Faculty Productivity, Learning to Teach, Student Satisfaction

November 9, 2007

Why are some professors more productive than others? Do female professors have different teaching styles than their male counterparts? Do students experience the research university in different ways based on certain demographic characteristics? These are a few of the questions explored in research presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Here are a few of the findings.

Female Faculty Productivity: Critical Mass of People and Resources

Discussion of why women succeed in the academy -- especially at the research university level -- continues to be important on many campuses. Many have suggested that women are more likely to succeed if they aren't in an extreme minority in their departments. Stephen R. Porter, an associate professor of education at Iowa State University, set out to use national survey data to see if there is a link between the proportion of women in departments and their productivity.

He found that there is a relationship, but it's a simple one -- and is most present when resources aren't.

Porter used data from a national faculty survey by the Higher Education Research Institute, which asked professors a range of questions about their departments, job satisfaction and working conditions. It also asked them about demographics and about their research productivity, as measured in publications. When factoring in various qualities that may affect productivity, Porter found that at research and doctoral universities, there is a strong, positive impact on productivity at departments where faculty members are unhappy with their space for research and lab work (a proxy for resources).

As faculty members become more satisfied with resources, the impact on female representation on female productivity goes down. "When resources are plentiful, the gender composition of a department has little effect," he found.

Men, Women and Learning to Teach

Jokes abound about how men who are lost won't ask for directions, while women will. Stereotype perhaps, but there may be some truth when it comes to learning about teaching techniques.

Carrie B. Myers, assistant professor of education at Montana State University, used survey data at a public university to see how faculty members inform their decisions about teaching techniques. As expected, professors are most likely to rely on colleagues for advice -- and they are less likely to use official teaching resources or consult experts. But female professors are more likely to use these resources than are men.

In addition, the longer female professors teach, the more likely they are to seek expert advice on teaching.

In her paper, Myers writes that this gender gap can be viewed as either a good or not so good thing. From the perspective of the female professors' students, it's positive: They are being taught by professors with more knowledge because of their willingness to seek new ideas and techniques. But as long as higher education remains a culture where some sectors do not value teaching, Myers worries that the extra effort female faculty members put into teaching "many not pay off" for them.

Student Satisfaction Gaps

Considerable scholarship suggests that students benefit from interaction with faculty members beyond just listening to what is said in class. Young K. Kim of Cerritos College and Linda J. Sax of the University of California at Los Angeles set out to see whether there are significant gaps by demographic groups in student satisfaction with faculty interaction. They used surveys of University of California undergraduates and found that at research universities, there are notable gaps.

In terms of race and ethnicity, they found that white students were by far the most satisfied and Asian students the least satisfied.

Measure of Satisfaction Asian Black Latino White
% satisfied with advising by faculty on academic matters 44.5% 51.1% 54.1% 56.9%
% satisfied with access to faculty outside of class 43.5% 52.8% 55.0% 58.9%

The researchers also found a relationship between family income and student satisfaction: The wealthier students are the more likely they are to be satisfied with faculty interactions.

On gender, the survey found women more satisfied then men. And when it comes to "first generation" status, students who are the first in their families to attend college are more satisfied with faculty advising than are others.

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