Book Reviews

#1801 New Directions for Higher Education: How Ideal Worker Norms Shape Work-Life for Different Constituent Groups in Higher Education, Wolf-Wendel, Lisa, Ward, Kelly, & Kulp, Amanda M., ISBN: 978-1-119-34757-6, $25.00

Review by Heather Zeng
Capella University- Core Faculty

The writing forges a much-needed conversation around work life balance in academic institutions from a variety of perspectives and roles. As the editor’s note-the workplace remains organized around traditional male, while, middle class patterns, largely in contrast with a diverse society. Vestiges of this worldview continue to be approached and challenged. This writing confronts the concept largely known as “the ideal worker” construct that is a quid pro quo of a singular work focus as the only route to success. However, what happens to those who can’t meet these often-unwritten expectations?  As an expert in career development, it’s well known that this includes a constellation of outlets such as leisure, avocational pursuits to name a few. What is revealed in aggregate is that Universities have little consistency across institutions in terms of work-life policy. Advisors can benefit from reading this writing in their distinct ability as interlocuters connected to many tiers of the university environment. Seeing the challenges to both the range of workers and their students can forge more “voice” as they participate in university committees or leadership roles supporting some of the challenges faced by these issues.

Another strength of this writing is that while often conversations have been around dual career academics only it takes a look at the broadest range of those who engage in work in these institutions. In some ways it is a call for the expansion of policies across not just academics but a range of individuals at the university level. Advisors are advocates in many ways. For example, visiting Lewis, Arnold, House & Toporek’s (2002) advocacy competencies could be explored after reading these writings to see where one can engage or expand development individually or in a more macro level. Advisors would benefit from reviewing this writing because even students at the undergraduate level may have parenting roles which require additional support and resources to assure their efficacy.  What is a wider conceptualization is the reality and context of departmental work-life norms and their influence on interpreting policies.  For advisors who are working in community colleges the authors note there is a dearth of insight on this context. This is something that could be further advocated for in terms of not only policy examination for working members of the academic community but also extend to the larger student population.

Single Parents are a distinct population of students that like all attending programs have unique needs for support. Along with aspects of child care which is logical, larger community support services and coordination is vital. A central area of discourse is student-parent’s and their capacity to mediate the multiple roles they engage in while trying to flourish in their coursework, research, or university studies. Advisor’s daily hear the stories of students and in this narrative, can provide some of the context that may need further illumination to those forging policy. These capturing’s can go a long way to practical changes and increasing single parent student’s efficacy in academic environments. Graduate students who bridge work and student role simultaneously can be in built advocates who distinctly see these gaps and could offer novel or innovative solutions.

Another role that universities largely rely on are contingent faculty. According to this writing, research notes “women move into adjunct and contingent positions that are satisfying for some time, but then become trapped feeling underemployed (p. 33)”.  Since contingent workers are sensitive to this ebb and flow of work polices they are good voices that can be particularly emphatic to adult learner’s challenges. Tapping into their insights and even experiences in their own limitations professionally can be furthering to advocating for students and workers.  While the writing provides some future steps in offering further transitional advancement—it falls short in completely addressing aspects of enfranchising contingent workers at a distance (for example) and focuses much on traditional environments and contexts. This is an area that needs additional research and development.

One study highlighting the population of women PHD graduates who are mothers affirmed that by gender they attained tenure track higher than peers without children. While this is the case, it wasn’t explained why this is the case- or post the question what conditions and institutional situations ascribe for this efficacy in career development? In contrast, further exploration is needed as to why there may be other career pathways pursued. Are these due to this ideal worker construct or other societal influences and policies? Advisors who work with PhD students and career counselors at university centers can tap into understanding these career options. Certainly, additional evidence based research can be forged to understand the complexity of these experiences.

 As with any writing aspects of work-life balance in distance programs is critical to examine. This is largely omitted. Distance programs forged over the past twenty years have a range of administrative, academic, and even staff telecommuting. While work arrangements can have some flexibility it’s important to conceptualize the range and depth of policies to support adult learners in different geographical and cultural context.  As well, support for work life balance is a vital consideration due to the fluidity of work context in academic telecommuting that can be a benefit and challenge at junctures. One area of this writing focuses on administrators affirming the aspect of technology and spillover effect. While there’s limitations in this coverage, it can help further conversations around what the rules of engagement are for technological movement and boundaries. Advisors are privy to conservations at multiple levels in institutions- their voice in observing organization confront or move from this ideal worker model are vital.  This is essentially in sum, a human resource potential issue with implications to individual flourishing and institutional productivity. As the workplace globally undergoes a range of flux, as technology continues to play a central role in one’s work and personal life, equitable work environment discussions and policy will continue to be forged. Advisors often have egalitarian roles that can bridge the divides of these discussion in non-threatening ways from a variety of advocacy perspectives.


Lewis, J., Arnold, M. S., House, R., & Toporek, R. L. (2002). ACA Advocacy Competencies. Retrieved from Competencies/Advocacy_Competencies.pdf

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