Working at U of T — Research Teaching & Service
All tenure-stream faculty members’ work falls into three areas – research, teaching and service. In this, the fourth article reporting results from the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) survey of tenure-stream faculty, we’ll consider faculty satisfaction as it relates to these three spheres of activity.
Satisfaction with research is primarily a function of the time faculty members have available to spend on their research, as well as the institutional expectations and support for scholarly work. Satisfaction with teaching is a function of time but also the number of courses, the number and quality of the students and a sense of equity in the distribution of teaching workload. When gauging satisfaction with service, faculty members consider the number, attractiveness and amount of work involved in the service load distribution, generally in their departments and units. Sixty per cent of our faculty colleagues felt they were able to balance the teaching, research and service activities that were expected of them, compared to 55% at our peer institutions.
One of the unique aspects of the COACHE study is the opportunity to compare our results to five peer institutions selected from all of the institutions participating in 2012. Our five selected peers were the 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. Questions are grouped into benchmarks and the results of our peers and the cohort are plotted. Below, you’ll see the results for the three benchmarks that are related to research, teaching and service (the full chart is available here).
The dark blue portion indicates the top 30% of institutions; the grey is the middle 40% of institutions while the light blue is the bottom 30% of institutions. The cohort mean is indicated by the line, U of T is the diamond and our selected peers are the circles.
In relation to questions about research, U of T scores at the very top of the cohort and well above all of our peers. In regards to service and teaching, we are closer to the mean for the overall cohort and in the middle of our peers. In this article, we will look in more detail at the responses to the questions contained within these benchmarks and at some interesting differences between assistant, associate and full professors.
Nature of Work: Research
While we rank near the top of the entire cohort when it comes to questions looking at the research work that faculty do, faculty expressed mixed views when it comes to the time they are able to devote to their research and the support that the institution provides to enable their research.
As we saw earlier, 94.5% of our colleagues expressed satisfaction about the influence they had over the focus of their research and scholarly work. At the same time, only 67.8% of faculty are satisfied with the portion of their time they can spend on research, and 97% feel they spend too little time on research. These results are both slightly higher than our peers and we score higher than our top peer. This is perhaps not surprising since research is one of the main criteria used for evaluating tenure stream faculty members in both the tenure process and for promotion to full professor.
One area where tenure-stream faculty would like to see some assistance is in the support that they receive to do their research. Forty five point nine per cent (45.9%) of tenure stream faculty express satisfaction with internal grants or seed money that is available, placing U of T ahead of our peers at 38.9% but perhaps lower than we would like. With regard to external grant funding, 59.2% of our faculty colleagues were satisfied with the support provided for obtaining and managing grants – whereas our peer institutions only rated this at 43.4%.
Nature of Work: Teaching
The majority of tenure stream faculty (76%) expressed satisfaction with the amount of time spent on teaching, although 80% felt that they spent too much time teaching.
In general, faculty were satisfied with the number of courses that they taught (77.4%), the level of those courses (85.8%) and the discretion that they had over the course content (91.8%). Slightly fewer expressed satisfaction with class sizes (66.4%) which is nearly four percent lower than our peers.
Nature of Work: Service
Faculty have responsibility for fundamental academic activities such as determining the curriculum that is offered, setting standards for undergraduate and graduate education, and ensuring the strength of their departments though mechanisms such as faculty recruitment, tenure and promotion. Yet, the service responsibilities associated with these activities can be time-consuming and may detract from time spent on research and teaching. Our tenure-stream faculty, like those at most other institutions, responded that 55.5% were satisfied with the portion of their time spent on service, however many (91%) felt they spent too much time on such activity.
Satisfaction as it related to the number of committees (57.2%), the attractiveness of committees (52.7%), and the degree of discretion to which committees faculty were assigned to (48.1%) was lower, although in line with the responses of faculty at our peer institutions.
Service to the university also involves leadership, and our results show that only 41% of faculty members were satisfied with the supports that were in place to assist faculty who took on leadership roles (e.g. department chair or major committee assignments).
“While our annual orientation and leadership retreat as well as the ongoing Just-in-Time sessions for academic administrators provide support for new chairs and deans, clearly we need to do more work with our deans to support faculty members who take on leadership roles in their units”, says Edith Hillan, vice provost, faculty & academic life.
Areas for Improvement
In looking across the questions related to the nature of faculty work, we find that associate professors are consistently less satisfied than their assistant or full professor colleagues. COACHE noted this as a general issue seen at most institutions that warranted further exploration.
On fourteen of the seventeen benchmarks, associate professors rated their satisfaction lower than full professors and there were moderate to large differences around the mean scores related to the nature of work in terms of research, teaching and service.
When asked about their ability to balance their teaching, research and service activities, only 52% of associate professors indicated that they were able to do this, in contrast to 63% of assistant professors and 67% of full professors.
While 71% of assistant professors and 75% of full professors were satisfied with the amount of time spent on research, only 58% of associate professors indicated satisfaction.
The key for faculty members is to be able to strike a balance between institutional expectations for each aspect of their work and the time and the ability to perform that work. Dissatisfaction can occur when faculty members feel expectations are unreasonable, institutional support is lacking, or the distribution of work is inequitable. Many departments work to protect pre-tenure faculty from excessive service and teaching loads. Once these same faculty members achieve tenure, these protections disappear and the new demands can result in a difficult transition time. We need to be cognizant of the workload that can be placed on associate professors, for example, exercising caution about service assignments like mentoring of pre-tenure faculty or student advising, and ensuring appropriate support when putting them into leadership or administrative roles.
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 2007).
In March, we’ll be providing reports on different themes from the survey. In previous weeks we’ve discussed some overall results of the survey, the department culture and tenure, promotion and mentoring. Next week, we’ll look at our results as they relate to collaboration and interdisciplinary work.
Article: Office of the Vice-Provost, Faculty & Academic Life
Graphics: NATIONAL Public Relations