COACHE releases comprehensive study of how satisfaction differs among tenure-track faculty of different races, sexes

December 4, 2008

First time race data from over 8,500 pre-tenure faculty disaggregated

A new report by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), a research project based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has revealed for the first time perspectives on tenure-track faculty work satisfaction disaggregated by race/ethnicity. The 2008 Highlights Report also includes new comparisons of results between faculty at public and private universities and between men and women within different institutional types. The COACHE report presents a summary of overall findings from the COACHE Tenure-Track Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey of over 8,500 respondents across 96 colleges and universities.

National race data disaggregated

As compared to white faculty, African American, Asian and Native American faculty were less satisfied on a number of key climate, culture and collegiality variables. Of the ten climate dimensions measured in the COACHE Survey, Asians were less satisfied with six; Native Americans with five; and African Americans with four, all by statistically significant margins. Hispanic faculty, however, generally expressed the same levels of satisfaction as did their white peers.

The COACHE data test some assumptions about the experience of faculty of color in the academy.  Compared to white faculty, Asian faculty, for example, reported greater clarity about tenure expectations and higher levels of satisfaction with several aspects of the nature of faculty work. Still, they are more dissatisfied with nearly all of the teaching variables assessed by the survey, and with six aspects of climate and culture, including interactions with tenured colleagues and peers. “While Asian faculty understand the tenure process and requirements and are content with how they spend their time, because their relationships with senior colleagues and other pre-tenure faculty are lacking, they may feel isolated, which may explain why they are less likely than white faculty to say that they would accept their current positions again,” commented Dr. Cathy Trower, COACHE Research Director.

African American faculty reported similar levels of agreement as did white faculty with all statements related to balancing professional and personal life, but they reported less satisfaction with interactions with tenured and pre-tenure colleagues, with their sense of ‘fit’, and with their sense of fair treatment in their departments. In a related finding, African American faculty also agreed less than did white faculty that tenure decisions are made primarily on performance-based criteria. “It appears, from these results, that African American faculty may be experiencing some lingering aspects of racism – real or perceived – as evidenced by their concern with fair treatment and lower satisfaction with the amount of interaction and collaboration with others,” said Dr. Trower.

Although Native American faculty are scarce on most college campuses, COACHE has collected a critical mass of data to produce substantial numbers of statistically significant differences between Native American faculty experiences and those of majority faculty. Unfortunately, it is not good news: Native Americans reported less clarity with most aspects of tenure, less satisfaction with most culture and climate dimensions, and less agreement that all pre-tenure faculty are treated fairly.  Dr. Trower cautioned, “Overall, attention must be focused on improving the academic workplace for Native American faculty on the tenure-track, as this group remains the most underrepresented and the most at-risk. Mixing lack of clarity about the tenure process and criteria with dissatisfaction with workplace culture and climate is not a recipe for success.”

Relative to other underrepresented groups, there were few differences between Hispanic faculty and white faculty. The groups reported similar levels of agreement with all five statements related to balancing professional and personal life and reported no significant differences on any of the global satisfaction dimensions. 

Gender differences still pronounced

COACHE data show that female faculty on the tenure-track rated nearly 65 percent (or 21 out of 32 components) of the workplace experience lower than did their male counterparts by a statistically significant margin.  On only three survey dimensions did female ratings of job satisfaction exceed male ratings at a significant level: on the quality of undergraduate and of graduate students, and on the amount of personal interaction with pre-tenure colleagues.

Women continue to report less clarity about most aspects of tenure and less reasonableness about all surveyed dimensions of tenure requirements. They also agree less than do men that tenure is based on performance and that they receive consistent messages about tenure. In addition, women were less satisfied with most aspects of the nature of faculty work: teaching, research, and support services.  On all related variables, female faculty were less likely to report departmental and institutional support for work-home balance, and expressed less satisfaction with six out of ten climate dimensions.  “Despite this being 2008 and some people’s beliefs that gender equity has been achieved on our campuses, the tenure picture is particularly cloudy for women faculty, and they are not receiving adequate support for balancing work and family,” Dr. Trower said. “These gender differences are especially pronounced at universities.”

New results by institutional type and control

For the first time, COACHE has compared its survey results between public and private universities. Most strikingly, faculty at public universities reported greater clarity and reasonableness around 12 of 19 aspects of earning tenure.  “We certainly see a divide between private and public universities, especially on the tenure front. Not only do they deem the process less clear, tenure-track faculty at private universities regard the expectations for their performance as scholars, teachers and colleagues as significantly less reasonable than do their peers at public universities,” commented Dr. Trower.

Although they gave lower marks than public university faculty on workplace climate and on many work/home balance dimensions, faculty at private universities were more likely to agree with the statement, “If I had to do it over again, I would accept my current position.” “This higher global rating by faculty at private universities is worthy of further investigation, given that these faculty are less satisfied on many aspects of tenure and workplace climate.  However, faculty at private universities did express greater satisfaction with teaching, research and service—to such a degree that it could explain why they are more likely to say they would do it over again,” said Dr. Trower.

Numerous differences in ratings between university and college faculty also exist, but overall, according to Dr. Trower, “college faculty are a more satisfied lot,” significantly more likely than university faculty to say they would do it all over again. Trower explains the disparity may simply be “reflective of the different expectations and lifestyles in these two types of academic environments.”


Based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and supported by member institutions, COACHE is committed to gathering the peer diagnostic data academic administrators need to recruit, retain, and develop the cohort most critical to the long-term future of their institutions. For more information on how to join the Collaborative, visit


COACHE_HighlightsReport_2008.pdf226 KB