The growth of the research university has had many consequences including an evolving workforce. With growth and evolution has come a need to keep faculty primarily engaged in their teaching and research roles, freeing them from other administrative burdens. To accomplish this task, the university began employing more administrators and professional staff. Over time, however, specialization and differentiation of the academic workforce have resulted in an overlap of some responsibilities between professional staff and faculty.
The purposes of this study were to develop a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of professional staff, especially those who have become involved in the academic mission at American research universities, and to reveal the degree to which these roles overlap with the roles and responsibilities of faculty. The importance of this study lies in using this new understanding to most effectively employ academic professional staff for the overall excellence of the university they serve.
As part of the study, questions were asked about roles, characteristics, and careers of academic professionals in a research university and where these roles overlapped with faculty. The study used both secondary data analysis and survey methodology; Iowa State University served as the case study. A survey of 2,449 professional staff resulted in a response rate of 62%. Three hundred sixty respondents met the criteria of academic professionals.
Analysis of the results show that academic professionals are involved in teaching for-credit courses, formally advising students, and performing sponsored research---criteria established as overlapping traditional faculty responsibilities. Most of the work they perform occurs in the main academic areas of the university: centers, institutes, and colleges. Academic professionals are most likely advisors, scientists, coordinators, and research associates. They hold masters, doctorate, or professional degrees. Many are funded by research contracts and have non-tenure-eligible faculty rank. They spend significant amounts of time working with faculty including having a faculty supervisor. Career planning brought them to the university to be involved in the academic mission.
The findings of this inquiry have the potential to assist university decision makers in framing and answering challenging academic, financial and cultural questions that occur as academic professionals augment traditional faculty roles within the university's academic mission.