Faculty climate survey shows satisfaction among many but room for improvement

March 30, 2017 By Käri Knutson

Faculty at UW–Madison report a positive work climate overall, according to a newly released survey conducted in spring 2016. In an improvement from a similar survey done in 2012, LGBT faculty rate the climate as positively as their straight peers, but gaps persist for faculty of color and women.

The survey, conducted by the UW’s Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI), went to all tenured and tenure-track faculty with 1,285 responding — a response rate of 58.6 percent. Similar surveys have been done four times since 2003.

The institute began the Study of Faculty Worklife survey in 2002 to create a baseline of climate measures for faculty and track change over time. The project’s primary goal was to improve workplace climate for women faculty in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but the survey was designed to make note of group differences of all kinds, says Jennifer Sheridan, executive and research director at WISELI.

“Tracking climate over time allows us to see what is improving and what is not; which groups are feeling isolated or less satisfied; which programs are working and which are not,” Sheridan says.

The project’s primary goal was to improve workplace climate for women faculty in STEM fields, but the survey was designed to make note of group differences of all kinds.

Four major areas were surveyed: departmental climate, harassment, faculty morale and satisfaction.

Areas that saw improvement compared to 2012 were the feelings of respect from students, staff and colleagues. Declines included faculty of color reporting an increase in the feeling they must work harder to be seen as legitimate scholars and women reporting that they do not feel that meetings allow all participants to share views.

Satisfaction with research resources and salary has generally increased while overall job satisfaction has decreased. Women, faculty of color, faculty with disabilities, arts and humanities faculty and faculty who feel their research is outside the mainstream of their departments are less satisfied.

Budget cuts were the biggest concern for faculty members in terms of morale and reasons to leave. Respondents said they found the budget concerns more troubling than changes to tenure. Overall, 67 percent said they had been approached by another university or headhunter about leaving.

This past fall, UW–Madison announced the launch of compensation programs for faculty and staff to recognize outstanding performance, address market issues with peer institutions, and alleviate inequities. The university also invested $23.6 million last year on retention packages for faculty and succeeded in retaining 77 percent of those who had outside offers. Of that funding, $1.86 million was for salary adjustments; the remainder was research support.

“This survey allows those faculty who feel marginalized to voice their frustration in the hopes that we can improve things.”

Jennifer Sheridan

“Most faculty who respond seem very happy to be here, but the pervasive gaps between majority and minority groups (defined in a number of ways — gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, disability, etc.) are a continuing problem. This survey allows those faculty who feel marginalized to voice their frustration in the hopes that we can improve things,” Sheridan says. “It is slow, and we have not solved everything. But because we have some consistent measurement, we can demonstrate where progress is being made.”

For example, responses to items about faculty promotional processes led to improved mentoring for junior faculty.

And WISELI used the data from the survey to show that the institute’s “Breaking the Bias Habit” workshop was associated with improved climate in the departments receiving the workshop, compared to the control departments. According to Sheridan, “Faculty in departments that received the workshop reported significantly better ‘fit,’ reported that their colleagues valued their research and scholarship more, and felt more comfortable raising personal and family responsibilities when scheduling department obligations.”

“The WISELI survey is a great resource to help us identify which groups of faculty are satisfied with aspects of their work here and what areas we can improve, such as compensation, work-life integration, respect and understanding of the nature of their teaching and research work,” says Michael Bernard-Donals, vice provost for faculty and staff.

“We can then provide professional development and other resources to where it will be most beneficial. The data in the survey also helps to identify the obstacles to retaining faculty once they’re hired, which in turn allows us to address them, whether it’s about compensation, or about support for teaching and research, or about the climate and morale in departments or in the university more broadly.”

“The WISELI survey is a great resource to help us identify which groups of faculty are satisfied with aspects of their work here and what areas we can improve …”

Michael Bernard-Donals

Addressing climate is an ongoing effort, including through the Diversity Framework, WISELI workshops for department chairs, and WISELI workshops for members of faculty search committees.

In 2016, a baseline for reports of hostile and intimidating behavior was measured. It will be used to help see if new policies and procedures to combat this behavior are effective when the next survey is done.

Sheridan is available to visit departments across campus to discuss the results and how the campuswide patterns uncovered in the survey might be playing out in specific units.

“The survey helps open up conversation about climate and how to improve it,” she says.