THE BCAAUP FACULTY SURVEY
Professors Judith Wilt and Paul Gray
During the fall semester the Boston College Chapter of the AAUP undertook a survey of all faculty in all schools in order to obtain a baseline measure of opinion concerning the faculty’s role in university affairs. The quantitative (closed-ended) questions were divided into six sections, including Governance and Administration, the Faculty Handbook, Physical Environment, Community, and Professional Responsibilities and Compensation. Item 7 on the survey opened a blank window to invite faculty to “comment on any specific concerns or elaborate on any responses” to the strongly agree/disagree questions earlier listed in categories 2-6.
This survey summary is divided into three parts: 1) representativeness of the survey; 2) findings; and 3) implications going forward.
As of 2009-2010 there were approximately 862 full-time and part-time faculty at Boston College; of this total. 84% were full-time and 16% part-time. The overall response rate for this survey was 31%, a robust figure for surveys of this type. Part-time faculty were only slightly over-represented among the respondents; they comprised 21% of those answering the survey as compared to 16% of the faculty at-large. Assistant Professors and Instructors comprise about the same proportion of the total number of full-time faculty (27%) as compared to the total of respondents for this survey.
We also looked carefully at the possibility of a “self-selection bias” in the survey results. That is, do we have any reason to believe that the respondents differ in any significant way from those who did not respond? The answer patterns summarized in the findings from the quantitative questions indicate that response bias was negligible. The survey did not appeal only to those faculty with complaints! Respondents provided an informed, balanced, and nuanced view of the faculty’s role in university affairs.
It is more difficult to assess the open-ended responses because not all respondents gave them. Given the terms of the question it is not surprising that “concerns” make up the bulk of responses. Though occasional comments suggest that an individual faculty member is satisfied (“I love my job”) with the situation or with key aspects of the situation (“I am very happy…in terms of the quality of students, the freedom to design courses, the colleagues in my program…”), there is usually a “but” in the longer comments. Several of the comments applaud the BC AAUP for distributing the survey (“thanks for asking”) and hope it becomes a regular part of university life (“Will you survey…on a regular basis and expand the survey…?)
Many of the open-ended answers are summarized below, following the quantitative findings. They indicate an intensity of feeling as well as the sentiments underlying the closed-ended responses.
We asked a series of closed-ended questions concerning faculty satisfaction with participation in decision-making. There was a clear pattern in the responses. Faculty are most satisfied with decision-making in their departments. Only 31% of those responding indicated dissatisfaction with their decision-making role at the department level. At the school level, 69% expressed dissatisfaction with their role in decision-making. At the university-wide level 77% of those responding expressed dissatisfaction.
We also asked about faculty satisfaction with the leadership of academic administrators at the school and department levels. At the school level, respondents were almost equally divided; about 52% expressed some dissatisfaction. At the department level, only 27% of those responding said that they were dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied.
We next asked a series of questions concerning the Faculty Handbook. A solid majority of faculty responding (62%) indicated that they were familiar or very familiar with the University By-Laws and Statutes. Over 70% of respondents said that they were aware that the faculty rights and duties listed in the on-line Faculty Handbook have legal status. Faculty did overwhelmingly agree (95% of respondents) that an elected faculty committee “should explain, evaluate, and publicize” all proposed changes to the Faculty Handbook prior to posting.
We asked about classroom facilities. Most faculty responding consider this attribute of the BC environment to be a strength. Almost 65% agreed or strongly agreed that “classroom facilities are well suited” to their teaching style and strategies.
We next inquired about collaboration across disciplines within the university. Over 50% of faculty did not believe that there were “sufficient opportunities to interact and collaborate with colleagues across disciplines.” An even greater proportion of responding faculty (64%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that the university facilitates collaboration across disciplines.
Finally, faculty were asked to respond to several items concerning the work they do and compensation. Only about half (51%) reported that they were satisfied with the compensation they were receiving. A higher percentage (62%) said they were satisfied with the way their own performance was measured. However, 58% of respondents do not believe that they are being fairly compensated for their additional administrative and advising responsibilities. Most faculty are satisfied with course scheduling and teaching load policies. Eighty-two percent report that they have input concerning teaching times and schedules; 73% say that are satisfied or very satisfied with the course load policy in their school or department; 53% indicate that faculty have input in determining the course load policy in their school and department.
The qualitative comments indicated dissatisfaction about both the decision making process and the nature of some recent trends and decisions at the university level. The largest number of comments reflect concern about expanding administrative positions and the concentration of decision-making power at the top level. The other two most frequently mentioned areas of concern – fairness and flexibility in compensation, and transparency in processes from consultation to grievance to tenure and promotion – seem also to reflect an anxiety about a possible “disconnect” between the faculty and the Provost and President, and/or a move from a remembered more collaborative “Jesuit” model to a “business model” of university management.
