A small majority of provosts (52 percent) would favor a system of long-term contracts over the current tenure system, according to the 2023 Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers, published today by Inside Higher Ed and Hanover Research.
The survey was answered by 401 provosts (or the equivalent position if a college doesn’t have a provost). The respondents are nationally representative and produce a margin of error of 4.51 percent.
Provosts are deeply committed to academic freedom, but they are open (or 52 percent are) to other ways of protecting it.
On some hot-button issues in academe today, provosts are united in their view: almost all provosts do not believe that graduate students should have the right to unionize; 97 percent see graduate student’s primary role as a student, and their second role is an employee.
More About the Survey
Inside Higher Ed’s 2023 Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers was conducted by Hanover Research. The survey included 401 provosts from public, private nonprofit and for-profit institutions.
Inside Higher Ed regularly surveys key higher ed professionals on a range of topics.
On Wednesday, April 12, at 2 p.m. Eastern, Inside Higher Ed presented a free webcast to discuss the results of the survey. Watch the on-demand video here.
The Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers was made possible in part by support from Wiley, Honorlock, Interfolio, Coursedog and Watermark.
But generally provosts are less united about many of the key questions:
- Most provosts indicate that the academic health of their institution is either good or excellent (84 percent), and that changes made during the pandemic have not negatively impacted the academic quality of their institution.
- More than half of provosts indicate that their institution is “very effective” at providing a quality undergraduate education. However, only 19 percent indicate that their institution very effectively recruits and retains talented faculty.
- Most provosts are satisfied with their institution’s general education program (70 percent), and about two-thirds report that their institution recently evaluated the effectiveness of its general education requirements (66 percent). But fewer than one-third of provosts agree that students at their institution understand the purpose of general education requirements (28 percent).
- A majority of provosts (87 percent) agrees that healthy undergraduate education requires healthy departments in a variety of fields, yet most (75 percent) also agree that politicians and board members are prioritizing STEM and professional programs over those that support general education.
- An overwhelming majority of provosts indicates that financial concerns are prevalent in their institution’s discussions about launching new academic programs. Most agree that most new funds their institutions will have available to spend on academic programs will come from reallocation rather than new revenues (71 percent). Although provosts tend to report that budgets are a concern at their institution, only about 32 percent of provosts report that their institution needs to reduce the number of academic programs it offers by the end of the 2022–23 academic year.
- Most provosts agree that inflation will create real limits on any budget growth.
- More than half of provosts report that they believe faculty members currently feel at least “very engaged” with their work, but they are less likely to report that faculty feel supported by or connected to the administration. In fact, fewer than a quarter of provosts indicate that instructors feel at least “very supported” by (23 percent) and very connected to (12 percent) the administration at their institution.
- Only about a third of provosts agree that their institution has taken concrete steps to address faculty burnout.
- Most provosts agree that their college responds effectively and fairly to allegations of sexual harassment (86 percent). A vast majority of provosts agrees that a finding of sexual harassment by a tenured faculty member should be treated as grounds for dismissal (87 percent). In addition, more than three-quarters agree that colleges should bar all romantic relationships between faculty members and students (77 percent).
- About half of provosts report that their institution finds supporting faculty and staff mental health to be at least very important (49 percent). However, only about one-third of provosts indicate that their institution has formal plans to address the mental health needs of faculty and staff.
- Most provosts indicate that their institution currently offers different types of professional development but is least likely to offer professional development about measuring the effectiveness of digital tools. A vast majority of provosts reports that their institution offers professional development in teaching with technology (90 percent), promoting active teaching techniques (88 percent) and promoting student success (85 percent).
The Future of Tenure
About two-thirds of provosts agree that tenure remains important and viable at their institution. But at the same time, a small majority of provosts would favor another system.
At the same time, more than three-quarters of provosts report that their institution relies significantly on non-tenure-track faculty for instruction, and most do not expect this level of reliance to change in the future: 66 percent expect their institution to be as reliant on non-tenure-track faculty members in the future as it is today. More (27 percent) expect their institution to become more reliant than less reliant (7 percent).
