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Faculty life panel encouraged by some survey findings, troubled by others

The second quality-of-life survey of Stanford faculty reveals reasons for optimism and causes for concern. Faculty members are invited to discuss the findings on March 2.

BY KATHLEEN J. SULLIVAN

Among faculty, satisfaction levels were generally high at the university and across the schools in 2008, according to a new report by Stanford's Panel on Faculty Equity and Quality of Life. 

The percentage of faculty who were "very satisfied" at Stanford rose to 45 percent in 2008, compared with 24 percent in 2003, the report said.

The quality of life for female professors and faculty of color also improved during that time period by many measures, including work climate, perceived workload and perceived opportunities for advancement, according to the 100-page report.

"Despite such improvement, significant gender and race/ethnic differences persist along several important dimensions, including perceptions of unit and colleague support, sense of inclusion, and the perception of having to work harder to be perceived as a legitimate scholar," the panel warned in Report on the Quality of Life of Stanford Faculty, which was released in January. 

Overall, the greatest source of stress outside of work is the high cost of living in the Bay Area; childcare is the greatest source of stress for families with young children.

Those were some of the major findings of the report, which is based on responses to an online survey conducted in late 2008. The survey was distributed to faculty in all seven schools and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

The survey addressed six aspects of faculty life: satisfaction, workload, climate of academic unit, hiring/retention, life outside the institution and demographics.

Research continues

Shelley Correll, associate professor of sociology and chair of the panel, said the 10-member group is preparing tailored reports and recommendations for each school based on the data gathered in the survey.

She said the panel also is conducting follow-up research projects to better understand some of the findings, including differences identified in collegial support.

"With the exception of the Law School, female faculty report lower collegial support among the various schools and divisions, with significant gender differences in the Graduate School of Business, H&S Social Sciences, and Medicine-Clinical Sciences," the report said. "This difference is consistent across ranks. Underrepresented minority assistant professors (but not underrepresented minority associate or full professors) report significantly lower colleague support than both Asian and white assistant professors."

Correll said those findings were a cause for concern.

"We will be doing in-depth interviews with faculty to really probe into what makes a department collegial," she said. "We'll be looking at why we obtained those results and what we can do to improve the situation."

The panel, along with the Faculty Women's Forum, will host an open faculty discussion of the report from noon to 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 2, in the Cypress Room at Tresidder Memorial Union.

Satisfaction levels among Stanford faculty

The 100-page report contains dozens of charts that provide detailed breakdowns of faculty responses. The section on overall satisfaction, for instance, includes charts that analyze responses ranked on a scale from "very dissatisfied" to "very satisfied"; ranked by school, by school and gender, by rank and gender, by race/ethnicity and gender; and compared with faculty at seven private research universities.

The report analyzed responses by gender and by race/ethnicity, looking at white, Asian/Pacific Islander and underrepresented minority faculty (blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans).

The survey was distributed to 1,880 faculty.

"About two-thirds of the Stanford faculty (64 percent) responded to the survey; over half (56 percent) of the faculty completed the entire questionnaire," the report said. "The respondents were representative of the university population across faculty gender, race/ethnicity and rank."

All told, 80 percent of faculty respondents said they were "very satisfied" and "somewhat satisfied" at Stanford in 2008, compared with 68 percent in 2003.

Correll said that the increase in overall satisfaction is likely due to many factors, including the creation of several new programs and resources for recruiting and retaining an excellent and diverse faculty. She also credited strong leadership from the president and provost, as well as within the schools.

"It suggests that not only can leadership on campus make a difference, but that they want to make a difference," she said.

The Law School had the highest percentage of professors – 84 percent – who said they were "very satisfied" working on the Farm in 2008, the report said.

The School of Education came in second (55 percent were "very satisfied") and the Social Sciences division of the School of Humanities and Sciences came in third (52 percent). Among the other schools and divisions, the percentage of "very satisfied" faculty ranged from 38 percent (Medicine-Clinical Sciences) to 47 percent for the Graduate School of Business and the Humanities division in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

According to the report, 72 percent of respondents said they would choose to be a Stanford faculty member again, compared with 63 percent in 2003.

The report also said that the overall satisfaction levels at Stanford are similar, and in some cases higher, than those at seven peer universities.

"For the first time ever, we were able to compare results from our faculty with faculty in our peer institutions, because there is a consortium of universities collecting and sharing those data," Correll said, referring to the Association of American Universities Data Exchange.

Some replies to open-ended questions

The report includes some replies to open-ended questions, such as: If you would like to see improvements in the climate of your academic unit or more generally at Stanford, what remedies or strategies would you suggest?

"Unfortunately, Stanford, especially in my School, is still an old boys club. … I am embarrassed to be a part of this most of the time," wrote a white male engineering professor.

"There are still 'old boy networks' that exclude or marginalize [underrepresented minorities and females] in H&S," wrote a minority female faculty member in the School of Humanities and Sciences. "There seem to be no consequences when they misbehave or exclude women faculty."

"It's really quite lonely around here. … Faculty have voted with their feet," wrote a female Asian/Pacific Islander assistant professor.

"Schools or departments should keep statistics on which faculty are asked (over and over again) to serve on major task forces and the like … and enlist new voices," wrote a white female professor in natural sciences. "There seem to be a handful of H&S faculty who run everything."

Recommendations from the panel

Based on the survey results, the panel has recommended that Stanford:

  • Improve workplace climate by enhancing efforts to diversify departments and leadership positions.
  • Develop more effective ways of assessing and improving workplace climate issues, especially those affecting women and/or faculty of color.
  • Better address the high cost of living through competitive salaries and enhanced housing and dependent care assistance.
  • Continue efforts to enhance options for on-campus daycare and for emergency and back-up dependent care.
  • Increase efforts to assist with the employment of spouses and partners.
  • Continue periodic surveys of the faculty and other research projects to monitor progress over time and to allow for comparisons with peer institutions.