© Pamela Eddy and Figure/Ground Communication
Dr. Eddy was interviewed by Angelo Letizia on October 1st, 2012
Dr. Pamela Eddy is a Professor in the School of Education at William and Mary, where she teaches courses in Financing of Higher Education, Educational Policy, Organization and Governance of Higher Education, and The Community College. Her research interests revolve around the concept of organizational learning. Broadly, she is interested in how change impacts organizations, in particular faculty roles and the enactment of leadership. Community colleges provide the context for much of her research interests; running through these macro concepts is the impact of gender on roles-both in leadership and in the faculty ranks. She is a member of the Council for the Study of Community Colleges and the Association for the Study of Community Colleges History Committees; ACE Network of Women Leaders in Higher Education, Michigan State Board Member.
How did you decide to become a university professor? Was it a conscious choice?
I first thought of becoming a professor when I was leaving my undergraduate institution. At that time, I thought I would be a faculty member in Economics. I started a master’s/PhD program and opted to stop out after obtaining my master’s degree as while I found the work doable, it was without passion. The part I was drawn to was the teaching and the focus on learning. After working as a professional in various colleges, I discovered the option of going for a doctoral degree in higher education. At this time, however, I initially sought the degree to continue on in an administrative career. During my doctoral studies at Michigan State University, we received copies of job postings on our grad student listserv. I commented to a faculty that I thought I could do those types of jobs, but I was still not convinced this was my ultimate career path. I applied for both administrative and faculty jobs at the end of my PhD program and received offers in both areas. I opted to try my hand at a faculty role thinking that it would be easier to move back to administration versus making a move from administration to faculty.
Who were some of your mentors in university and what were some of the most important lessons you learned from them?
My faculty mentors in both my undergraduate and graduate programs held some common values. First, they were student focused and concerned with student learning. Second, they believed in multiple approaches to learning. For example, my economics faculty sought to provide multiple examples to explain some of the theory that students had difficulty understanding. Third, the faculty included students in their research. As an undergraduate I had an opportunity to present and work on research projects that helped make my learning more concrete. This early exposure to research ideas and the role of collaboration were valuable lessons. Finally, these mentors all had a passion for their work that was contagious. As a student, you wanted to work hard for what you believed in. It was important that my early mentors did not hold gendered limitations on what I could do as this was still the norm in the larger society. I could be good at math and excel in their classrooms and not be told I couldn’t go further.
In your experience, how did the role of university professor “evolve” since you were an undergraduate student?
I attended a small liberal arts university in which the faculty role was predominately on teaching. If our faculty did research, it was essentially unseen by us, though I’m sure it was part of the expectations. As my husband was a faculty member, I saw a different view depending on the institutions at which he was employed. Because I study faculty work, I also have a different perspective on the changes over time. Expectations for increased research productivity and the commodification of education abound. New faculty are socialized in a particular manner that provides a view of faculty work that is not always realistic. These early views are complicated by the fact that not all graduate students have access to the same type of mentor or access to resources relative to others who might be deemed the “chosen” student in a department. Because of mission creep, the pressures on all faculty are increasing and in some cases I would argue are becoming untenable. The loss of tenure lines means that those remaining full-time faculty are tasked to take on even more responsibilities.
What makes a good teacher today? How do you manage to command attention in an age of interruption characterized by attention deficit and information overflow?
Because I have taught a class on teaching and learning, I’m a bit biased from the research in the field on what makes good teachers. Perhaps the biggest element for good teaching is loving the subject matter and having a level of expertise to share. Being a facilitator of learning versus a mere conveyor helps to make learning more active and therefore more engaging for the students. Knowing the students as people helps to create a bond within the classroom that models good leadership behavior and good practice. As I work with graduate students, there is typically a difference in motivation for being in school. Graduate students are most often funding their own education and therefore take their studies more seriously. Yet, as adult learners, they are also dividing their time between a number of competing activities. Showing why what they are learning is important matters. Merely shoving content into students does no one any good. Many graduate students have a history of being highly successful, thus the fear of failure at higher levels of school is often a new feeling for them. Figuring out the ways in which learners engage best with the material helps.
