Journal of Nursing Education

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Academic Inbreeding in Nursing: Intentional or Inevitable?

Mary L Kornguth, RN, MSN, MA; Michael H Miller, PhD

Abstract

ABSTRACT

Consensus exists that academic inbreeding inhibits innovation and scholarly achievement. Nevertheless, schools of nursing have been-and continue to be-more inbred than other schools within the university. In a follow-up survey to Miller and Ehnes' 1977 study, inbreeding has increased slightly-more junior than senior faculty are inbred, and rapidly expanding schools are the most inbred. A comparison of two schools (one highly inbred and one less so) demonstrates that schools do not recruit faculty from other schools in their region. The paper concludes that economic pressures may force deans to hire their own graduates (reducing recruitment costs) for junior positions and pay a relatively larger sum for a few senior level outbred faculty. Thus, academic inbreeding in nursing may be both inevitable and intentional.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

Consensus exists that academic inbreeding inhibits innovation and scholarly achievement. Nevertheless, schools of nursing have been-and continue to be-more inbred than other schools within the university. In a follow-up survey to Miller and Ehnes' 1977 study, inbreeding has increased slightly-more junior than senior faculty are inbred, and rapidly expanding schools are the most inbred. A comparison of two schools (one highly inbred and one less so) demonstrates that schools do not recruit faculty from other schools in their region. The paper concludes that economic pressures may force deans to hire their own graduates (reducing recruitment costs) for junior positions and pay a relatively larger sum for a few senior level outbred faculty. Thus, academic inbreeding in nursing may be both inevitable and intentional.

Quality education in nursing depends in part on the quality of the faculty (Schlotfeldt, 1976). The National League for Nursing posits that diversity within the faculty is desirable. In fact, its criteria for accreditation of schools of nursing states in part that accreditation reviewers determine if a school of nursing's "faculty . . .preparation represents varied academic institutions" (National League for Nursing, 1982, ? 11). Although these criteria are vague, they imply that a large proportion of inbred faculty (i.e., faculty who received their terminal graduate degree from the school of nursing at which they are employed) has negative value for a school's accreditation.

Academic inbreeding has long been considered an undesirable phenomenon for any academic unit. In 1908, for instance, Eliot wrote that academic inbreeding had grave dangers for the university. Major reasons cited for limiting inbreeding are that diversity of faculty leads to increases in academic innovation and to scholarly achievement (Hagstrom, 1967; Hargens & Fair, 1973). As early as 1932, McNeely concluded that inbreeding above 33% of a faculty was excessive. By this standard alone, most schools of nursing are excessively inbred today.

Over the past decade, there has been a movement in nursing to increase its status relative to other university schools, departments and programs. Schools of nursing have attempted to become more of the university than just in it. To wit, schools of nursing have made great strides in upgrading the academic credentials of faculty, and in making the criteria for nursing graduate degrees more consistent with university criteria. This movement has resulted in higher quality nursing education, and promises even greater equality between nursing and non-nursing faculty in the future. In spite of these advancements, the fact remains that nursing is more inbred than other units of the university (Miller & Ehnes, 1979). For instance, inbreeding was found to be significantly higher in schools of nursing (48%) than in schools of social work (39%), library science (34%), education (31%) and business (20%) (Miller & Ehnes, 1979). Academic inbreeding ranged from 11% to 64% in 1977 with an average of 48% in a sample of 20 schools of nursing. Even though it is generally conceded that inbreeding is inherently dysfunctional for all academic institutions. Miller and Ehnes (1979) contend that schools of nursing with almost half of their faculty inbred will continue to maintain an unacceptably high level of inbreeding. As long as schools of nursing continue to hire their own graduates and promote academic homogeneity (as opposed to academic diversity in universities as a whole), nursing will continue to find itself more in the university than of it.

This study wiU explore changes in academic inbreeding in schools of nursing since 1977 and propose explanations for the high levels of academic inbreeding in nursing.