The metaphor of “disconnect” in one comment is repeated in other forms in other comments: the sense that university committees and other consultation mechanisms are more “window dressing” (three different comments) than reality, the sense that efforts on the administration’s part towards efficiency or consistency – especially regarding the increase of class sizes – are in fact “undercutting other administration efforts to enhance educational and university life,” the sense that “increased demands for accountability from faculty” are not matched by accountability and receptivity from the top administrative offices. Many comments mention the desire for “a centralized faculty senate as a focus for faculty participation in policy-making discussions”; one respondent, who feels that “the administration generally does a reasonably good job” of attending to university policy matters, nevertheless suggests that “the lack of a strong faculty senate…is a potential danger” for when something truly critical may come up. There are several references to “sinking morale” and isolation in “silos” in the comments on this subject.
The compensation issue is a source of unease for many. Several respondents who self identify as full time adjunct or part time faculty point to the recent expansion of the former category and shrinking of the latter to a two course per semester maximum as requiring much more thought. Part time faculty feel the financial hardship of this shrinking, and full time adjuncts believe that inequities exist in this category in compensation, course loads, and especially in the role that “service” (advising, supervision of one kind or another) can or should play, and the degree to which adjunct faculty (full or part time) can participate in policy making about their own positions or about university life in general. One respondent proposes that reduction in teaching responsibilities is not the only, or the best, form of “compensation” for administrative service or even research productivity – financial compensation or increased research resources or travel funding might be better. And several faculty point to the gap between faculty pay and Boston cost of living/ rate of inflation.
Transparency and collegiality in process are subjects for much comment in many directions: long-range planning reports on department or school or committee level that vanish in the higher levels of administration; Catholic mission as it affects decision making; reasons for changes in the ‘reporting’ structures between Student Development units and the upper administration; reasons for the election or selection of chairs of departments; the lack of power of faculty committees on Compensation and on Grievances.
Finally, faculty responded concerning the physical environment of the university. Comments range from the micro-climate (“my office windows leak,” “I have no heat”) to continuing macro-needs – more space, especially for graduate student activities and research, and for those informal meetings between faculty and students, faculty and administrators, and faculty with faculty, which would enhance a collegiality attenuated by multi-tasking in the computer age.
3) Implications Going Forward.
It is our hope that the results of this survey may serve as a baseline from which to gauge changes in faculty opinion in response to initiatives from both the BC administration and the faculty going forward. However, even these preliminary results suggest some areas for examination and action.
- Faculty are clearly most satisfied with their role in decision-making, and with academic administrative leadership, in the areas closest to where they work. In decision-making, departments receive relatively high marks compared to the school and university-wide levels. At the university level a sizable majority of faculty expressed concern over their role in decision-making. What steps can be taken at both the school and university-wide levels, to ensure that faculty who serve on existing committees are perceived as being representative of faculty sentiment? What additional opportunities for faculty input in decision-making can be created? How can leaders at all levels develop patterns of consistent accountability?
- The most significant finding concerning the Faculty Handbook was the almost universal consensus that an elected faculty committee should explain, evaluate, and publicize all proposed changes to the Faculty Handbook prior to posting. Faculty leadership should collaborate with the administration to plan this initiative.
- Although a clear majority of faculty agreed that “classroom facilities are well suited” to their teaching style and strategies, a sizable minority (about 35%) did not agree. A case can be made that this figure is too high. Faculty deserve an appropriate classroom environment in order to maximize learning and to provide educational value to students. New building construction and planning of renovations are now underway. Satisfying the classroom needs of all faculty is a worthy goal and target for future planning.
- A significant portion of the faculty clearly believes that there is not enough opportunity for collaboration across disciplinary lines and that the administration is not doing enough to foster such collaboration. These opinions reflect the dynamic and changing nature of scholarship and the need for cross-disciplinary approaches that inform public policy and enrich academic discourse in the 21st century. What can be done to encourage collaboration between departments and schools and to break down the academic silos that are rapidly disintegrating in organizations outside of academe?
- The fact that almost half of respondents reported that they were not satisfied with the compensation they were receiving, and that 58% do not believe that they are being fairly compensated for their additional administrative and advising responsibilities., is cause for concern, and points to the need for a reconstituted and revitalized Budget Committee.
Respectfully submitted to BCAAUP: Professors Paul S. Gray and Judith Wilt
 Source: BC Factbook, 2009-2010