Paul L. Caron

Monday, January 9, 2023

What Is Behind Growing Faculty Dissatisfaction?

Inside Higher Ed, Avoiding ‘The Big Quit’ in the New Year:

Colleges and universities saw greater numbers of departures last year. In Inside Higher Ed’s 2022 Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers, 79 percent of provosts observed that their faculty members were leaving a somewhat higher to significantly higher rates in comparison to past data trends. ... The reasons cited for the departures include burnout, low compensation, lack of remote or hybrid work options, and recent racial and political unrest—which places pressure on workplace relationships and complicates people’s sense of belonging.

Maria LaMonaca Wisdom (Duke) has followed up on her Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed on The Cost Of Academe’s Fixation On Productivity with Faculty Job Dissatisfaction Isn’t About ‘Burnout’:

I’ve followed the conversation about faculty burnout in the pandemic era and read the firsthand accounts. But more and more, I’ve been questioning whether that word accurately conveys how most academics feel now.

Over the past six months, as director of faculty mentoring and coaching at Duke University, I’ve worked with about 50 academics in one-on-one and group sessions. They are early and midcareer faculty members in positions that run the gamut (tenure track, tenured, full-time nontenure track). Obviously they have come to me for career guidance.

Yet I don’t recall a single one of them using the term “burnout” to describe their feelings about faculty work. The three main sentiments I have heard:

  • “Not enough hours in the day.” A lot of faculty members are concerned about time management, prioritization, and work-life balance.
  • “Something’s been lost since the pandemic.” Some feel a vague sense that something important has gone missing in day-to-day academic life. One person sought to reclaim “more ease,” another sought “more joy,” and yet another wanted to be more “lighthearted.”
  • “I want my work to have more of an impact on people.” If I could make a word cloud of all the terms and phrases uttered in my 2022 coaching conversations, “impact” would be the most repeated. ...

The faculty members I coach face very real challenges in terms of workload, balance, and professional satisfaction. It’s just that “burnout” isn’t their issue. And I would venture that many, if not most, academics would agree. ...

What if we shifted the conversation away from burnout and focused instead on “impact” — specifically, on how to help faculty members see how effective their work is in all its forms? Wouldn’t a focus on impact help academics feel more job satisfaction and more control over their careers, especially in stressful times? After all, burnout is something that happens to us; impact is something we generate.

Narrowly defined, “impact” is tangible proof of a professor’s influence on a discipline, and it is traditionally measured by publications and citations. Across higher education, we’ve seen a recent shift to (a) broaden the definition to include teaching, mentoring, and service and to (b) adopt new ways to measure the reach of faculty work (such as “alt-metrics”).

Joshua Doležal (Former Tenured Professor, Central College) has followed up on his Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed on The Big Quit: Even Tenure-Line Professors Are Leaving Academe. 'Why Would I Want To Improve Faculty Morale? I Want These People To Leave.' with Younger Faculty Are Leaning Out. Is That a Bad Things?:

There are plenty of reasons to worry about the future of academe. Paul Musgrave, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, captures many of them in an essay titled “The Season of Our Professorial Discontent.” He imagines a prolonged state of “Eternal Covid” in which he spends “decades delivering indifferent lectures to indifferent classes as the price of submitting little-read articles to niche journals.” If he can’t kindle the same enthusiasm in students that he brings to his teaching, Musgrave fears he will become “just a dispenser of grades.”

Indeed, the drop in student performance during the pandemic’s Zoom era has only continued after the return to in-person teaching. Faculty members often feel pressure from administrators to lower expectations for students who are struggling to meet deadlines and sometimes skipping class altogether. Earlier this year, New York University fired Maitland Jones Jr., a respected researcher and teacher, in part because students had filed a petition protesting the rigor of his organic-chemistry course. The story resonated nationally because many faculty members feel similarly trapped between disengaged students and provosts preoccupied with retention. ...

Paul Musgrave concluded his essay on professorial discontent on a sobering note: “Each semester, I end my classes with an exhortation to students to take what they learned in the course and use it to be more active, creative, and engaged in their lives. This time, as I delivered the lines to an audience of 30 in a course with 200 students enrolled, I was wondering whether I wanted to give a lecture ever again.” I thought of those lines in late November, when I stumbled onto a Twitter thread by Peter Olusoga, a senior lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, in England. Olusoga posted three snapshots of an empty classroom along with a frustrated-looking selfie, presumably after none of his students attended that day’s lecture. “I think it’s important to ask why this is happening,” he wrote. “There was a real clamour from students for face-to-face teaching after 18 months of lock-down, zoom teaching, but they just aren’t showing up.”

I don’t know if any amount of boundary setting will help professors face another 20 or 30 years of that.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink