Many thanks to Elisabeth Grant and Rob Townsend of the American Historical Association for mentioning my recent post on “Making It Count” in the latest edition of their “What We Are Reading” series. Elisabeth and Rob make the great suggestion of reading a new report from the American Council on Education alongside my post. Entitled “Too Many Rungs on the Ladder? Faculty Demographics and the Future Leadership of Higher Education,” the report argues that the current dearth of twenty- and thirty-something tenure-track faculty members will translate into a dearth of candidates for senior administrative positions in just a few years’ time. There are, the authors say say, only three solutions to the impending crisis:
If the current model will not work for those entering the leadership pipeline today, then higher education must find ways to bring more young people into the permanent faculty and advance them through the academic ranks more quickly, alter the career ladder so that people can skip rungs and rise to the presidency with fewer years of experience, or become more open to individuals from areas other than academic affairs.
Personally I vote for all of the above. As I wrote last week, the nature of academic work is changing, and the terms, conditions, and models of academic employment and career advancement will have to change along with it. We don’t have to relegate old models of tenure and promotion to the chopping block. But nor should we stubbornly insist on their unique primacy or fool ourselves that they’re somehow eternal and unchanging. Whether we are the ones seeking or bestowing the promotions, we need to recognize that an institution as diverse and kaleidoscopic as the modern research university can, should, and will accommodate more than one employment model and path to advancement and leadership.