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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Sept. 21, 2007

Survey shows most junior faculty would do it again

by Erin Rosacker

If you had to do it over again, would you make the same decision? Yes, said 76 percent of Iowa State's tenure-eligible faculty when asked if they would again accept their current positions. This was one of 113 questions asked in an online job satisfaction survey given to ISU's junior faculty in the fall of 2005.

These young scholars were polled on five categories and compared to national and peer groups. Cathy Trower, co-principal investigator of Harvard University's Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), presented the survey results publicly Sept. 17.

Associate provost Susan Carlson said participation in the survey is a tool "to help us advance our conversations about making Iowa State a great place to learn and work - priority five of the strategic plan."

The five categories (tenure process; nature of work; policies and practices; climate, culture and collegiality; and global satisfaction) were rated on a five-point scale. Results were broken down by gender and race, and could be further analyzed by academic area. The national comparison included data collected from the 50 or so four-year colleges and universities that participated in 2005. For ISU's peer comparisons, COACHE administrators used data from five schools: North Carolina State University, Ohio State University, University of Arizona, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and University of Minnesota (Minneapolis).

In a general comparison to peers, the report indicated that junior faculty rated ISU highest in policies and global satisfaction and lowest in climate, culture and collegiality, as well as tenure processes. The survey drew a 63 percent (194 of 306) response rate at ISU. Respondents included 124 males and 70 females.

"I think the important thing is you have a baseline now and we can talk about it, we have some context," Trower said. "Regardless of how you compare to your peers - although that's important - we know where we might want to act, what we might want to act on."

Nature of work

When asked about satisfaction with the nature of their work, the COACHE report noted that even some of ISU's highest rated responses placed in a low percentile nationally.

Respondents from the biological sciences expressed higher satisfaction rates than their campus peers, and ISU's faculty of color were more satisfied than white faculty, across the board.

Policies and practices

Faculty were asked about both the importance and the effectiveness of policies and practices. When rating policies most important to their success, ISU faculty topped the list with upper limits on teaching obligations, travel funds and informal mentoring. The travel funds policy was the only one that did not also rank among the top three most effective policies.

Female faculty listed the stop-the-tenure-clock policy as the most effective. Male faculty topped their "effectiveness" list with informal mentoring.

Despite overall high ratings in policies and practices, the report recommended ISU immediately consider improving:

  • Placement for spouse/partner
  • Assistance in finding and writing grant proposals
  • Providing research leave

Climate, culture and collegiality

On campus, biological sciences faculty submitted the highest satisfaction in statements of climate, culture and collegiality, while business faculty responses were generally lowest.

The lowest-ranked climate factor was "feeling of unity and cohesion among faculty in your department." The highest ranked statement was "fairness of your immediate supervisor's evaluation of your work," but the report noted that both white faculty and faculty of color were "significantly" less satisfied with this than their peers at other universities.

Global satisfaction

When asked what was best about working at ISU, quality of colleagues and cost of living made the top four among all subgroups. Geographic location was listed in the top four among males, females and white faculty, but not faculty of color. Ironically, geographic location also was among the top four worst things about working at ISU for each subgroup, along with lack of diversity. Location also served as the top reason faculty would stay for less than five years.

Write-in comments for worst aspects of working at ISU included: lack of space; lack of support, respect for, and emphasis placed on the humanities; lack of tuition assistance for dependent children; and lack of leadership from the senior faculty leading to confusion regarding teaching and extension activities.

With an assumption of gaining tenure, 40 percent of junior faculty anticipated remaining at ISU for the foreseeable future. The report pointed to a significant gap on this response between white faculty (43 percent) and faculty of color (28 percent). Sixteen percent of all respondents said they would stay for the rest of their career and 22 percent indicated they would stay five years or less.


"Regardless of how you compare to your peers - although that's important - we know where we might want to act, what we might want to act on."

Cathy Trower, co-principal investigator of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education