What advice would you give to aspiring university professors and what are some of the texts young scholars should be reading today?
The golden age of faculty work is past. In interviewing new faculty, I have found that many are surprised by the complexity of faculty work as they have had a limited view of it from their positions as students. To help address these issues, graduate student programs that socialize young professionals for careers are popping up more frequently. There is more research on the doctoral student experience and what best supports this transition. Gappa, Austin, and Trice (2007) have a great book out on the change roles of faculty. Likewise, the research literature is replete with both scholarly articles and more autobiographical reflections of the life of faculty. Both Inside Higher Educationand The Chronicle of Higher Education have ongoing series of faculty work, including writing on teaching and on research. Attending national professional conferences helps to learn more about the profession and many of these organizations sponsor pre-conference workshops for emerging scholars. The coin of the realm is writing, publishing, and presenting. Doing this as a graduate student in conjunction with other students or faculty helps to demystify the process.
In 1964, Marshall McLuhan declared, in reference to the university environment that, “departmental sovereignties have melted away as rapidly as national sovereignties under conditions of electric speed.” This claim could be viewed as an endorsement of interdisciplinary studies, but it could also be regarded as a statement about the changing nature of academia. Do you think the university as an institution is in crisis or at least under threat in this age of information?
Universities are undergoing a period of transformation. Despite the fact that in the main, colleges have not changed tremendously since the founding of Harvard in 1636, the current context places new demands on operations. Education is thought of more as a private good versus a public good, accountability concerns target completion versus learning, and programs have often been slow to change and to recognize the needs of students. Interdisciplinary studies clearly provide a move in the right direction as this approach views learning more holistically. But, barriers exist to make this approach successful. The large number of contingent faculty on campus means that there are fewer full-time faculty to help plan and orchestrate interdisciplinary programs. Also, traditional tenure and promotion criteria have typically not rewarded this type of collaborative work. On the one hand, changes are required. On the other hand, structures are in place that demotivate faculty from wanting to work hard to make these changes. In the market place, supply and demand reign. Thus, institutions that do not successfully transition to new ways may find themselves out of business or needing to merge with other institutions.
In 2009,Francis Fukuyama wrote a controversial article for the Washington Post entitled “What are your arguments for or against tenure track?” In it, Fukuyama argues that the tenure system has turned the academy into one of the most conservative and costly institutions in the country, making younger untenured professors fearful of taking intellectual risks and causing them to write in jargon aimed only at those in their narrow subdiscipline. In a short, Fukuyama believes the freedom guaranteed by tenure is precious, but thinks it’s time to abolish this institution before it becomes too costly, both financially and intellectually. Since then, there has been a considerable amount of debate about this sensitive issue, both inside and outside the university. What do you make of Fukuyama’s assertion and, in a nutshell, what is your own position about the academic tenure system?
With any system of protection or unity, there is the risk of also protecting underperformers. The “dead weight” in the faculty ranks are present, but typically not to the degree professed on the mainstream literature. The university has a responsibility for developing faculty along the career pipeline—including untenured as well as seasoned professors. Senior faculty look at the support that junior faculty receive and find themselves without resources to work on new lines of inquiry. There is clearly a power dynamic apparent in the faculty ranks, but the ways in which this manifests itself differs by institution and institutional type. Building a culture of community and shared intellect is the best defense. Having experienced a range of the faculty roles and the process of tenure and promotion, I see this issue for both sides. When tenure criteria are clear and explicit, there is less danger or having power misused and less fear of the unknown. It is when the criteria are unknown that problems emerge or when bullying by senior faculty is not addressed. There is more protection of junior faculty in many institutions than previously, partly due to those now in positions of power assuring this type of protection is in place so junior faculty can succeed. Yet, the other side of this is that many junior faculty also come into the profession having been counseled to say “no” and to protect their time—resulting in not helping out the unit or taking on a fair share of work. At the root of this is really the issue of defining faculty work and creating new or different ways of operating.
Slaughter and Leslie (1997) and Slaughter and Rhodes (2004) described a new emerging paradigm for higher education which they called academic capitalism. Could you describe some of the main tenets of academic capitalism?
