The One-Two Policy Punch: Be Sure to Consider Importance *and* Effectiveness

August 1, 2007

Research pressures cause greatest angst in survey of nearly 7,000 early-career faculty

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 that junior faculty place a high degree of importance on institutional policies and practices in terms of how they affect career success. However, junior faculty expressed less satisfaction with the effectiveness of those policies and practices.

The comprehensive report highlights trends across the 77 colleges and universities that participated in the Tenure-Track Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey in either 2005–06 or 2006–07. Overall, the survey of 6,773 tenure-track faculty discovered that policies such as: an upper limit on teaching obligations; travel funds to present papers or conduct research; informal mentoring; and an upper limit on committee assignments are considered most important by early-career faculty to their success. This finding held true for males, females, white faculty, and faculty of color. Junior faculty of all groups rated financial assistance with housing as the least important policy. However, as compared to male faculty and white faculty, female faculty and faculty of color, respectively, found institutional policies significantly more important for their success.

On average, not one of the 16 policies or practices assessed in the COACHE survey was deemed even “fairly effective” to the faculty who find those policies important. On a five-point effectiveness scale (5 = very effective and 1 = very ineffective), informal mentoring ranked the most effective practice at only 3.69, suggesting much room for improvement. Compared to male faculty, female faculty rated nearly all of the institutional policies and practices, including personal and research leave, formal mentoring, and stop-the-clock policies, as more effective. However, women and men who find such policies to be at least “fairly important” agreed that childcare and assistance in obtaining grants were the least effective provisions among those rated.

Still, opinions differed on many points. “White faculty, female faculty and faculty of color strongly diverged over which institutional policies they found most effective,” said Cathy Trower, COACHE Director. “This suggests that a one-size-fits-all, ‘we’ve got that policy on the books, so we’re done’ attitude doesn’t cut it in the competitive environment of recruiting and retaining top faculty talent.”

In addition to policy and practice, the COACHE survey examined tenure clarity, work/life balance, faculty satisfaction with the nature of the work, and satisfaction with the climate, culture and collegiality of their workplaces. Overall, junior faculty members were most clear about the tenure process while least clear about tenure standards. As compared to white faculty, faculty of color reported being similarly clear about the tenure process, criteria and body of evidence, but reported significantly more clarity with regard to tenure standards and their institutions’ expectations for performance as a scholar, teacher, advisor, colleague, campus citizen, and member of the broader community. On the other hand, female faculty reported less clarity on all dimensions of tenure and on their institutions’ expectations for their performance as scholars.

“Overall, new scholars agreed that the expectations for performance as a colleague and a teacher are reasonable, yet believe that expectations placed upon them as a scholar are the least reasonable,” Trower said. “This could, in part, be the normal anxiety early career faculty have about establishing a solid record of research, but our interviews with hundreds of talented, smart junior faculty over the years suggest that it’s less about anxiety than it is about the lack of resources, time, and support to be an excellent scholar and an outstanding teacher and a stellar colleague and campus citizen, all at once.”

Another section in the COACHE survey examined the compatibility of the tenure-track and having and raising children, and junior faculty satisfaction with the balance between the demands of work and home. Early-career faculty rated their satisfaction with the balance between professional and personal time very low (2.78 on a 5-point scale) -- lower even than the overall rating cited in last year’s report. Female faculty reported significantly less agreement with the statements regarding institutional support for having and raising children, and expressed a much lower level of satisfaction than male faculty with their work/life balance.

Within the “nature of work” category, the survey looked at faculty members’ satisfaction with teaching, research and support services and how they spend their time. As discovered in the 2005-06 COACHE report, junior faculty continue to express the most satisfaction with aspects of teaching, followed by how they spend their time as faculty members, various support services, and lastly, aspects of research.

“As with our initial survey, we again found fairly high satisfaction with the various aspects of teaching, but less so with research,” Trower said. “Institutions may wish to closely examine the research expectations and requirements, especially since junior faculty have an overloaded plate, the lead times on publishing are longer, and the competition for large grants is becoming more heated.”

A section examining numerous aspects of the climate, culture, and collegiality of the workplace revealed differences of opinion between male faculty members and their female counterparts and between white faculty and faculty of color. For example, with the exception of their level of satisfaction regarding personal and professional interaction with other junior faculty colleagues, female faculty members felt less satisfied than males with all of the other key climate variables. Without exception, faculty of color gave all climate aspects lower marks than did their white counterparts.

“We see female faculty and faculty of color expressing significantly less satisfaction in regards to how well they ‘fit,’” said Trower. “Issues of inequity, in regards to how junior faculty members are treated within each department and how immediate supervisors evaluate their work, seem to be contributing to this problem. Without changes aimed at correcting these feelings of dissatisfaction, it is likely that colleges will continue to struggle to retain men and women of color in all disciplines and white women in fields in which they have been historically under-represented, like science and engineering.”

Despite the concerns of female faculty about climate, the COACHE study found that male and female junior faculty members were equally likely to say that they would accept their current position if they “had to do it over again.” Still, faculty of color were less likely to say so by a significant margin, suggesting that the “pipeline” issues for people of color in the academy extend into the tenure-track. Ultimately, the COACHE data shows, female faculty and faculty of color rated their institutions less positively as places for junior faculty to work.

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


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Key Findings: Tenure-Track Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey (2007)

Tenure-Track Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey: Highlights Report (2007)