Survey reveals stressors, areas of satisfaction for Stanford faculty

Women and underrepresented minority faculty report higher levels of work-related stress.

In a Faculty Quality of Life Survey conducted in January and February 2019, nearly three-quarters of the faculty (74 percent) rated their overall quality of life at Stanford as “good” or “excellent,” however many reported high levels of stress both in their work and life outside the institution.

Women faculty and underrepresented minority faculty responded less favorably to many of the survey questions, in particular concerning work-related stress. In addition, more than one-third of women faculty and 15 percent of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty reported experiencing microaggressions in the last year.

The survey addressed 10 aspects of faculty life: satisfaction, workload, work-related sources of stress, life events and accommodations, leadership opportunities, department climate, discrimination, sexual harassment, retention and life outside the institution.

“The Faculty Quality of Life Survey is an essential component of the IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in a Learning Environment) initiative that emerged from Stanford’s long-range vision. The responses from the faculty help underscore what we are doing well and where we need to make improvements to foster a thriving diverse, equitable and inclusive campus climate,” said Provost Persis Drell.

Sources of stress

Across all respondents, the greatest sources of stress are related to research and scholarly productivity. More than half of the respondents reported that finding time to do research has resulted in “a lot” or “a great deal” of stress, and 43 percent indicated that securing funding for research has led to “a lot” or “a great deal” of stress.

Outside of work-related issues, the most frequently cited source of stress for faculty is the high cost of living, and in particular, housing costs. Seventeen percent of faculty are likely to leave Stanford within the next three years; the biggest drivers of this are the cost of living, salary levels and stress.

General satisfaction levels

More than 70 percent of faculty report being “mostly satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their department, school and the university. More than 75 percent of faculty agreed that their colleagues value their research/scholarship, the quality of their research is positively affected by interactions with colleagues and their department provides a collegial and supportive environment.

Women faculty

Stanford’s female faculty responded less positively than their male colleagues across all areas addressed in the survey. The greatest differences can be found in concerns related to their scholarship and their experiences with discrimination and harassment.

Key findings:

  • Forty percent of women faculty “somewhat” or “strongly” agree that they have to work harder than their colleagues to be perceived as a legitimate scholar; among male faculty that percentage is 19.
  • Women consistently report higher rates of stress than men. In particular, 59 percent of women report that finding time to do research has been a source of “a lot” or “a great deal” of stress, compared with 47 percent of men. Similarly, 44 percent of women report scholarly productivity has been a source of “a lot” or “a great deal” of stress, compared with 28 percent of men.
  • Thirty-five percent of women report being “mistreated, slighted, insulted, condescended to or ignored” because of their gender, as compared with 1.4 percent of men. Thirty-one percent of women report having experienced a sexist remark, compared with 3 percent of men.

Underrepresented minority faculty

Underrepresented minority (URM) faculty experienced higher levels of work-related stress than their non-URM colleagues. In particular, they find the reappointment, tenure and full professor review and promotion processes to be a greater source of stress than non-URM faculty. For instance, 34 percent of URM faculty found the tenure process to be “a lot” or “a great deal” of stress, compared with 18 percent of non-URM faculty.

In addition, 15 percent of URM faculty respondents reported having experienced in the last year race-based “offensive, objectionable or discriminatory behavior.”

A previous faculty quality of life survey conducted in 2008 did not include questions on discrimination and sexual harassment.

Next steps

“Clearly, we need to address some issues for our female faculty and our underrepresented minority faculty,” Drell said. “While we are certainly looking at the data from an institutional view, much of this new information will be used at the school level to drive policy change based on the distinct needs of the faculty within schools and departments.”

Drell also pointed to the work of the Affordability Task Force, which is tackling some of the issues raised by faculty in this survey. In December, the task force is expected to deliver recommendations to the Executive Cabinet based on its findings from a survey conducted earlier in the year.

Survey development and participation

The Faculty Quality of Life Survey was administered by the office of Institutional Research and Decision Support (IRDS) in conjunction with the offices of the Provost and the Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity. An advisory committee, composed of faculty from the schools and chaired by Vice Provost for Diversity & Engagement Matt Snipp, provided input and oversight of the survey.

Sixty-one percent of the professoriate (1,381 individuals) completed the survey. The schools with the highest participation rates were the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (87 percent), Stanford Law School (80 percent) and the Graduate School of Education (75 percent).

More information is available on the Faculty Quality of Life Survey 2019 website.