University Faculty Members’ Understanding of Their Role: Identity, Power, and Silence
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This qualitative study was conducted to explore tenured faculty members’ understandings of their roles as professors. Tenure is an institutional means to enact academic freedom, which allows tenured faculty members to investigate topics of their choosing free from external influence. Academic freedom also enables faculty members to be public intellectuals who shape and critique social policies and make knowledge assertions. In effect, the faculty members are institutionally protected to speak truth to power. Purposeful sampling of 9 participants from 2 universities yielded 3 major themes: professorial identity (shaped by such factors as career stage, university culture, and faculty affiliation), professorial power (powers that participants experienced as well as the ways in which they exercised power), and professorial silencing (as a response to fiscal realities coupled with numerous governance issues). While participants were cognizant of the powers that affected their freedoms, they were less aware of the ways in which their position afforded them powers. Subtle but more potent forms of power were at play for tenured professors, but the participants saw themselves as having to work within institutional and financial constraints that limited their freedom to speak out on controversial issues. Faculty members were, thus, silenced and at times chose to self-silence. The context of the present-day university, governance models, and the financial issues affecting universities and departments worked in concert to silence this critical voice in society.