Task Force on Full Professorship

It is a wonderful thing to be a full professor. It means that at some point in our professional lives, peers considered our contributions to be of high quality and value to the field. We were diligent in recruiting, teaching, and placing students in jobs; we provided service to our discipline and institutions; we published and did not perish. We are still here: 3,825 men and 1,197 women full professors at schools listed in the CMS Directory of Music Faculty in Colleges and Universities, U.S. and Canada 13% of the faculty. Now what?

Gaining full professorship often comes as a relief even to the most confident and productive among our ranks. However, motivational carrots like tenure, promotion, salary bumps, and professional stature that brought us this far have now run out, or at least they have changed. Many faculty go through a period of questioning not long after promotion to full professor: What will I do with this new freedom? Is modest merit pay enough reason to keep working so hard? How will I stay motivated for twenty or more years? Have the last twelve or more years meant anything beyond gaining job security? Should I change the focus of my work? Hounded by younger faculty, new technology, and new paradigms, full professors often find that rank doesnt allow one to rest on her or his laurels as we might have fantasized during an earlier stage of career development. Now is the time when strong interpersonal networks, passion for teaching and research, and genuine commitment to the institutions and organizations with which we are affiliated come to the forefront. Perhaps these were always the primary motivators, but at the point of full professorship, these characteristics seem to separate the vital from the weary.

It is difficult to make meaningful generalizations about what matters most to professors across various fields of study, about their personal characteristics (gender, ethnicity, age), or about the types of institution with which they are affiliated. Are there, in fact, concerns that affect these full professors? The intersection of time of life, experience in higher education, the comfort of job security, and opportunities for reward may help to define a few overarching issues that affect many of us. Most full professors today range in age from the early 40s to the early 70s and came of age professionally during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. They grew up in the crucible of the post-World War II boom, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War, and they came out of what is now known as the world of modernism. Many believed that professors lived ideally intellectual lives and that universities were bastions of the highest ideas of intellectual honesty, unblinking curiosity, and personal growth.

Accepting the idea that change is constant has been challenging for full professors, especially considering some of the foundational changes that have taken place in academia. Some professors feel there has been too great a shift from the ivory tower ideal to a business enterprise ideal, that education has been commodified, that administrators have become managers, that students have become consumers of educational products, and that faculty are seen primarily as educational content providers. Faculty in some state institutions have seen financial considerations impinge increasingly on the intellectual enterprise as state subsidies have declined, tuition has risen dramatically, and budgets have been squeezed.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to full professors is to stay productive at a time when targets seem to be changing and younger faculty seem more attuned to these diverse goals. The rapid change from paper libraries and typewriters to the information culture and computers creates both challenges and opportunities. Many full professors find it difficult to stay current technologically and learn to use new resources, while others have managed to exploit the new capabilities to enhance and enrich their work as teachers, scholars, and performers. The introduction of conceptual frameworks new to the field of music has likewise created challenges and opportunities. Post-Modernism, for example, has required many full professors to defend their work against arguments that the paradigms of the mid-twentieth century, at best, are old fashioned and, at worst, miss the point entirely. Responses to these intellectual fisticuffs vary widely. Some see this as an invigorating and energizing aspect of the profession, while others may hope that if they wait long enough, scholarly fashions will change again.

Among the aspects of professional growth and maintenance that affect full professors in particular, common issues tend to emerge. One is that of legacy.

It is no longer enough just to publish an article, teach a stimulating class, or graduate a good studentalthough these remain worthwhile goals. Rather, full professors begin to look at their work as a whole, hoping to find some evidence of a contribution that will last beyond their years of employment. Examples include the promise of citations long after we retire, a lineage of successful students who will carry on our work, new ways of doing things or understanding them that have become essential to the field, or definitive interpretations, artifacts, or sources of information that are unrivaled or at least remain useful. Ironically, this desire to create something of lasting value can produce contrasting results. Some faculty stay the course, making their points with increasing boldness and frequency while hoping to underscore the importance of their views. Others summarize years of work, attempting to gain a broader perspective in an expanded context. Yet others begin a new endeavor, something considered worthy of deep personal investment. While younger faculty might plan for their long-term contribution - their legacy, the urgency of now or never becomes stronger as the years pass and the reward structure changes.