The idea of academic capitalism addresses the concern and issue of the movement of education from being conceived of as a public good to conceptions of education as a private good. Not only does this focus on the ways in which students look at education for the ways in which it will benefit them personally, it also removes public responsibility for funding higher education. From a faculty perspective, work is viewed as the production of commodities—much like the industrial revolution had manufactors looking at producing widgets, faculty are now producing educational commodities in the form of student outcomes or products. Reducing education to a commodity means that market forces are expected to dictate production—we need more of a particular major versus another according to the market and we should produce just this. The shift to looking at academic capitalism means that faculty work is judged according to a market economy and work is driven by what the market demands.
Your area of expertise is the community college system. What is the role of the community college in the paradigm of academic capitalism?
The history of community colleges as being reactive to changes in the field and being more responsive to the needs of business aligns with the conceptions of academic capitalism with a view of education as commodity. The pressures on community colleges to fill the achievement gap and to aid in increasing the number of college graduates places even more demands on these organizations to meet externally driven demands. Faculty work in community colleges has historically been different than that of four-year colleges, thus the push for academic capitalism is felt differently in this environment.
In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges, as well as the three biggest opportunities for the community college today?
The three biggest challenges for community colleges are 1) increasing college completion rates to contribute to the overarching national demand to educate more of the population; 2) preparation of leaders to take over the helm at community colleges that are now faced with increased complexity of operations; 3) accommodation for the competing mission of access and quality/completion, in particular with the changes in student demographics that means more unprepared students entering community colleges.
The three biggest opportunities for the community college include 1) an opportunity to make a real difference in communities through partnerships that bridge the historic gap between public education and higher education; 2) creating innovative solutions to historic problems in teaching and learning—educating 43% of all undergradates means that community colleges can have a large impact in the field; 3) changing patterns of leadership as presidential transitions occur that can bring in new practices and contribute to our understanding of leadership theory.
Do you believe that academic capitalism is compatible with some of the more traditional civic and social ethos expounded by more traditional liberal advocates? If so how, if not, why not?
The ways that academic capitalism is compatible with more traditional liberal advocates of the goal of education comes down more to how leaders and individuals frame the issues. My interest has always been in how we talk about the issues and in turn how leaders are able to translate these perspectives for stakeholders. As I think of the situation at the University of Virginia with the president and the tensions of with the board of visitors, I think we see the conflict of academic capitalism and traditional conceptions of education on display. On the one hand, the board wants the institution to address business needs—identified most often in this case as online courses and programs. On the other hand, the campus community is dedicated to the historic conceptions of faculty governance and a focus on student learning. We will see more of these battles fought across the country, though perhaps not in such visible ways. The fact that the faculty and stakeholders were successful in getting the president reinstated may indicate that the larger public demands that protocol and transparency be accomplished regarding governance versus the larger issue of academic capitalism. Yet, depending on how others frame the issues, we may find a different level of discourse occurring. Defining the field for conversation is just as critical as the conversation itself.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on a book project with Marilyn Amey on partnerships. This volume will look at what we know of partnerships in education and how partnerships can contribute to addressing some of the issues facing higher education and stakeholders. We are proposing that strategic partnerships should be the focus versus partnerships created by happenstance and convenience. A shift to looking at partnerships strategically means that we need to be more selective with how we go after new ventures and how we opt out of those partnerships that might be interesting, but do not advance institutional missions.
I am also working on a project in Ireland looking at the role of partnerships in that country that aligns with the National Strategy 2030. I have two foci here. First, I am looking at the merger/alliance of some of the Institutes of Technology to create a new entity in the higher education landscape, namely a Technological University. The ways in which Ireland addresses consolidation of its higher education system and how it uses education to leverage economic growth can provide a model for others to follow. The second project involves looking at a case study of Dublin City University. DCU has developed its own strategic initiative in response to the National Strategy. What is interesting about this institution is that it has a focus on educational access and has a strong track record of college attendance and completion of first-generation college students. DCU is meeting the dual needs of access and quality and can provide a model again for how others operate.
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