Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: The Great Faculty Disengagement, by Kevin R. McClure (North Carolina) & Alisa Hicklin Fryar (Oklahoma):
Faculty members aren’t leaving in droves, but they are increasingly pulling away.
As many observers have pointed out, the “Great Resignation” doesn’t perfectly capture what’s happening in the U.S. labor market. Data suggest many people, especially those with jobs in fields like hospitality, aren’t quitting the work force but rather jumping to better opportunities.
In much the same way, the Great Resignation doesn’t perfectly capture what’s happening on college campuses. Faculty members, as unhappy as many of them are, are largely staying put. What has changed is how they approach their jobs. ...
[M]ost faculty members aren’t making big job moves. For them, the Great Resignation looks different. We would describe it as disengagement. They are withdrawing from certain aspects of the job or, on a more emotional level, from the institution itself. Faculty members are not walking away in droves, but they are waving goodbye to norms and systems that prevailed in the past. They are still teaching their courses, supporting students, and trying to keep up with basic tasks. But connections to the institution have been frayed. The work is getting done, but there isn’t much spark to it.
In response to our Twitter thread, people said they were doing what they must, but nothing extra. They said they used to be a “rah-rah team player,” but not anymore. They used to feel strong ties to their institution, but they have since felt so undervalued that they’re cutting back. One response that especially stood out to us: “Faculty might not be quitting, but they’ve left the building — sometimes departure is a state of mind.”
It’s important to note that disengagement doesn’t suggest laziness or that faculty members are necessarily shirking their core responsibilities. We know — on a deep, personal level — that many faculty members are working very hard. Doing the bare minimum in a global pandemic is sometimes a herculean effort. In some ways, disengaging is a perfectly rational response if your employer signals through their words and actions that your engagement isn’t welcome. Many faculty members are being asked to do their jobs in a way that puts their safety at risk, and when they raise concerns, they are ignored and invalidated. It’s hard to bounce back from that.