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Chief human resources officers overwhelmingly believe their institutions are doing enough to prevent sexual harassment by employees – but are far less confident that higher education in general is doing enough to combat such behavior.

HR directors – especially those at public colleges and universities -- are growing increasingly concerned about faculty members working well past traditional retirement age, leaving little flexibility for their institutions to hire a new generation of professors.

And while half of HR officers say their institutions fairly compensate adjunct faculty members, fewer strongly agree that that’s the case than was true last year, and the proportion of public university HR directors who say their institutions offer appropriate job security and due process protections for part-time instructors had tumbled from a year ago.

Inside Higher Ed's 2014 Survey of College and University Human Resources Officers was conducted in conjunction with researchers from Gallup. 

Inside Higher Ed regularly surveys key higher ed professionals on a range of topics. A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

On Oct. 13, Inside Higher Ed Editors Doug Lederman and Scott Jaschik will conduct a free webinar analyzing the survey's findings and answering readers' questions. To register for the webinar, please click here.

The survey was made possible in part by financial support from SkillSurvey and Workday.

Those are among the leading findings of Inside Higher Ed’s 2014 Survey of College and University Human Resources Officers, published today in conjunction with the annual meeting of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

The survey, conducted by Gallup in August 2014, presents the views of campus chief human resources officers on a range of timely topics, including retirement, hiring and training practices, and social media policies. The online survey was completed by a total of 330 college and university HR leaders. A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

Treatment of Adjunct Faculty

The last year has seen a significant upturn in political and other activity surrounding adjunct faculty members, with increased attention to the working conditions of non-tenured instructors driving intensified unionization efforts in numerous cities and drawing scrutiny from Democratic members of Congress.

Human resources directors are only partially responsible for their institutions' policies on adjunct professors, as academic affairs units and individual departments also play a role, not to mention senior administrators who expect departments to staff certain numbers of sections with declining tenure-track positions. But the survey solicited HR officers' views on a range of issues related to the compensation and treatment of the non-tenured -- and their answers suggest that the attention of the past year has more campus officials questioning the fairness of their policies.

Fifty-one percent of HR directors responding to the survey agreed that their institution "fairly compensates' adjunct faculty members, and 38 percent said they provide adjuncts with an "appropriate" benefits package. Those are identical to the 2013 survey proportions.

But in the 2013 survey, 24 percent "strongly agreed" that they provided fair compensation, and 27 percent agreed. This year, only 20 percent strongly agreed and 31 percent agreed. And at public universities, the proportion "strongly" agreeing dropped to 21 percent this year from 31 percent in 2013.

The change was even more significant when HR directors were asked whether their institutions have "appropriate job security and due process protections" for adjunct instructors. Last year, 45 percent of chief HR officers agreed that they did so; this year, the percentage dropped to 37 percent. The drops are even sharper among public university HR officers, as seen in the table below.

Proportion of Chief HR Officers Who "Strongly Agree" Their Institution
Provides Appropriate Job Security and Due Process to Adjuncts

Institution Type20132014
Private Nonprofit2413

If many HR directors don't believe their colleges and universities are giving adjunct instructors all they're due, they don't think unionization of those faculty members is the answer. Just 12 percent of all chief HR officers who responded to Inside Higher Ed's survey agree that "unions help adjunct faculty win better wages, benefits and working conditions than they would receive otherwise." More than double that proportion of human resources administrators at public master's and baccalaureate institutions -- 27 percent -- answered that way, and just 7 percent of HR leaders at private nonprofit institutions.

Maria Maisto, president and executive director of the New Faculty Majority Foundation, which advocates for untenured and non-tenure-track instructors, said it was "disappointing" that human resources officers, given their important position within institutions, "seem to be lagging behind the rest of the country in understanding that working conditions for adjuncts are actually not appropriate for what they do and for the value they add to the institution and the service they provide to students."

Maisto speculated that HR officers might be more inclined to view their institutions as lacking in providing job security and due process policies than in providing inadequate pay and benefits because the former "can be more objectively/legally evaluated, while compensation packages are really arbitrary decisions determined by a 'market' that is controlled at the points of both supply and demand by the institutions themselves."

And she described the survey respondents' rejection of unionization as a potential approach as a "somewhat desperate 'give us a chance to prove we can do better' kind of statement rather than a statement based on actual data.... Certainly if institutions actually cared enough to address adjunct working conditions in a serious way up till now, we wouldn't be seeing so much adjunct unionization activity right now."

