogue about an institution’s mission is important, I am fully aware that discussions about an organization’s mission are often carried on ad nauseam with little result. Mission statements need to be tied directly to the reward structure so that as individuals speak of changing an institution’s mission, they can call upon the various models outlined here and choose the one best suited for their institution. For such actions to occur, a culture of trust and cooperation must have been built. Mission statements can neither be imposed on the faculty by an administration nor created in an atmosphere of mistrust. A change from the status quo to a new model demands that individuals trust that what is being done will create a better climate for the school and for themselves. More often than not, change of this kind will fail if it is undertaken in a culture of alienation and suspicion.

My final point is temporal. The development of new models of faculty roles and responsibilities that derive from reformulating an organization’s mission takes time. A culture that is responsive to both external needs and internal concerns needs to be nurtured, sustained, and developed over time. All too frequently, a new president or dean arrives, spends an initial term devising a strategic plan, and in a year or two shelves the plan in favor of a newer one. Many faculty members simply opt to outwait the present administrator until he or she leaves and everything reverts to “normal.” I do not believe that schools of education can operate in this fashion any longer.

It takes years to build an institutional identity that can withstand personnel changes. If an institution is able to create a culture of sustained engagement, however, the models outlined here have the potential to bring about significant changes in the ways faculty members do their work and are rewarded for it. In turn, these changes will affect how K-12 schools and their teachers are supported by postsecondary institutions.

1. Ernest Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professoriate (Princeton, N.J.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990); R. Eugene Rice, Making a Place for the American Scholar (Washington, D.C.: AAHE Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards Working Paper Series, American Association for Higher Education, 1996); and Judith M. Gappa, Off the Tenure Track: Six Models for Full-Time, Nontenurable Appointments (Washington, D.C.: AAHE Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards Working Paper Series, American Association for Higher Education, 1996).

2. William C. Tierney, Building the Responsive Campus: Creating High Performance Colleges and Universities (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1999).

3. Michael Paul Wong and William G. Tierney, “Reforming Faculty Work: Culture, Structure, and the Dilemma of Organizational Change,” Teachers College Record, in press.

4. John I. Goodlad, “Rediscovering Teacher Education: School Renewal and Educating Educators,” Change, September/October 1999, pp. 29-33.

5. William G. Tierney, The Responsive University: Restructuring for High Performance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

6. William G. Tierney, ed., Faculty Work in Schoolsk in Schools of Education: Rethinking Roles and Rewards for the 21st Century (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001).

WILLIAM G. TIERNEY is Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education and director of the Centerfor Higher Education Policy Analysis, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Copyright Phi Delta Kappa Mar 2001

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved