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Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Against the backdrop of growing debate over both the nature and value of higher education, David Cunningham and twelve scholars offer what they believe may serve as a “common purpose” – vocation. Along with the word, “calling,” vocation has theological roots, but Cunningham argues that a “more expansive” approach to the word “is attentive to questions of profession, work, and employment” and “encompasses a much broader range of concerns that will arise during a college student’s current and future life.” The writers of this volume do not believe that appealing to the concept of vocation will eliminate conflict swirling around competing visions of the academy, but they do believe that the concept appeals to both the roots of the modern university and the goals of faculty from across the academy (3).
With that goal in mind, Cunningham and his co-contributors divide their effort into four parts. Eschewing a disciplinary-centered approach to their work, they instead consider “four different pathways or approaches through which the disciplines can come into conversation with one another: first by emphasizing certain themes that are common to them all; second, by borrowing concepts from one discipline that can apply to many other disciplines; third, by focusing on the future lives of undergraduates…; and fourth, by considering some of the institution-wide obstacles that need to be addressed if the language of vocation and calling is to be perceived as relevant to all academic departments and programs” (14).
In a closing epilogue, Cunningham notes that the volume demonstrates that neither vocation nor calling exhaust the concerns that arise from their use in the academy. The words, “responsibility, character, virtue, mission, covenant, mapmaking, storytelling, performance, work, [and] leisure,” along with others, figure in the contributions to this volume (315). That should come as no surprise, he argues. From the very beginning, Cunningham commends a definition of vocation that is “capacious, dynamic, and elastic” (315, cf. 10ff.).
Accordingly, he argues that one should approach the issue of vocation prepared to use multiple vocabularies that reveal different, but interrelated discoveries. To have a vocation means that one is shaped by that calling (317ff.); that one is summoned “from without” (319f.); that one must decide what to do (320f.); that those who are called inevitably consider their link to the callings of others (321f.); and that they are compelled to think about the impact their vocations will have on the future (322ff.).
This is the second of three volumes in an ambitious and welcome effort to recapture the inspiration of vocation as a locus for higher education. The first, published in 2015 under the title, At This Time and in This Place, focused on pedagogy. The third, published in January of 2019 appeared under the title, Hearing Vocationally Differently, and expands on the vocabulary associated with vocation, relying on contributors from diverse religious traditions.
One may well wonder what the prospects will be for the project of this series. Embattled as the academy is – by forces both within and without – one would hope that scholars will find a common inspiration that will lend new energy and focus to their work. But even cursory attention to the debates roiling college and university campuses underlines the truth that “an optimist is someone who is not in possession of all the facts.” It is difficult to believe that disciplines that are struggling to define a shared vision of the work that they are doing could agree on a vision for the larger work to which the whole academy is devoted.
The task that the writers propose is made all the more difficult by the choice of “vocation” as the organizing principle around which they attempt to rally their readers. As Cunningham himself observes, the verb vocare is transitive (317). As such, it implies that one is not only called, but one is also called by someone or something. The absence of a shared understanding of who or what issues that call - if anyone or anything does – underlines how little shared vision may be in the offing for the modern academy.
For theological educators the answer to that question and others ought to be easier to achieve, but anyone who teaches in the modern divinity school knows better than that. As seminaries struggle to address declining enrollments, degree programs are crafted with an eye to the individual’s goals and the notion of vocation – and the spiritual formation that accompanies it – has slipped again to the margins of theological education. Where it still lingers, it is necessarily governed by private definitions. In the meantime, seminary faculties differ with one another as much or more on such questions as the faculties at any college or university.
The effort made by Cunningham and his co-contributors comes, then, as both question and indictment: What is it about the concept of vocation that leads even a small but brave cohort of scholars without shared confessional commitments to imagine that they can galvanize their work around the concept? The indictment is this: What are the factors that have relegated the question of vocation to the margins of the very institutions that gave birth to the vocabulary?
At the time of this conversation, Eric Barreto was on the faculty at Luther Seminary, but he has since joined the faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary. His teaching practice is informed by his bi-regional and multi-lingual backgrounds. The biblical text and the ancient world are sites for destabilizing contemporary notions about the stability of historical conceptions of the possibility/ies of living harmoniously within diverse communities.
The “I” That Teaches - A new video project that invites senior scholars to talk about their teaching lives. These scholar-teachers candidly discuss how religious, educational, and family backgrounds inform their vocational commitments and, also, characterize their teaching persona. From the vantage point of a practiced teaching philosophy we get an intimate account of the value and art of teaching well.
Click here to watch all episodes of "The "I" That Teaches" on YouTube
Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor's Life
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
If one were to ask faculty to describe the developmental continuum of an academic career, the responses would probably be structured along the titles that correspond to the faculty ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, and professor. In Mapping Your Academic Career, Gary Burge takes a different approach, examining how faculty careers are shaped by developmental shifts that occur naturally across an adult lifespan. His central thesis is that the development of most faculty proceeds along predictable trajectories that are related, yet not necessarily identical, to their rank. Burge identifies three stages of development in a faculty career, which he labels as “cohorts.” These do not necessarily correspond to faculty rank or age. Instead, they are shaped by: (1) a scholar’s perception of themselves, their career, and their relationship to their institution; and (2) the institution’s perception of the scholar’s career progress and value within the institution.
Consistent with other lifespan developmental theories, each cohort is characterized by a central developmental task or question, which influences the choices they make and the forms of support they need. For cohort one, which corresponds to the early phase of an academic career (or possibly a shift to a new institution for experienced faculty), the central task is finding security and vocational identity, with tenure or a long-term contract being the watershed. The central task in cohort two, the midcareer period, is success – that is, achieving mastery and developing a unique voice in one’s teaching and scholarship. For cohort three, who are typically senior, tenured, full professors, it is finding significance – determining their value to the institution and the guild.
As a newly tenured faculty member, I approached this book under the assumption that it would focus, at least in part, upon mapping the path to tenure and promotion; that it would discuss the institutional commitments and guild activities that would most likely gain the approval of promotion committees, provosts, and president. Burge’s text, however, is not primarily concerned with how to get to each phase. He spends virtually no time discussing how to get a tenure-track position, how to get tenure, or how to map your path to professor. Instead, he is concerned with the health and vitality of faculty careers and how faculty can successfully navigate the tasks of finding security, success, and significance. Burge devotes a full chapter to each of the three cohorts, describing the individual, interpersonal, and institutional characteristics that predict successful navigation of the stage. He also notes that there are “predictable pitfalls” within each cohort, which may negatively impact, and in some cases end, a scholar’s career.
Burge’s text is most helpful for mid-career and senior faculty, as well as for the administrators who oversee them. Because of the prominent role and impact of tenure, faculty development efforts inordinately focus upon it. There is little attention upon helping tenured faculty intentionally reflect upon their vocation, including their commitments to teaching, scholarship, and service within their institutions and the larger society. Burge’s text draws attention to the ways in which faculty evolve as they mature. He provides some insight into the issues that contribute to faculty members’ loss of focus or motivation following tenure or promotion.
A significant shortcoming of the book is that it lacks a sound basis of support. Burge provides no description of the methodology used to identify the cohorts. There is no interview data and little support from extant literature to support many of his assumptions. His analysis relies heavily upon personal experience and anecdotes, which he often interprets in troubling ways. While he tries to include issues of race, ethnicity, and culture, his handling of those issues is sometimes clumsy and shortsighted. He does not question or critique institutional structures or systems that hamper the success and vitality of female and ethnic minorities. He treats these issues instead as individual problems that are the responsibility of ethnic minority and female faculty members to navigate.
Still, Mapping Your Academic Career is a worthy effort and a helpful book that faculty and administrators should read. In it, Burge names what is often unnamed in faculty development. And while the book has little in the way of firm support, it provides a good foundation for research on the developmental shifts and challenges facing faculty across their careers
From Vocational to Professional Education: Educating For Social Welfare
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
It is not often that edited volumes dedicated to teaching and learning are so easily able to cross the Atlantic. Happily, conference activity funded by the Research Council of Norway provided opportunity for Molly Sutphen of the University of North Carolina and Jens-Christian Smeby of Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences to collaborate with researchers in the field of education. In a series of international conversations, scholars addressed challenges faced by students in professional schools in the fields of education, social work, and healthcare (3) as a result of academic drift and the subsequent institutionalization of vocational programs into higher education (7). The purposes of this well organized, beautifully written, and coherent collection of essays is to identify these difficulties within their historical context, and – in light of current disciplinary methods – suggest recommendations for future development of the education of professionals.
A near-constant defense of liberal arts education as of late has been accompanied since the mid-twentieth century with added pressure of assimilation of professional training in universities, specifically in the fields mentioned above. The professionalization of these programs is complex and the challenges are significant, facts often unknown to other disciplines; professional educators, to name one example, must master a complex knowledge base as well as curricular, pedagogical, and administrative abilities. Central to the success of these tasks within a higher educational setting, writes Smeby in his introductory chapter “Academic Drift in Vocational Education?” (7-25), is the necessity of “perceived coherence” on the part of the students that there are meaningful relationships between both theoretic and applied components of their education (25). But students are not the only ones looking for signs of perceived coherence; the transfer of the locale of professional education has had implications not only for students, but for faculty and the wider university culture as well.
In Ala Agevall and Gunnar Olofsson’s “Tensions Between Academic and Vocational Demands” (26-49), three aspects of the transformation of higher education as a result of the academic drift are identified as worthy of note: cultural changes to university systems as they relate to hiring practices and student population; the way in which the link to the university system has altered perceptions of the professions; and the shift in emphasis of the university culture towards professional programs as a matter of concern, vis-à-vis credentials and training. After tracing generations of welfare professional programs in Sweden (28-30), the authors identify principle ways in which institutions of higher education can combine an academic education with professional mastery (31-35), followed by a case study in a Swedish setting. Subsequent chapters on the benefits of cross-field studies for professional students (Little, 50-69), coherence as it relates to bridging theory and practice (Heggen, Smeby, and Vågan, 70-88 and Laursen, 89-104), assumptions that emerge about and within research-based education (Kyvik, Vågan, Prøitz, and Aamodt, 105-23), use of evidence-based methods (Rasmussen, 124-36), dialogical pedagogies (Sutphen and Heggen, 137-45), and international trends in teacher education (Conway and Munthe, 146-63) are followed by a conclusion by the editors. The conclusion offers recommendations for models of pedagogies of coherence that include: “third space” learning (168-69); increased opportunity for research on practice (169); use of cases as opportunity for reflection on potential workplace experiences (169); greater collaboration between higher education and professional placement (169); and finally, educational leadership that is mindful of fragmentation (169-70).
I am aware that the purpose of a book review in a journal for teaching theology and religion is to consider how it relates to or is useful for those in the fields of religion, theology, and religious studies. I am of the opinion – however optimistic it might be – that any analysis of education or pedagogy might be applied to any field, and this is true for Smeby and Sutphen’s edited volume on professional education, for this collection is particularly helpful at explaining some of the tensions that exist within universities and colleges around the coherence of the general education of professional students, and the way shifts in higher education have altered the landscape of the educational system, worldwide. In a liberal arts setting, the reality is that students in religion courses are most often there because the university has determined that the study of religion is essential for their general education; it is useful for both parties to recognize that students are seeking coherence and relevancy and are attempting to bridge theory and practice as much as their professors. . While one might hope that the relevancy of an education in the history or theology of any religion would be immediately obvious, nevertheless mindfulness of our students’ majors, disciplinary affiliations, professional aspirations, and desires for coherence can assist the religion professor in shaping her curriculum in such a way to make that applicability more transparent.
Part-Time on the Tenure Track, AEHE Volume 40 Number 5
Date Reviewed: August 14, 2015
At many institutions of higher education, tenure-track faculty positions are exclusively full-time positions, while part-time appointments are for contingent faculty only. Some schools, however, use job-sharing, joint appointments, phased retirement, and other modes to make part-time positions available for tenured and tenure-track faculty members. In Part-Time on the Tenure Track, Joan M. Herbers argues that part-time tenure-track models can benefit both faculty members and the institution.
Through the first half of the book, Herbers gathers and analyzes both quantitative and qualitative data on existing part-time tenure-track (PTTT) faculty. These data show that PTTT faculty report higher levels of job satisfaction than their full-time counterparts. PTTT appointments are most common in medical schools, but there are currently eight thousand PTTT faculty across all institutions with tenure systems (5, 22). While flexibility for child-rearing and other family commitments is a common reason faculty seek out PTTT work, it is by no means the only one. Mid-career faculty may pursue consulting or other interests, late-career faculty may step down job obligations in preparation for retirement, and faculty at any stage can face medical crises or other temporary conditions that make PTTT work especially attractive. Most of the junior faculty in Herbers’ analysis eventually receive tenure and hold full-time appointments.
In the second half of the book, Herbers advocates for the wider implementation of PTTT positions by addressing their benefits and challenges, providing policy recommendations, and proposing best practices. Herbers asserts that academia has long been driven by an “ideal worker” model that assumes faculty serious about their careers will work only full-time. Thus, along with the technical considerations of salary and benefits, teaching and research obligations, involvement in shared governance, and access to faculty development opportunities, faculty considering PTTT work must also reckon with cultural assumptions that privilege the full-time worker. Yet PTTT work provides welcome flexibility to faculty at various stages of life, including those who might otherwise resign their positions (91). Institutions receive the benefits of satisfied and often extraordinarily dedicated workers (91-92).
The most vexing and still-unresolved problem acknowledged in the book is just what constitutes “part-time” work. Telling the story of her own job-sharing arrangement, Herbers recounts that she and her spouse each worked forty hours per week – the standard American full-time work week – in their half-time positions and received together 1.4 salaries (2). She found that schedule to be consistent with the other PTTT faculty she interviewed (100). To be sure, faculty work can be difficult to quantify, since faculty productivity is not usually measured in hours worked. Even so, PTTT positions may reduce compensation for faculty more than they reduce institutional obligations, a pitfall for workers that is both policy- and culture-driven.
Part-Time on the Tenure Track is a succinct yet comprehensive look at a little-known model for faculty work. The book will be an especially helpful resource to administrators who write policies and negotiate contracts, as well as to faculty members who may be considering part-time appointments.