Faculty Retirement a Worry

For years many observers have been predicting that a flood of retirements would leave campuses without enough experienced administrators and faculty members to keep up with growing enrollments, and stripping away many years of institutional memory.

But with many academics extending their careers in recent years to make up for potential retirement income lost in the stock market downturn, campus officials at public colleges, at least, seem increasingly concerned that not enough professors are retiring.

Asked a series of questions about retirement-related issues that concerned them, 67 percent of respondents -- more than for any other issue -- said they were very or moderately concerned about growing health care costs for retirees, about the same as in 2013.

Next on their list of worries was faculty members working past retirement age, with 64 percent of respondents expressing concern. That was up only slightly from 2013 (62 percent), but a striking difference occurred for HR leaders at public institutions: 62 percent said they were very or moderately concerned this year, up from 55 percent in 2013. (And 31 percent said they were very concerned, compared to 21 percent in 2013.)

Fifty-one percent of public university HR directors said they were very or moderately concerned about a "lack of sufficient retirement incentives for eligible faculty," up from 44 percent in 2013. And again, the change in those saying they were "very concerned" was even sharper, doubling to 25 percent this year from 12 percent in 2013.

Fewer than half of respondents (47 percent) said they were concerned about pension costs for retirees.

HR leaders acknowledge that their own policies might be a contributing factor if employees aren't retiring as the institutions might wish. Only 43 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their institutions offered "sufficient phased retirement options for faculty," and far fewer (22 percent) said the same about phased retirement options for staff members.

But two-thirds of respondents said their institutions offered health plans for retired employees (64 percent) and help for employees to plan for retirement on key issues such as financial planning, pensions, and living arrangements (66 percent).

Social Media Struggles

The list of academics whose statements on Twitter and other social media outlets have gotten them in hot water with their institutions extends far beyond the highly publicized case of Steven Salaita. A journalism professor at the University of Kansas was put on paid leave for tweets about the National Rifle Association and the Navy Yard shootings in D.C. last year, prompting the institution to adopt a social media policy that many instructors thought was too restrictive.

HR directors seem to recognize the potential diceyness of imposing restrictions in this area; they are deeply divided over the wisdom of having such policies.

Thirty-eight percent agreed or strongly agreed that colleges should have explicit policies that limit faculty members' speech on social media related to the workplace, 32 percent disagreed, and 31 percent were undecided.

The answers were roughly similar for a question about whether institutions should have policies limiting social media speech by staff members: 37 percent agreed, 30 percent disagreed, and 33 percent were undecided.

Other Issues

The survey explored a range of other timely and important issues related to higher ed hiring and employment.

Sexual harassment. In the last six months, Inside Higher Ed articles explored findings of pervasive sexual harassment in an academic department at one university, a case in which one university hired a theology professor who had been found likely to have sexually harassed colleagues at another institution, and the internet outing of another alleged harasser (and that's over and above the explosion of attention being paid to sexual assaults among students).

The survey contained a new question this year asking chief HR officers to assess how well their institution (and higher ed in general) does enough to prevent sexual harassment by employees. On this question the HR officers displayed a tendency frequently seen in Inside Higher Ed's surveys of key campus constituencies: believing problems are worse elsewhere than at their own colleges and universities.

Nearly 9 in 10 HR directors said they believed their institution is doing enough to stop employees from engaging in sexual harassment. But only two-thirds said they believed higher education institutions generally are doing enough.

Training of new managers. Higher education is notorious as an industry for not doing a particularly good job preparing the next generation of leaders, which is a problem for an enterprise that is graying significantly. The survey results suggest that colleges and universities may not do very well at training their current managers. Just a quarter of chief HR officers said their institutions provide "an effective onboarding program for new managers," and only 20 percent said they do so for new leaders of academic departments and programs. Both of those percentages are lower than in Inside Higher Ed's 2013 survey.

Employees may not take much advantage of the programs that are offered, respondents said: 22 percent said administrative employees use such training programs "a great deal," and 11 percent said new academic leaders use the development opportunities they offer significantly.

Other survey findings:

  • Eight in 10 chief HR officers (81 percent) said their college or university conducts criminal background checks in the hiring of faculty, and 89 percent said they did so in the hiring of staff members. Most of the rest said they were considering doing so.
  • 62 percent of HR directors said President Obama was right not to exclude religious colleges and universities from his recent executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender.
  • About 6 in 10 respondents said their institution offers paid parental leave for faculty and staff.