Collegial Department Raises Satisfaction and Morale for Tenure-Stream Faculty
While faculty work at the University of Toronto, they work in their departments; and it is the departmental culture which has the most impact on faculty satisfaction and morale. The survey you heard about last week from the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) included questions that addressed three broad areas related to department culture – collegiality, engagement and quality.
When it comes to faculty satisfaction, COACHE found that there is no substitute for a collegial department. Since faculty have indicated that they are generally satisfied with U of T as a place to work, it’s not surprising that 78.4% of tenure-stream faculty indicated that on the whole, they were satisfied or very satisfied with the collegiality of their department.
In addition, when asked to choose from a list of the best aspects about working at UofT, 48% of respondents rated the quality of their colleagues as the most important. In general, across the range of questions that looked at departmental collegiality, the University of Toronto performed quite well, with an overall mean that was similar to that of all of our peer institutions.
At the University of Toronto, we also conduct the Speaking Up Survey with faculty and staff every 4 years. This allows us to examine employee engagement with U of T as a workplace. COACHE looks at engagement from a different perspective – considering the kind of professional interactions that occur between academic colleagues as they discuss learning, pedagogy and different research questions or methods.
When we look at the full range of questions on engagement, U of T scores well in comparison to its peers and our mean score is above that of the cohort1 overall. Most faculty were also satisfied with the opportunities that they had to discuss graduate student learning with their colleagues – 63.1% indicated that they regularly engaged in conversations about graduate student learning (3.76 mean). However, this was not the case for discussions of undergraduate student learning – only 48.9% of faculty indicated there were opportunities for these conversations (3.38 mean). In terms of discussions of current research methods, only 49.4% of faculty responded that these occurred regularly (3.44 mean). While these are similar to our peer institutions, we are well above the entire cohort mean (3.05) on this question.
Ensuring opportunities for professional interaction between tenured and pre-tenure faculty is an important way to strengthen faculty engagement. Our faculty are generally satisfied with their opportunities for interaction with other faculty members with slightly more than 72% indicating satisfaction with interactions with their colleagues. These results put us firmly in the middle of the cohort of institutions participating in the survey in 2012.
“Encouraging discussions of teaching, research and learning amongst faculty members seems to me an easy solution. Chairs can create opportunities for these conversations – whether at department meetings or through activities like brown bag lunches or research symposiums,” says Kelly Hannah Moffat, director of the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies and vice dean, undergraduate at UTM.
“Through our New to U programs for new faculty, we try to encourage our pre-tenure faculty to move outside their departments and campuses, to meet new people and to learn more about the exciting and creative people they’re working with,” says Edith Hillan, vice provost faculty & academic life.
The final area to consider when looking at department culture is departmental quality – since it is directly related to the intellectual vitality of our faculty members, their scholarship and their growth and development. Overall U of T scores very highly on this set of questions, with our mean responses being at the very top of the cohort and only exceeded by one of our peer institutions.
Tenure-stream faculty indicated a high level of satisfaction (79.5%) with the intellectual vitality of tenured faculty in their department but they were even more satisfied with their pre-tenure colleagues (88%).
Likewise, 77% of faculty indicated high satisfaction with the scholarly productivity of tenured faculty, well above our peers at 69.5%. And again, it is the scholarly productivity of pre-tenure faculty where there is the highest level of satisfaction – 86.7%, a response that exceeds the results of our peers at 80.0%
“As a public institution committed to excellence, the intellectual vitality and scholarly productivity of our faculty colleagues are the key factor when it comes to top quality research and education,” says Cheryl Regehr, vice president and provost.
Areas for Improvement
While the overall U of T story on department culture is positive, it is important to note some other findings which impact on faculty engagement and their sense of collegiality. Specifically, there is a perception that institutions like U of T and our COACHE peers are not particularly successful in addressing substandard performance of tenured faculty. Here the U of T score of 19% trails that our of peer institutions (24%). In addition, there is sense that we could be doing more to assist colleagues with their work/life balance and to make an academic career compatible with personal/family obligations (53% satisfied, compared with a peer average of 56%).
“We know from other research that junior faculty in particular sometimes struggle to balance the demands of family with an academic career.” says Hillan, “While the University provides a number of supports to assist with this, we’ll be open to new ideas and also think creatively about even more ways to ease this particular burden”.
The COACHE survey was conducted in October of 2012 by the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Almost 50% of our tenured and pre-tenure faculty participated in this round (pre-tenure faculty had been invited to participate in a previous survey conducted in 2007).
A unique feature of COACHE is the provision of comparative data that allows us to rank our results against five peer institutions of our choosing. These were University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, University of California – Davis, Indiana University – Bloomington, and the State University of New York – Stony Brook.
In February and March, we’ll be providing reports on different themes from the survey. Last week we discussed some of the overall findings of the survey and next week we’ll examine the results as they relate to the tenure and promotion processes.
Article: Office of the Vice-Provost, Faculty & Academic Life
Graphics: NATIONAL Public Relations
. The cohort score is the mean score for all the institutions that participated (approximately 80) in the COACHE survey in 2012.