Method

The same 20 schools of nursing used by Miller and Ehnes (1979) were included in this study. Each of the 20 schools of nursing had at least a masters program in nursing for a minimum of 10 years. These schools are representative of private and public universities of various sizes from all regions of the United States. University catalogs for 1981-1982 were obtained from 16 of the 20 schools.

The catalogs listed nursing faculty by professional rank, highest degree and schools from which their degrees were conferred. In four cases, however, the schools from which the highest degree was conferred was not listed for each faculty member. The missing data from three of the four schools were obtained by sending letters to the deans of the schools. The fourth school declined to participate (Table 1).

Findings

Academic inbreeding was found to have increased from 48% (in 1976) to 50% by 1982. Of a total of 1,792 faculty members in the 19 schools studied in 1982, 871 received their terminal degree from the university at which they were employed. Among the 19 schools of nursing, inbreeding ranges from 22% to 67%. This range shows a significant increase since 1976.

This study supports Miller and Ehnes' (1979) contention that junior faculty are more inbred than senior faculty (Table 2). In 1976, half of the junior faculty were inbred, whereas only 38% of the senior faculty were; in 1982, 56% of the junior faculty were inbred compared to 37% of the senior faculty. The trend appears to be for inbreeding of senior faculty to remain the same and for inbreeding of junior faculty to increase.

Faculty rank is associated with highest degree held by faculty members. (Rank as a full professor is rarely bestowed even within nursing, unless one holds a doctorate). Only one third of those faculty members who hold a àoctorate are inbred. Conversely, two thirds of those without doctorates are inbred (Table 3).

Size of facility is correlated with level of inbreeding. Schools of nursing with a large number of faculty are more likely to be inbred than schools of nursing with a small number of faculty. Small schools of nursing (those with less than 60 faculty) have hired, on the average, 38% of their faculty from their alumnae. Large schools of nursing, on the other hand, have more than half (55%) of their faculty inbred (Table 4). Those schools of nursing that have increased the size of their faculty over the past five years (doubled and even tripled in some schools) are more apt to have a high rate of inbreeding - up to 70%. This finding supports the suggestion that inbreeding is largely a stopgap measure. When enrollment increases and programs are expanding rapidly, apparently a school must hire its own graduates if it wants to be able to fill newly created faculty positions. The reasons for this strategy is that, on the one hand, nursing faculty are not a very mobile group and, on the other hand, the hiring of inbreds reduces the time, effort and expense of a full-fledged recruitment endeavor.

Table

TABLE 1LISTING OF SCHOOLS OF NURSING INCLUDED IN STUDY

TABLE 1

LISTING OF SCHOOLS OF NURSING INCLUDED IN STUDY

Table

TABLE 2COMPARISON OF THE 1977 AND 1983 PROPORTION OF INBRED FACULTY BY FACULTY RANK IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING

TABLE 2

COMPARISON OF THE 1977 AND 1983 PROPORTION OF INBRED FACULTY BY FACULTY RANK IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING

Table

TABLE 3COMPARISON OF INBREEDING IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING FOR 1983 BY FACULTY DEGREE HELD

TABLE 3

COMPARISON OF INBREEDING IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING FOR 1983 BY FACULTY DEGREE HELD

Table

TABLE 4COMPARISON OF INBREEDING IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING BY SIZE OF FACULTY

TABLE 4

COMPARISON OF INBREEDING IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING BY SIZE OF FACULTY

Comparison of Two Schools

Inbreeding in nursing may be related to the fact that nursing is a female dominated profession which suffers from a paucity of qualified faculty members (Miller & Ehnes, 1979). Moreover, low salaries and lack of job mobility may reduce the options available for schools of nursing - they may need to hire their own graduates if they want to have an adequate number of faculty. To determine whether inbred schools of nursing hire their own faculty because qualified faculty are not available in the region, we compared two representative schools - School A which was extensively inbred (70%) and School B with relatively little inbreeding (37%). Both schools are relatively large and have experienced recent faculty growth. The region in which each of the schools is located was examined in order to determine the extent to which these schools recruited faculty from their region. The "region" for both schools constituted the state in which the school was located plus all contiguous states. (The schools were in different regions.) There is no reason for us to suspect that what these schools of nursing do in regard to regional recruitment differs from schools of nursing in general.

