Racial Gaps in Faculty Job Satisfaction

Key study for first time features ethnic breakdowns, finding that white and Latino professors hold similar views but that some minority groups are less happy.
December 5, 2008

Surveys by COACHE -- the acronym for the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education -- have played a key role in recent years in drawing attention to the frustrations and hopes of young faculty members. The studies have been influential in campus discussions about the need for more clarity about tenure expectations or the importance of family-friendly policies.

While the studies have in some cases had data for minority and white junior professors, they have not featured breakdowns among racial and ethnic groups. A new analysis -- released Thursday -- features breakdowns by ethnic and racial groups, with some notable findings. Generally, white and Latino faculty members had similar levels of job satisfaction.

But among the 8,500 pre-tenure faculty members interviewed at 96 four-year colleges and universities -- public and private, liberal arts oriented colleges and research universities -- there were gaps among other groups.

Compared to white faculty members, African American, Asian and Native American faculty were less satisfied on a series of questions on climate, culture and collegiality at their institutions. Of the 10 climate measures in the survey, Asians were less satisfied on 6; Native Americans on 5; and African Americans on 4, all by statistically significant margins. These gaps may be particularly important to colleges seeking to diversify their faculties, as a key theme of COACHE reports has been the idea that today's younger generation of professors -- far more than previous generations -- will judge colleges as employers on issues of campus culture and supportive employment policies, not just on prestige or compensation.

At the same time, the new data show that the issues are not identical for all minority groups and that colleges that "lump everyone together" may not be reaching the topics crucial to different populations, said Kiernan Mathews, director of COACHE. "Culture, climate and collegiality remain the key -- and a persistent problem -- not just for minority groups, but for women, too," Matthews said. "And the experiences of individuals in different groups are in fact different."

For black faculty members, for example, job satisfaction levels with regard to work-life balance were similar to those for white faculty members. But they reported lower levels of satisfaction on interactions with tenured and pre-tenure colleagues, with sense of "fit" at their institutions, and with their sense of fair treatment in their departments. African American faculty members are also less likely than their white counterparts to believe that tenure decisions are made primarily on job performance. Cathy Trower, research director of COACHE, said in a statement that these gaps suggest that " African American faculty may be experiencing some lingering aspects of racism -- real or perceived -- as evidenced by their concern with fair treatment and lower satisfaction with the amount of interaction and collaboration with others."

Asian faculty members indicated a different set of issues. Compared to their white counterparts, Asian faculty reported greater clarity about tenure expectations and higher levels of satisfaction on many questions about job satisfaction. But when it comes to questions related to teaching, they were less happy on most questions.

While the number of Native American faculty members in the survey was low, as in the professoriate generally, they were less satisfied than white professors almost across the board. Trower said that these data show a need for sustained attention since "mixing lack of clarity about the tenure process and criteria with dissatisfaction with workplace culture and climate is not a recipe for success.”

Matthews said that based on these results, future research will focus more on the reasons for differing job satisfaction levels by different groups, but that individual campuses may want to consider these findings right now as they consider their own policies and cultures.

Here are some of the key results, in which those surveyed answered on a 5-point scale, with 5 representing either the greatest level of agreement or clarity or satisfaction.

On tenure, professors are more clear on process than standards, women experience less clarity than men on a variety of tenure measures, and minority group responses vary. Men are more confident than women that they know whether or not they will win tenure.

Tenure Standards

  All Men Women White American Indian Asian Black Latino
Clarify of process 3.71 3.75 3.67 3.71 3.42 3.76 3.64 3.69
Clarity of criteria 3.61 3.63 3.59 3.61 3.32 3.64 3.59 3.58
Clarity of standards 3.26 3.29 3.23 3.24 3.08 3.41 3.29 3.33
Clarity on whether or not I will achieve tenure 3.65 3.74 3.54 3.65 3.45 3.68 3.58 3.66
Agreement that tenure decisions are made primarily on performance and not other factors 3.59 3.67 3.50 3.62 3.33 3.68 3.23 3.47

In a series of questions about the nature of their work, faculty members generally said that they were more satisfied with teaching than research, and women were less satisfied than men with how they spend their time and with work hours.

Satisfaction With Nature of Academic Work

  All Men Women White American Indian Asian Black Latino
Satisfaction with way time is spent 3.75 3.83 3.66 3.74 3.71 3.82 3.79 3.77
Satisfaction with work hours 3.38 3.54 3.20 3.34 3.50 3.56 3.59 3.45
Satisfaction with teaching (composite) 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.02 3.94 3.87 4.06 4.01
Satisfaction with research (composite) 3.42 3.53 3.28 3.43 3.21 3.46 3.31 3.34

On work-life balance, as in previous surveys, the striking gaps are between men and women, with men generally more satisfied than women with various measures. While gender gaps remain, professors are generally more satisfied by the efforts of their colleagues on these issues than those of their institutions.

Work-Life Balance Policies

  Men Women
Institution does what it can to make having children
and the tenure track compatible
3.03 2.81
Institution does what it can to make raising children
and the tenure track compatible
2.91 2.57
Departmental colleagues do what they can to make
having children and the tenure track compatible
3.56 3.44
Departmental colleagues do what they can to make
raising children and the tenure track compatible
3.54 3.37
Colleagues are respectful of my efforts to balance
work and home responsibilities
3.96 3.64

On broad questions related to culture and collegiality, in many categories male and white professors are more satisfied than others are.

Culture and Collegiality

  All Men Women White American Indian Asian Black Latino
Fairness with which supervisor evaluates work 4.02 4.06 3.97 4.04 3.94 3.92 3.96 4.05
Interest tenured faculty take in your professional development 3.53 3.56 3.50 3.54 3.14 3.56 3.45 3.49
Opportunities to collaborate with tenured faculty 3.35 3.45 3.22 3.36 2.85 3.38 3.17 3.30
How well you fit in the department 3.81 3.84 3.76 3.84 3.47 3.73 3.55 3.83
Feeling that department treats pre-tenure faculty fairly compared to one another 3.79 3.90 3.66 3.81 3.33 3.83 3.60 3.75

The above results translate indirectly into broad satisfaction figures from varying groups. Generally, across racial and gender groups, departments are viewed more favorably than are institutions.

Global Satisfaction

  All Men Women White American Indian Asian Black Latino
Satisfaction with department as a place to work 3.89 3.92 3.84 3.91 3.69 3.85 3.76 3.89
Satisfaction with institution as a place to work 3.67 3.68 3.65 3.67 3.47 3.65 3.70 3.69
Agreement that "if I could do it all over, I would work at this institution" 4.06 4.07 4.05 4.10 3.97 3.87 3.98 4.05
Rating of institution as a place for pre-tenure professors to work 3.77 3.81 3.72 3.78 3.45 3.78 3.73 3.74


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