Digesting “the worm's share”: Administrative authority and faculty strategies in the humanities

Barrett Taylor, Kelly Ochs Rosinger, Lindsay Coco, Sheila Slaughter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/Context: Research on academic capitalism often maps changing conditions in which faculty work occurs without explaining the mechanisms by which change occurs. We use Fligstein and McAdam's theory of fields to posit that the changing conditions in which humanities faculty members work reflect activities in overlapping (the academic profession more generally) and proximate (university administration) fields. We seek to illuminate the ways in which humanities faculty experience heightened administrative authority and strategically respond. Research Questions: We ask: 1) How do faculty members in the humanities understand the changes in their field? 2) How do faculty members in the humanities understand their relationships to members of overlapping (e.g., faculty in other areas) and proximate (e.g., administrators) fields? and 3) How do faculty members in the humanities strategize to improve their positions? Participants: We conducted semistructured interviews with 46 faculty members in humanities fields with various appointments (tenured, tenure-track, non-tenure-track). Faculty participants were mainly housed in English and history, two of the largest humanities departments at many institutions, but also in philosophy and religion departments. Research Design: Our multiple case study design took place at two public research universities to understand how faculty respond to changing conditions. The research sites, typical of many public research universities, experienced declining direct government support and therefore conditions in which academic capitalist processes occur were present at both. Humanities departments contributed a large portion of student credit-hour production at both research sites, yet such funds were centralized and allocated by university administration. Data Collection and Analysis: Our interview protocol focused on faculty perceptions of resource allocation within the institution, allocation of work within the department, perceptions of the department relative to others, and how faculty structured their time and careers in response to various pressures inside and outside of their university. Semistructured interviews ranged from 25 and 90 minutes and were recorded and transcribed. We analyzed data using a priori and emergent codes which were grouped into broad themes reflecting faculty responses to changing conditions. Results: Three strategic responses emerged among humanities faculty members we interviewed: utilizing lower status faculty members, exploiting weaker units in the field, and forming alliances. Conclusions/Recommendations: Strategies result in the improved status of some individual faculty members but do not arrest the diminishing status of the humanities as a field. Our analysis suggests that field-level analyses entail implications for the study of academic work and processes in the academic capitalism tradition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA31
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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