Book by Nancy Van Note Chism
Review by Sybil L. Holloway
Center for Counseling and Human Development
Faculty at the margins (Number 143 of the New Directions for Higher Education series) addresses an important, yet often overlooked, segment of the professoriate. These non-traditional faculty members differ from the norm by virtue of their unique roles and characteristics. Included in this group are nontenure-track faculty, part-time faculty at community colleges and virtual universities, female and minority faculty, international scholars in American institutions, and student affairs staff who serve as teaching faculty, among others. This is a broad and varied group of individuals on the fringes of academic life. Chism mentions the following common issues across marginalized faculty: status differences, discrimination, role differentiation, salary inequity, career advancement, job security, working conditions, governance, and work-life balance.
Since tenure is a cherished and power-imbuing perquisite of a faculty position – and one that is lacking for many marginal faculty – the book opens by addressing this critical issue. The problem is highlighted by Kate Thedwall: “…nontenure-track faculty currently make up more than 58 percent of the university faculty at four-year colleges and universities (American Association of University Professors, 2006; Baldwin and Chronister, 2001). At public two-year colleges, nontenure-eligible faculty make up approximately 83 percent of the teaching faculty (American Association of University Professors, 2006).” (page 13).
Given the current economic crisis, it seems very likely that the number of tenure-track positions will decrease even further. The challenges of securing tenure have been documented in many articles and books, for example, The Chronicle of Higher Education (Benton, 2009) and Tenure in the Sacred Grove (Cooper & Stevens, 2002).
Each chapter of Faculty at the margins focuses on a specific type of “margin” within the broader categories of appointment types, demographics, and role functions. The book is divided into three parts reflecting each of these, and the last chapter by Amanda Suniti Niskodé-Dossett provides a summary and recommendations. These findings and suggestions are listed under subheadings titled “Changes and Challenges in Faculty Work”, “From Marginalization to Mattering”, and “Making a Difference” (which specifically addresses “Reward Structures”, “Assessment”, “Mentoring”, and “Doctoral Student Socialization”).
Aside from the book’s content, a notable strength is the fresh perspective offered by the authors. The editor states that, “A unique aspect to this collection is that all of the authors are current doctoral students. Although some have also been or are now full-time professionals as well as students, their choice of topics demonstrates that to a new scholar exploring the professoriate, the issues of marginalization are paramount. In researching faculty issues, they immediately sensed the turmoil of the academy. Out of the multiple literatures they synthesize, they unanimously arrive at an advocacy viewpoint, arguing for a more equitable world for the professoriate that many of them will soon enter. Their freshness and commitment are important signs of hope.” (page 6). I would have to agree.
Advisors may find comfort in a book such as this which addresses their non-mainstream faculty role and that provides a good discussion of the issues and many references for further exploration of the topic. In fact, it was my own marginal faculty position – via demographics and role function – that piqued my interest in this book. Many non-marginal faculty (i.e., tenured or tenure-track American white male professors whose primary focus is on the traditional requisite teaching, research, and service activities) may either not be aware of or not really care about the significant challenges of faculty on the periphery. But, non-traditional faculty members must not allow themselves to fall through the cracks. Better integration of their skills and roles within the university and increased respect, value, and equality will better serve their students. This is a responsibility all faculty members have.
American Association of University Professors (2006). Trends in faculty status, 1975-2005: All
degree-granting institutions, national totals. Retrieved April 12, 2008, from
Baldwin, R. G., & Chronister, J. L. (2001). Teaching without tenure: Policies and practices for
a new era. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Benton, T. H. (2009, January 30). Graduate school in the humanities: Just don’t go. The
Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. A32, A34.
Cooper, J. E., & Stevens, D. D. (Eds.). (2002). Tenure in the sacred grove: Issues and
strategies for women and minority faculty. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Faculty at the margins (2008). Book by Nancy Van Note Chism (Ed.). Review by Sybil L. Holloway. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 124 pp. $29.00 ISBN # 978-0-470-41688-4