Few professionals are misunderstood by the general public more than the university professoriate. Terms, such as "ivory tower," used to describe academia suggest a definite separation of the professoriate from the rest of the world. A neighbor who notices a professor casually dressed at home on a weekday is apt to envy the apparent easy life of the academic, not realizing the irregular schedule dictated by teaching assignments and research projects. In spite of this state of affairs, the general public is regularly called upon to support the causes of this historically noble profession. Public universities rely directly on the "will of the people" for funding from elected politicians. Both public and private universities rely on the generosity of alumni, recruiters, and friends to finance their operations. Students and their families, representing a broad cross-section of society, provide substantial financial support in the form of tuition. It is in an effort to assist the professoriate in educating the general public that the following description of the duties and responsibilities of the professoriate is offered.
The university is a center of scholarly activity which benefits the local, state, national, and international communities by
disseminating knowledge through teaching and scholarly publication;
contributing to the existing body of art and knowledge through creation and discovery; and
providing meaningful service through sharing information and expertise.
Every college and university is involved to some extent in each of the above activities. The specific mission of the campus and program dictates the emphasis placed on each activity.
The professoriate are highly trained scholars and professionals. The great majority of them hold advanced degrees beyond the baccalaureate degree. Leading universities make it a practice to hire only those with the highest degrees offered in their field (terminal degrees) or those with substantial experience, positions, and accomplishments which compare very favorably with those having obtained a terminal degree. The terminal degree in most disciplines is a doctorate, which normally requires from eight to twelve years of university training. This is more education than is required to practice in the most respected professions. Indeed, it is the professoriate who train other well-respected (and often more highly paid) professionals.
The professoriate face some of the most rigorous interview and probationary employment terms of any employee. Recruiting for permanent positions leading to the granting of tenure (tenure-track positions) begins from nine to eighteen months prior to the starting date of the position. National or international advertising is typically used to locate the most highly qualified candidates, and screening interviews are performed by faculty and administrators attending various regional, national, and international conferences. Finalists are then invited to campus for an interview which lasts from one to three full days. During the interview, candidates present samples of their scholarly and/or creative work and answer questions of administrators, faculty peers, and students. Once successful candidates are hired, they are placed on probationary status for a period of up to six years, during which time the university may choose to not renew annual contracts at their discretion. If, at the end of the probationary period, faculty members are successful in demonstrating their long-term value to the university, tenure is granted. A tenured faculty member may not be dismissed without cause. Sufficient reasons for termination of a tenured faculty member's contract include unacceptable job performance (as determined through regular peer and/or administrative reviews), discontinuance of an academic program, and financial exigencies.
The activities of disseminating knowledge, contributing to the existing body of art and knowledge, and providing meaningful service overlap considerably, though each has its unique aspects. Each is discussed in turn.
Disseminating knowledge is primarily accomplished through teaching the students enrolled at the university. Indeed, this is the fundamental duty of most faculty members at the college or university. Knowledge is also disseminated through publications and presentations to peer groups and through many service activities offered to various groups as noted below. Effective teaching requires several hours of preparation outside of the classroom for each hour spent instructing students. Preparing lectures, labs, assignments, examinations, and other learning experiences is no small task. In addition, faculty members must maintain their personal competence to teach the subject matter and must make themselves available to assist students outside of class.
Effective teaching requires that faculty members be current in their disciplines. With the rate of change in technology and the many advancements in the sciences in recent years, many faculty members have been required to spend considerable amounts of time to maintain their competence. Obviously, faculty members who are actively pursuing scholarly activities find the necessary updating to be a much easier task.
Faculty members generally take seriously their responsibilities to students. Regular office hours are held where students may receive personal assistance with course-related issues, the subject matter, program advising, and career advising. Many letters of recommendation are written by the faculty each year, and it is not uncommon for faculty members to be the conduit through which a student finds employment or is accepted into a graduate program. Faculty members serve as advisors to student organizations, many of which are related to a field of study. They give freely of their time to provide out-of-class opportunities for students to develop into productive and polished leaders.
Contributing to the Existing Body of Art and Knowledge Research and publication are the most common terms used to describe the activity in this area. Research is performed to discover and create new theories and substances, and, more generally, to expand the body of knowledge. Applied research is undertaken to make seemingly esoteric theories operational in society. Publication of research findings seldom results in a direct payment to the author. Rather, a faculty member typically pays a submission fee to have a manuscript considered for publication in the leading academic journals. Many of the manuscripts published undergo a review of the faculty member's peers. Manuscripts are reviewed by recognized leaders in the field regionally, nationally, and/or internationally without the reviewer knowing the identity or affiliation of the writer. Achieving acceptance of a manuscript for publication is difficult since most journals accept only a small proportion of the manuscripts submitted.
The type of contributions made across the university vary widely. In the visual and performing arts, for example, contributing to the existing body of art and knowledge may include a painting, a sculpture, a musical score, or an artistic performance. These works are created and subjected to a review of one's peers in regional, national, and international conferences and competitions. Just as with research and publication, it is the jury of one's peers and leaders in the discipline who provide evaluation of the quality of the output.
Scholarship and creativity bring national and international prominence to the university. The resulting reputation helps to secure supplemental funding from businesses, government agencies, and benefactors. A strong reputation for scholarship and creativity assists in recruiting well-qualified students and faculty. Highly qualified faculty and students in turn result in a higher quality learning environment. This draws some of the best employers to campus to recruit graduates. The presence of a strong university is a significant factor in the decision of many business considering a new location for a plant or office.
There are numerous ways that service is rendered by the professoriate. Their expertise is often sought by government leaders, charitable organizations, news agencies, and the general public. In some cases, faculty participate in specific research or consulting projects as part of their regular university work assignment. Only occasionally are faculty members paid any significant amounts for valuable services offered outside of the university. Even then, institutional agreements usually dictate the terms and/or limits of this outside employment to protect the university from harm, including conflicts of interest.
Faculty members serve voluntarily in academic and professional organizations as members and officers. They attend conferences centered around current topics in their discipline and actively participate as organizers, presenters, discussants, and panel members. They also serve as reviewers of works prepared by peers to judge the quality of work submitted for publication or presentation. Faculty also volunteer to assist in organizations which are not central to their discipline to share their expertise with the community.
Within the university, faculty assist in the governance of the institution by leading curriculum development and reviewing proposed curricular changes. They complete performance reviews of peers in their discipline and in related areas. Faculty participate in the admission of new students and in the selection of scholarship recipients. Students are reviewed and accepted as candidates for graduation by the faculty. The expertise of the professoriate is employed on numerous governing and ad-hoc committees which assist the university in operating effectively and efficiently.
Active members of the professoriate who are judged as accomplishing a normal quantity and quality of output almost always work in excess of forty hours per week throughout the entire year. Indeed, when the demands of research, service, professional travel, and course preparation are considered, most members of the professoriate enjoy less actual vacation time than their counterparts in business in spite of the seemingly long breaks in the academic calendar. Those members of the professoriate who are considered leaders regionally, nationally, or internationally, work considerably longer hours throughout the year. Since faculty are judged competitively based on their output and not on the hours spent to achieve that output, the most notable members of the profession are intelligent, highly motivated individuals willing to devote their lives to their profession.
Overall, the professoriate are a dedicated group of professionals who are a credit to their discipline and to the community at large. They bring opportunity and prestige to the states and cities in which they are located. Throughout America and the world, it has been widely acknowledged that an investment in higher education pays large dividends in the form of economic prosperity. It is hoped that providing a succinct description of the duties and responsibilities of the professoriate will assist universities in educating the public and in garnering much needed support from the public.