About that job satisfaction survey…

Once, maybe twice a year, I get an email survey from somebody or other (the Chronicle of Higher Ed is one of them) asking me to help determine whether my university is one of THE BEST PLACES TO WORK! I always answer them for a couple of reasons. While I don’t expect my individual feedback to be taken terribly seriously, I feel compelled to offer it. And because one of my academic specialties is research methods, I rarely turn down an opportunity to take a survey just so I can study it.

It hadn’t really occurred to me that I never see the results of those surveys (and that’s not an accusation) until yesterday, when I saw this article (press release, really) from the University of Arkansas touting their results from the 2013-2014 COACHE survey out of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

The good news is that tenured/tenure-track faculty at the University of Arkansas by and large seem to like their jobs. Just a snippet of the happies:

The broad category of “teaching” was a main area in which the U of A faculty satisfaction levels ranked in the top 30 percent of institutions. In response to specific questions related to the effects of enrollment growth, 81 percent of the faculty reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with “the portion of your time spent on teaching;” 79 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with “the number of courses you teach;” and 69 percent responded that they were satisfied or very satisfied with “the number of students in the classes you teach.” U of A faculty also expressed satisfaction with the university’s senior leadership, again placing in the top 30 percent of of the participating universities in this area.

If you’re wondering why I’ve highlighted the fact that only tenured/tenure-track faculty responses seem to have mattered, then you understand how I felt when I read the article. Every time an article or report specifies or emphasizes the working conditions of non-contingent faculty, I can’t help but wonder (therefore, I’m doing your wondering for you if you didn’t already) two things: (1) How would contingent faculty responses to this survey change the results? and (2) How much of the job satisfaction enjoyed by non-contingent faculty happens because contingent faculty do what they do?

The article makes the point, twice, that contingent faculty are excluded from the results, at least the ones being reported here. The survey went to all faculty including contingents, and I’d love to know more about what they said. Apparently someday those results will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I want to ask some questions about the non-contingent faculty responses. If you’re an individual non-contingent faculty member who feels like I’m accusing you of something by asking these questions, I have mixed feelings about that; if you’ve already decided I am, then we should have a conversation about why.

1. When “81 percent of the faculty reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with ‘the portion of your time spent on teaching,'” how much time are they spending? I realize this piece is posted by a university on its own website, so the audience is (ostensibly) people who already know or wouldn’t care, but I’m curious. More specifically, I’m curious about how much of that time spent teaching is defrayed/deflected onto graduate student workers in fields that employ grad students as actual teaching assistants. Your teaching work is a lot easier if somebody else is grading your papers/exams and answering emails for you.

2. I also wonder about the kinds of courses. If the University of Arkansas is like most flagship state universities, non-contingent faculty probably aren’t teaching many lower-division courses. I won’t rant (here) about my loathing for faculty at any rank or status who complain about teaching general education, but I expect it’s a lot more happy-fying for non-contingent faculty to teach two or three upper-division and graduate courses than for contingent faculty to teach almost if not all gen-ed (for the record, I should clarify–while I get mad at people who complain about teaching gen-ed courses, I don’t think anybody should ever have a job that mandates they teach nothing but). Or put (OK, you got me) somewhat more accusatorially, how much of that happiness is because low-paid contingent faculty/grad students are teaching the courses the non-contingents are happy not to be teaching?

3. About the number of students in classes: See #2. Also, I don’t know if this is true at Arkansas, but it’s true in some places that contingent faculty have higher course caps for the same courses as non-contingent counterparts. So a tenured faculty member may have a cap of 21 in a general education writing course, while adjuncts get 26 in the same course. Like I said, I have no idea if that happens at U of A, but ever since I started hearing that it happened anywhere I always have to ask.

I can already hear some of the responses to this post–not the questions, particularly, but the tenor and push of it:

“But the contingent faculty don’t have to do any research or service, so they should teach more.”

“But what am I supposed to do about it, even if I think it’s unjust?”

“But I need to teach the courses in my specialty area because it’s my specialty area.”

And so on. I have some things to say (surprise!) about all of those and the rest of the predictable litany, but those will have to wait for another day. I’m sure the suspense will keep you awake.

While you’re awake, here’s some homework for you. 🙂

Sign this petition to David Weil at the Department of Labor calling for an investigation into adjunct faculty working conditions at US colleges and universities.

Sign this petition to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation of corrupt contingent faculty employment practices.

Sign this petition to the Department of Education calling directly for better adjunct faculty pay.

One Response to About that job satisfaction survey…

  1. Michael Kanner says:

    I see the same thing here at University of Colorado Boulder. We just had both an internal and external review. Panels mixed contingent faculty with junior tenured faculty and instructors (who have multi-year contracts). Any comments by contingent faculty were ignored in the final report.

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