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  • THE RISE AND DECLINE OF FACULTY GOVERNANCE: Professionalization and the Modern American University by Larry G. Gerber
  • Richard M. Mikulski
THE RISE AND DECLINE OF FACULTY GOVERNANCE: Professionalization and the Modern American University. By Larry G. Gerber. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2014.

Citing market forces, economic necessity, and efficiency, American universities are hiring fewer full-time and tenure-track faculty. This has led to reliance upon nontenured and part-time “adjuncts,” “clinical professors,” “teaching and postdoctoral fellows,” “lecturers,” “professors of practice,” and “contingent faculty.” In this work, Gerber places these trends within a historical context. He examines the history of academic professionalization, the rise and apparent wane of tenure, and the development of shared governance within the American university since the nineteenth century. While others have written on the necessity of tenure as a safeguard against censorship, Gerber adds a historical and institutional emphasis by presenting the issue in terms of university governance. Tenure, he argues, is necessary because it creates a system of “shared governance” in which professors take an active role in designing curricula and policy. Only faculty protected from external influences by tenure have the freedom to act as equal partners within collegiate government. Historically, this mix of intellectual freedom and shared government has been the critical element in the success of American higher education. Gerber argues, “the twin pillars of shared governance and academic freedom helped to support an environment that was both hospitable to scholars seeking to create new knowledge and intellectually challenging for the unprecedented number of students who began entering college after World War Two” (2).

Gerber presents his argument as a historical narrative in which academic freedom and shared governance are connected to the global rise of the American university. Before 1870, American colleges were provincial institutions, interested in “character and moral discipline rather than on intellectual inquiry and discovery” (16). Gerber attributes their lack of academic rigor to unspecialized, nonprofessional instructors. Governance rested solely with presidents, nonresident boards, and trustees. Between 1870 and 1920, research universities and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) fostered a professional identity, and faculty demanded shared governance. They argued that their expertise made them uniquely qualified to hire and promote their peers. By giving academic departments and subject specialists a voice in curricular development, the quality of education improved. International prestige for American education increased further between 1920 and 1940, as universities grew and faculties enjoyed greater shared governance.

The crux of Gerber’s thesis is reflected in his treatment of the “Golden Age” of academic freedom and shared governance between 1940 and 1975. He argues [End Page 175] that extensive funding, academic freedom, and shared governance attracted the best scholars brought to American universities, which gained “a position of global preeminence” (81). The 1960s represent the height of shared governance and unchallenged American academic prominence, a correlation that Gerber emphasizes. Following 1975, reduced funding and the adoption of corporate business models lead to the rise of part-time, non-tenured faculty. Fewer faculty members are therefore able to participate in governance and curriculum design, which potentially harms the overall quality of American education. This problem, Gerber argues, can only be remedied if we recognize that a “professionalized faculty was instrumental in the development of more rigorous academic standards and in the rise of American higher education to a position of global preeminence” (169).

Despite a rise-and-decline narrative, Gerber avoids teleology by acknowledging that there was no homogenous track for professional development. He recognizes continuity, long-term trends, nuance, and exceptional cases that do not fit entirely within his narrative. His use of AAUP reports, which examine faculty views about their home universities, adds a unique element to the study. A weakness of this approach is that the reports focus on AAUP members, placing an emphasis on research universities and affluent colleges. Many American institutions and faculty members are therefore excluded from examination. The bias of the records is somewhat problematic, as it influences the findings. It is unsurprising that AAUP reports present shared governance in a favorable manner. Gerber similarly acknowledges that he has held numerous offices in the AAUP, including “National Vice President.” Despite this potential bias, Gerber...


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