22 SES 02 C, Professionals in Academia
The institutional treatment in postsecondary education of sessional academics (also known as part-time faculty, contingent faculty, or part-time teaching staff) reflects a labor force that is abused both in remuneration and working conditions (Anderson, 2007). This situation is common internationally. In Australia, the UK, Canada, and the U.S., the refrain is the same: sessional academics are aligned with marketplace needs and demands (Levin, Shaker, & Wagoner, 2011); they are instruments of economic efficiency. In addition, traditional understandings of the academic profession as encompassing teaching, research, service, academic freedom, and participation in governance lead to the marginalization of sessional faculty (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007); they are considered outsiders of the academy. As a result, sessional faculty are viewed as deficient in institutional knowledge and loyalty (Jameson & Hillier, 2008; Leslie & Gappa, 2002). Nonetheless, sessional academics develop professional identities that reflect not only integral self-identities but also commitments and contributions to their individual institutions. Yet, sessional academics have not been portrayed in research as professionals committed to their job and their institution (Brown & Gold, 2007; Kezar & Sam, 2011). In contrast to this portrayal, we examine sessional academics as professionals, as engaged academics committed to their institutions. We are guided by work engagement theory in order to explain the represented professional self-worth of these academics at public master’s universities.
The purpose of this investigation is to explain sessional academics’ views of their work and professional identity. In particular, we address the ways in which this academic group makes sense of their role in their profession and at their institution. We contextualize this investigation within four public state (master’s) universities in southern California, U.S.A.
Professional identity involves not only expertise in specific skills, tasks, and roles but also personal attitudes towards the job (Pratt, Rockmann & Kauffmann, 2006). Personal responsibility regarding one’s role in the profession is central to professional identity (Reybold, 2003) and this attitude is tied to work engagement. According to Macey and Schneider (2008), work engagement starts as an attitudinal (psychological) state: individuals’ (a) personal interest in the performance of a specific job, (b) attachment to a particular organization, and (c) belief that their personal efforts can make a difference in the workplace are antecedent to the behavioral state of work engagement. For academics, these attitudes are (a) a decision to work in academe, (b) a sense of membership in a specific university or college, and (c) the belief that the individual has influence over institutional actions.
Individuals who enact work engagement (behavioral state) perform activities that go beyond their officially expected roles in a particular institutional context (i.e., extra-role behaviors); furthermore, they also perform official roles (i.e., in-role behaviors) even if institutional circumstances obstruct their performance (Macey & Schneider, 2008). For example, sessional academics’ expressions of work engagement are activities that go beyond teaching (e.g., advising or attending meetings) when this role is the only one for which they receive compensation. Teaching becomes an expression of work engagement when the university is limited in its ability to serve students. There is evidence that for sessional academics’ work, these extra-role behaviors have their roots in the values of the academic profession, the academic culture, and their specific discipline (Austin, 1990).
We apply work engagement theory to respond to the following research questions: What are the ways in which sessional academics describe and explain their work at a state university? What extra role behaviors, if any, do they perform? In what circumstances do they perform extra-role behaviors? How do sessional faculty make sense of their performance of extra-role behaviors?
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