Notable author and distinguished scholar, John S. Levin is well recognized for his work in higher education. Dedicating much of his life’s work to the college system, first as a practitioner and then as a researcher, Levin’s work can be characterized as authentic, influential and timely. Collaborating with two other scholars, Susan Kater and Richard L Wagnor, together, these academics explore the complex and evolving nature of community colleges in the U.S and Canada in Community College Faculty: At Work in the New Economy. Inspired by comments from two other eminent scholars, Simon Marginson and Burton Clark, who, in 2004, questioned how one might measure and legitimize the value of higher education, Levin et al. (2006) sought to discover the answer to this question and many other questions affecting the community college system. A must-read for administrators, full and part-time faculty, and policy advisors, Community College Faculty: At Work in the New Economy provides an in-depth examination of the forces, both within and outside of the institution, shaping community colleges, faculty, faculty work and faculty identity.
Although the book was published in 2006 using data collected mostly from the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the underlying themes and message are still relevant and possibly even timelier for the current educational context. An additional preface and epilogue have been added to the original book to address changes in the educational, political, social and economic environment since 2006 and to forecast what might transpire in the tumultuous years ahead. The preface, perhaps written to appease readers too eager to dismiss the outdated findings, serves to guide the reader through a complex, data-rich narrative. Using a persuasive writing style to grip the reader, the authors’ use the preface to provide a compelling overview of the book, which affirms its purpose, declares its shortcoming and acknowledges what the book is not meant to address. Absent is any reference to issues of gender, race/ethnicity and the relationship of faculty to students. The authors’ early proclamations liberate the reader from distraction allowing the reader to focus on the intended emphasis; the “Nouveau College” and its impact on faculty and faculty work.
The framework for the “Nouveau College” is further explained in Chapter 3 as the authors’ investigate the interconnectedness of “concepts of neoliberalism and globalization to explain faculty work in community colleges” (p. 25). An analysis of scholarly literature exploring these themes situate the community college within The New Economy which is characterized by global competition, increased organizational flexibility, and driven by economic pressures. The literature clearly depicts a shift in the college mission from student and community betterment to a workforce development model that seeks to serve the global economy (p.8). In addition to the comprehensive literature review, practitioner’s personal perspectives are included in the discussion, in Chapter 8, that further illustrates the impact of the New Economy on faculty.
The research methods used to conceptualize and present the theory of “The Nouveau College” are varied and thorough. The research includes data collected from seven sites over a period of six years. Levin et al. were both systematic and thorough in their “pursuit of conceptual coherence as well as seeking alternate explanations for observations and conclusions” (p.45). The use of mixed methods along with ANOVA, or analysis of variance and regression analysis appeals to the analytic reader and the academic’s desire for substantive evidence.
The literature review, more specifically, explores the impact and affects of globalization, the New Economy and neoliberal ideology on the institution. Dramatically altering organizations of higher education, the authors theorize that “The Nouveau College” binds the community college to economic global forces, government dependency, and corporatization of practices including redefining the role and identify of the core workforce; the faculty.
After reviewing contracts representing community college faculty in 308 public institutions across 22 states in the United States and 3 Canadian Provinces (p. 51), Levin et al. argues, in Chapter 4, that faculty are expected to increase their participation in institutional governance. Shared governance in traditional areas such as curriculum, faculty evaluation, tenure and promotion appear in over one-third of the contracts while almost half of the contracts “stipulate involvement in faculty association, or senate in retrenchment proceedings” (p. 59). Other non-traditional areas of shared governance such as budget, long-term planning and management hiring also appear throughout the artifacts. Furthermore, outside of the traditional and non-traditional areas for shared governance, “faculty are expected to participate in governance in other areas such as calendar decisions, disciplinary actions and grievances” as noted in one hundred twenty-five of the contracts (p.60). The authors posit that the increase in shared governance is, by-in-large, a response to declining resources and that the language within the collective agreement does not enable faculty but rather it compels them to act for “managerial ends” (p.61) thus saving and improving productivity and efficiency as characterized by the neoliberal agenda.
Chapter 5 provides a detailed analysis of the impact of technology on faculty and faculty work—specifically, the implications of technology on the role of faculty, the impact of technology on the traditional model of delivery, and the financial implications to the institution both through revenue generation opportunities or through a reduction in expenditures. It also provides a very thorough review of technology adoption patterns by discipline and outlines the driving forces influencing institutions and their use of information technology. Key areas of influence are: potential efficiencies and saving in general infrastructure costs, student demand and demands from other “college constituents who want training in specific areas and flexibility in time, location, and pedagogical methods” (p.69), and lastly the desire to be more responsive to the socioeconomic environment. The authors suggest that the “promise of a new instructional approach that can increase efficiency and improve workforce development is and will continue to be attractive” (p. 69).
The book does not address student/faculty relations, preferred and/or optimum learning modes, or the student experience in relation to technology. It does, however, comment on the developing “consumerism” nature of education and the willingness to “make instructional decisions based on the preference of consumers” (p. 69). The authors conclude the discussion on technology by accentuating the impact of technology on faculty, and their role. Specifically, the authors suggest that the research findings convey an overall increase in workload due to the integration and use of technology in teaching.
