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Professing to Learn

, 320 pages
June 2009



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Professing to Learn

Creating Tenured Lives and Careers in the American Research University

Research, teaching, service, and public outreach—all are aspects of being a tenured professor. But this list of responsibilities is missing a central component: actual scholarly learning—disciplinary knowledge that faculty teach, explore in research, and share with the academic community. How do professors pursue such learning when they must give their attention as well to administrative and other obligations?

Professing to Learn explores university professors’ scholarly growth and learning in the years immediately following the award of tenure, a crucial period that has a lasting impact on the academic career. Some launch from this point to multiple accomplishments and accolades, while others falter, their academic pursuits stalled. What contributes to these different outcomes?

Drawing on interviews with seventy-eight professors in diverse disciplines and fields at five major American research universities, Anna Neumann describes how tenured faculty shape and disseminate their own disciplinary knowledge while attending committee meetings, grading exams, holding office hours, administering programs and departments, and negotiating with colleagues. By exploring the intellectual activities pursued by these faculty and their ongoing efforts to develop and define their academic interests, Professing to Learn directs the attention of higher education professionals and policy makers to the core aim of higher education: the creation of academic knowledge through research, teaching, and service.

Anna Neumann is a professor of higher education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and coauthor of Redesigning Collegiate Leadership: Teams and Teamwork in Higher Education, also published by Johns Hopkins. She is the winner of the American Educational Research Association's 2010 Exemplary Research Award and was recently named President-Elect of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).

"Neumann has written a passionate text. She asks us to think about what matters to us—and what should matter. She contends that academic work is a calling, or a vocation... Any text that is so elegantly written on such an important topic deserves a careful reading even if we end up disagreeing with one or another point."

"A new perspective on the faculty career... Neumann provides the reader with an elegant and reverent understanding of this often misunderstood time in the career lives of faculty members while at the same time reminding us why we do what we do."

"By exploring the lives of newly tenured professors, Anna Neumann provides a compelling picture of the modern university itself. Animating her work and adding to its value is her belief that scholarly learning, or passionate thought, is nothing less than the 'heart of the university enterprise.' Professing to Learn is wise, humane, and sensible, and it will guide all of us who believe in the necessary and profound attractions of learning."

"An unusually nuanced, textured look at this special group of faculty who have recently ‘passed the test’ and been awarded tenure."

"Neumann’s insightful analysis of early post-tenure faculty explores critical uncharted territory, debunking myths about tenured faculty. In framing faculty as learners she underscores our need to cultivate this core intellectual resource. Neumann's work reveals what animates professors, as they seek, over time, to learn. A must read for scholars and policymakers."

"This book should be read by all university leaders, policy makers, and professors because it sheds light on one of the most important aspects of higher education."

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