In School A's region, there were nine graduate programs in nursing. However, of the 40 outbred faculty employed at this school, only 7 (18%), were from the nine graduate programs located in the region. School B's region, on the other hand, contained eleven graduate programs in nursing. The programs contributed a total of 15 (22%) of the 68 outbred faculty. It would appear that schools of nursing do not readily draw upon nursing programs which are closest to them for faculty. Instead, a large number of outbred faculty are attracted from nursing programs without geographic ties to the employing schools of nursing. Is it any wonder, then, that schools of nursing are as highly inbred as they are since they do not appear to take advantage of nursing faculty candidates from within their own region? Additional research will need to be undertaken to better understand the mobility patterns of nursing faculty.

Conclusions and Implications

Inbreeding in nursing schools may be irreversible and maUgnant. Excessive inbreeding in schools of nursing may be a factor in nursing education's inability to develop more fully as an academic discipline. The future of inbreeding in nursing may, however, be confounded by economics. Reduction in funds for higher education may force school of nursing administrators to trade off the stimulation provided by outbred faculty - and perhaps excellence in various academic pursuits as well - for smaller recruitment budgets, lower faculty payrolls and a lower risk of faculty turnover (Miller, 1977). Whereas it is implied that inbreeding is an inevitable outcome of the state of academic nursing, this condition may be more intentional than deans of schools of nursing would have us believe. Some deans may divide their personnel budget unevenly. They may pay large sums for a few well-known, highly qualified nurse educators (e.g., Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing) and fill junior faculty positions with graduates of their own program who will accept low salaries. This phenomenon is reflected in outbreeding at the professional rank and inbreeding at the junior level. One also has to wonder why the National League for Nursing continues to include diversity of faculty preparation as one of its criteria for accreditation when academic inbreeding remains unchecked in schools of nursing.

References

  • Eliot, CW. (1908). University administration. Boston: HoughtonMifflin.
  • Hagstrom, W.O. (1967, Fall). Inputs, outputs, and the prestige of university science departments. Sociology of Education, 44 375-397.
  • Hargens, L.L., & Grant, M.F. (1973). An examination of recent hypotheses about institutional inbreeding. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1381-1402.
  • McNeeley, J.H. (1932). Faculty inbreeding in land grant colleges and universities. Washington, DC: Office of Education.
  • Miller, M.H. (1977, March). Academic inbreeding in nursing. Nursing Outlook, 25, 172-177.
  • Miller, MH. & Ebnes, J. (1979). Academic inbreeding: Is the disease nurse specific? In B. Flynn & M.H. Miller (Eds.), Current perspectives in nursing: social issues and trends (vol. 2). St. Louis: The CV. Mosby Co.
  • National League for Nursing (1977). National League for Nursing Criteria for the appraisal of baccalaureate and higher degree programs (fourth ed.). New York: author.
  • Schlotfeldt, R.M. (1976, March). Recruiting, appointing, and renewing faculty: a shared responsibility. Nursing Outlook, 24, 148-154.

TABLE 1

LISTING OF SCHOOLS OF NURSING INCLUDED IN STUDY

TABLE 2

COMPARISON OF THE 1977 AND 1983 PROPORTION OF INBRED FACULTY BY FACULTY RANK IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING

TABLE 3

COMPARISON OF INBREEDING IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING FOR 1983 BY FACULTY DEGREE HELD

TABLE 4

COMPARISON OF INBREEDING IN SCHOOLS OF NURSING BY SIZE OF FACULTY

10.3928/0148-4834-19850101-07

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