Other findings suggest that the lines between work-time and free-time have become blurry requiring faculty to respond to student requests and emails on free time. The increased use of Learning Management Systems (LMS), course websites and distance learning offerings results in the “unbundling of roles” which is fundamentally changing the faculty member’s position and identity. Furthermore, in order to maintain a competitive position in the New Economy, the authors maintain that community colleges will seek to use technology to fulfill student demand, increase distributed learning and employ low-cost tactics/labour (p. 77). Additionally the authors suggest that courses and/or parts of course will be further commodified and sold to organizations, thus reducing the faculty member to a “talking head” (p. 79). Levin et al. successfully portray technology as a game-changer for faculty. Unfortunately, there is little mention of the overall benefits of technology to faculty and students. The counterpoint to this argument is presented in one brief statement which acknowledges that some colleges may engage online courses to enhance educational quality.
Threaded throughout the book and in a concentrated focus in Chapter 6 is the theme of part-time labour as the core work-force in the New Economy. Aligned with neoliberal ideology on labour, Chapter 6 argues that the New Economy, focused on capitalism and individualism, will be void of government and union protectionism which will result in unfavorable work conditions allowing too few to advance and others to be exploited (p. 82). Likewise, according to the data presented, part-time faculty in community colleges have become synonymous with labour in the New Economy. The number of part-time faculty has increased since the 1980s now occupying over 64 percent of all positions nationally (p. 2). The authors present two opposing and contradictory views of the use of part-time faculty in community colleges. Firstly, part-time faculty can be highly skilled assets and secondly, part-time faculty as a less-skilled means to achieve efficiency, flexibility and control (p. 83). Although the authors acknowledge that all part-timers are not created equal and recognize the contradictory nature of this important and vast employment group, their analysis demonstrates that part-time faculty are more likely to be exploited. “Upper level administrators at community colleges are willing to accept the continuing exploitation of part-time faculty---even though they many not understand their institution’s behavior as exploitation—if it allows them to achieve those goals they deem essential for their colleges” (p. 84). The predominant view towards the use of part-time faculty clearly portrays a business model to use “part-timers as a central means to controlling production costs” (p. 84).
The remaining three Chapters, 7, 8 and 9, examine the meaning and value of work, offers perspective through personal faculty accounts, and explores the changing status, identity and profession of faculty in the Nouveau College. The authors successfully reiterate, in Chapter 9, the forces that have “coalesced” to reshape the institution and the profession (p. 135). The authors beautifully and articulately acknowledge the dawning of a new era where faculty now “reside in the context of the New Economy with emphasis on efficiency in the guise of innovation” (p. 138). To further illustrate their description of work in the Nouveau College, the authors relate faculty work conditions using terms such as “worker bees, and cogs in the neoliberal organization” (p. 138). Recognizing the evolution of the profession, Levin et al. in Chapter 9 and in the epilogue, deliver an inspiring plea to faculty to seize the opportunity to redefine and elevate the status of the changing profession.
Seemingly written with an academic and political agenda, the authors’ cumulative research provides a thorough investigation into the community college system. The book is a mere 147 pages, not including the preface, but there is not a wasted word. With almost too much information to absorb in a single reading, each chapter is laden with data, scholarly views and evidence indicating that the community college system and the faculty within are in the midst of a radical and ideological change. Negative tenors, both explicit and implicit, are woven throughout a carefully plotted sequence until the reader reaches the eventual “call to action”, in the epilogue, at which time the authors present the opportunity at hand.
I would describe the book as thought provoking and timely. Levin et al., although presenting critical data to support their theory, do not presuppose that they have all the answers. At crucial intervals, throughout the discourse, the authors present wicked questions that require deep thinking and analysis to generate a meaningful response. The questions also encourage the development of an ongoing dialogue leaving the reader empowered to investigate, respond and/or act.
Although published in 2006, within mainly US context, many of the concepts, issues and practices highlighted in the book are just being observed in Ontario now. I believe the book would have benefited from additional Canadian content with more representational data from the central and eastern provinces.
As an administrator in the Ontario system, I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on past and current issues and practices. The increased focus on online/distance learning, the increase in numbers of contingent faculty, the expansion of degree-granting colleges, and the government’s focus on cost-cutting and “innovation” are all current issues disrupting the college system and its traditional mission. There are many considerations and lessons learned on each of these topics, featured in the book, which could inform faculty and decision makers within the institution.
While I appreciated a birds-eye view into the changing college system, I also felt somewhat unconvinced that what was being portrayed was representative of the entire system. Are things as bad as they are saying? Is our evolutionary path leading us towards extinction? Can faculty be that unhappy with their work conditions? The authors did provide faculty accounts and personal perspectives; however, they were too few and not varied enough to convince me that they represented the majority of their peers.
Additionally, I think the book would have benefited from recognizing some of the advancements that have been made, in the new era, to the benefit of students, faculty and the institution.
Ultimately, the book is a rich resource that provides context and perspective. If utilized well, it can serve as a map to administrators and faculty embarking on or charting their journey through higher education. Be mindful that, just like a traditional paper map, you have to be aware that you may not see roadblocks and detours. You might need to use the advances in technology to get a better route.
Eileen De Courcy is Associate Vice-President of the Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto, Canada. She can be reached at: Eileen.firstname.lastname@example.org