Liberal Education

From the Editor

Realigning of faculty roles is happening, whether directly by design, such as changes in hiring practices, or indirectly by social or economic circumstances, such as the growth of distance education. Probably least visible on a day-to-day basis here in the U.S., but no less influential in the long term, is the General Agreement on Trade Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). At first glance, education as a trading commodity startled me, so I set about finding out more.

Some statistics in WTO documents make vivid this aspect of higher education. The term "education services" describes students worldwide who study outside their countries, distinct from the phenomenon of distance education. The United States, according to the document defining this sector, led the world in "exporting" education services, mainly by educating students from other countries in the U.S. (primarily from Asia), for revenues of $7 billion in 1996. U.S. students study abroad, chiefly in countries of Western Europe, expending $1 billion. It's no surprise that other developed countries have become competitors in this global market. Moreover, new institutions abroad affiliated with U.S. universities, new methods of delivery via the Internet, and new services and providers are some of the areas of growth across the globe. A need for regulation (caveat emptor) to guarantee standards across these varied venues is thereby created. And that is also understandably one source of dissent: the prospect of regulation by a transnational entity.

What has all this to do with faculty roles? In traditional U.S. campus settings the use of adjunct instructors and faculty off the tenure track dramatically illustrates the unbundling of faculty roles, focusing on instruction separately from the other roles in the concise formula of teaching, research, and service historically understood as proper to the professoriate. Global practices parallel and possibly reinforce this movement. As the data presented in Finkelstein's article indicate and as a consequence of these trends, faculty roles are steadily changing--and even more change may be on the horizon.

Overall, this issue of Liberal Education closely examines these trends affecting U.S. faculty and provides accounts of a variety of faculty activities. The issue is a lens to focus the contours of faculty life at this transitional moment.

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