Gen X Faculty Defy the Slacker Stereotype

by Christine on June 18, 2010

Generation X Time Cover June 1997

Image 1: Time Cover June 1997

The Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report on “Generation X” college faculty and challenged the misconception of Gen X’ers as self-centered careerists.  Gen X’ers are broadly defined as those born between 1961-1980, and they have been entering the professoriate in significant numbers over recent years.  The demographic shift in the academy has also been accompanied by an increasing number of retirements among Baby Boomers (born between 1943-1960).

During their teen years and early twenties, Gen X’ers (myself included) had been described as “slackers” with a penchant for wanderlust or the technology-oriented winners and losers of the dot-com era. More recently, Generation X have become parents who advocate organic lifestyles and an idyllic balance between work, family, and leisure.

The Harvard study paints an insightful portrait of the new generation of faculty.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Gen X faculty are extremely committed to excellence in their work.
  • X’ers value quality over quantity in their work, and prioritize efficiency.
  • When it comes to tenure, Gen X faculty are mildly positive about the concept, and not too stressed about the process. 
  • Few Gen X faculty have plans to leave their current institution.
  • Flexibility, variety of activities, freedom, and autonomy are the aspects of their jobs that Gen X faculty value most.  Constant demands and an overwhelming workload are their main complaints.
  • Geography and spouse/partner job opportunities are top priorities for Gen X’ers.
  • Although all faculty interviewed struggle with work-life balance, it is harder for parents and dual career couples.
  • Gen X’ers value interdisciplinary work, but the type of interdisciplinary work they engage in varies.
  • Gen X faculty lack a sense of community, and are struggling to find it.
  • The quest for community may be the “essence of X.”

In addressing the needs of Generation X faculty at Cal Poly, the Center for Teaching and Learning provides multiple opportunities for faculty to foster a greater sense of community and collaboration across disciplines via workshops, events, and mentorship.  The CTL also offers several faculty learning communities (FLCs) to address issues of faculty isolation and promote interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship. In 2009-10, thc CTL supported the following FLCs: Junior Faculty, Effective Teaching and Learning, Universal Design for Learning, and Course Design with Technology in Mind (CDTM Phase I & II).

Below are Cal Poly faculty reflections on the value of learning communities, and the comments appear to align with the findings of the Harvard report:

“We need to do all we can to avoid the isolation of college teachers‚ and to promote strong networks of support and collaboration. This is what I feel is the main objective of the FLC as it continues getting teachers out of our office and engaged in the learning community of our department, college, university, and teaching profession.”

“Repeatedly I found that faculty in seemingly very different fields encountered many of the same pedagogical issues as I do (of course!), but moreover, working on these issues together and while focusing on a particular faculty member at a time helped me to think about these matters in fresh ways… One of the reasons that this activity was so effective is that it required a certain combination or balance of professional competency and transparency, which I think represents a healthy and complementary relationship for growth as a teacher.”

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