Beyond legacy, there are more practical considerations about how to remain engaged after achieving full professorship. With no more promotions in sight, there are a limited number of opportunities for professional advancement. Should one wish to remain at the same institution, one option is a move toward administration. For some, this presents an exciting new challenge; for others, it is a chance for a salary increase but only at personal cost new tasks and problems, less time for teaching and research. Another opportunity for advancement is to move to one of those rare senior positions at another institution, an enticing idea full of promise for intellectual stimulation, better colleagues, smarter students, a new environment and, of course, a higher salary.

While changing jobs is never easy, it becomes increasingly difficult as ones career progresses. By the time of full professorship, a faculty member has established one or more of the following: institutional loyalty, family ties, social relationships, financial responsibilities, or a satisfying, if not perfect, job environment. Some faculty move on at this stage, but none do so without deep and careful consideration. Should one choose to forego administrative opportunities and to remain at her or his current institution, professional advancement can be achieved through increased consulting and speaking engagements, or perhaps large-scale projects involving grants or even product development. The point is that after becoming a full professor, there are no more built-in promotions to define work habits and spur professional activity. The praise of respected colleagues, merit pay increases, named professorships, and so on are available to reward the full professor who continues on a path of professional excellence; however, for the most part, faculty have to chart their course for the next stage of their career, supported largely by intrinsic values. For many, this can be a challenging time of life.

While retirement can occur at any academic rank, it does seem to emerge as an issue pertaining to full professors in particular. Some faculty claim they will never retire; their academic life offers sufficient flexibility, stimulation, and even fulfillment to enhance their well being as older adults, certainly better than any conceivable hobby. Conversations about when and under what circumstances one might retire become more frequent with increasing age. Faculty, including full professors, think about and discuss the basis on which they will retire in a manner that is more real and less hypothetical than it was during the earlier years. Will retirement be precipitated by other interests, disability, frustration, mandatory age, or fiscal considerations? These possibilities are often meshed with concerns about legacy, salary, happiness, intrinsic motivation and external rewards, and giving priority to thoughts about how one might spend the final decades of ones life.

Achieving full professorship is a wonderful occasion on which to take pride in previous accomplishment, but it is also the beginning of a long period of professional growth that ultimately culminates with the end of a career. One would hope that in looking back, a retired music professor would feel more satisfaction than frustration in having chosen an academic life, and would find happiness in the contributions that she or he made. One step in supporting this ideal would be to acknowledge that many faculty spend more years as a full professor than at any other rank, and that this is a period characterized not only by prior achievement but also continuing change and growth. Providing opportunities to remain conversant with new ideas is another step, even if one disagrees with them.

Learning to sustain meaningful activity when the formal reward structure becomes thin and maintaining productive activity in the face of daily demands and interferences seem to characterize those professors who retire happy. Their means of doing so is well worth pondering.

Deciding which issues are the main ones facing professors today depends on whom you ask One professors challenge may be another professors opportunity. The following issues have potential for further discussion.

Post-tenure review. Does it weed out deadwood or threaten academic freedom?

Technology. While some faculty exhibit technophobia to greater or lesser degrees, others have become leaders in distance learning, electronic publishing, Internet resources, and data processing.

Paradigmatic challenges. Newer theoretical approaches known collectively as Post-Modernism have been a source of stress and frustration for some professors as they have seen the goals of their disciplines change. Yet others have taken these approaches in stride or even have lead the way in their dissemination.

Workplace changes. For a variety of reasons, some faculty have faced salary reductions, workload increases, and the erosion of benefits as state governments grapple with sharply reduced revenues.

What can CMS do about these things? Not much specifically. This conclusion is not borne of cynicism but of the practical challenges that must be surmounted in order to contribute in meaningful ways to the lives of the members of our profession. One thing that CMS can do is to schedule forums at professional meetings that illustrate the very best of what full professors contribute to their disciplines and their institutions. The rank of full professor and the status and security that come with it provide opportunities to take intellectual risks in publicquestioning, challenging, extending, bolstering, elaborating the knowledge of our discipline. There is a responsibility that comes with such privilege. CMS can highlight that responsibility by formally recognizing outstanding accomplishment by individuals who have developed new ideas, discovered new artifacts, created new works and interpretations, and refined the art of teaching.

Recognizing excellence seems an important responsibility for a professional organization such as CMS, and although there are many organizations that present awards to outstanding members, an award and forum for presentation that focuses on professional accomplishments in music seems particularly appropriate with regard to full professors.