Irene Mulvey, national president of the American Association of University Professors and a professor of mathematics at Fairfield University, said, “It is extremely disappointing to read that most provosts agree that tenure remains important and viable at their institution, and at the same time more than three-quarters of provosts report that their institution relies significantly on non-tenure-track faculty for instruction with no anticipation of this changing. Taken together, these statements are glaringly inconsistent. I would like to see provosts asked about the climate for academic freedom on their campuses and, in particular, how academic freedom is protected for faculty with respect to robust and respected processes of academic due process that accompany tenure.”
The provosts were also asked whether they had considered a number of steps to improve faculty life, especially for adjuncts. The answers showed provosts’ institutions to be divided on what steps to take.
One fear of provosts is that they may lose some professors, either to other institutions or professions. That is always a danger, but this year perhaps more so, with reports of faculty burnout or resignation widespread.
But only about a third of provosts agree that their institution has taken concrete steps to address faculty burnout. Provosts also report that faculty and staff turnover rates differ at their institution; 40 percent indicate that faculty turnover has been at least somewhat higher than in the past, while 71 percent indicate that staff turnover has been at least somewhat higher.
Provosts do agree that the great resignation has hit higher education. But they see staff jobs taking more of a hit than faculty jobs. For faculty jobs, 39 percent said that they agreed that the great resignation had an impact, and 39 percent disagreed.
Mulvey of the AAUP said, “Essentially half of all administrators surveyed report that supporting faculty and staff mental health [is] at least very important, but only one-third of provosts have formal plans to address mental health and burnout. If it’s not being formally addressed, then it is not ‘very important.’ More institutions should be formally addressing the mental health needs of faculty and staff.”
Academic Health of Institutions
Most provosts indicate that the academic health of their institution is either good or excellent, and that changes made during the pandemic have not negatively impacted the academic quality of their institution. No provosts indicate that their academic health is failing, and they are most likely to rate it as good (61 percent).
Although 60 percent of provosts said their institutions were “very effective” at providing a quality undergraduate education, there were areas where the provosts were less certain. Only 19 percent of provosts had the same level of confidence in their ability to recruit and retain faculty members.
The topic of general education was another where the provosts are happy over all, but their detailed answers reveal some uncertainties.
A vast majority agrees that general education is a crucial part of any college degree. More than half of provosts agree that faculty members at their college are enthusiastic about teaching general education courses (58 percent). Only 34 percent of them agree that the general education requirements have become too expansive. However, fewer than one-third agree that students at their institution understand the purpose of general education requirements (29 percent). And provosts do not all agree that their college’s general education program gives students sufficient writing skills.
Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, said via email that she was struck by the contrast in provosts’ support for their general education programs and how few said their students understood them.
“At a time when the college dropout rate stands at 40 percent, with 55 percent of students struggling to pay for their education, there is an equity imperative to ensure that all students understand why they are being asked to take general education courses,” Pasquerella said. “In addition, demonstrating to those outside of the academy the purpose and value of general education for students in all programs is more critical than ever in a climate of legislative overreach where legislators, governors and governing boards are seeking to control general education programs by substituting a curriculum based on political ideology for one grounded in academic expertise.”
The provosts were also asked about liberal arts education. And here the provosts have a positive view of liberal arts education and agree that liberal arts education is central to undergraduate and professional education. A similar share agree that the concept of liberal arts education is not well understood in the U.S. (89 percent). They also said liberal arts colleges (as opposed to the liberal arts) would decline significantly in the next five years, and that politicians, presidents and boards are increasingly “unsympathetic” to liberal arts education.
“Perhaps of greatest concern is the finding that though most provosts have a positive view of a liberal arts education and agree that it is central to undergraduate and professional education,” they feel a liberal arts education “is not well understood in the U.S.,” Pasquerella said. She said the threats against liberal arts education are much more severe than the presidents seem aware of.
Pasquerella said, “Escalating culture wars, fueled by deepening ideological divides and burgeoning levels of polarization and partisanship in the U.S., have included a targeted attack on higher education by those who view college campuses as bastions of liberal progressivism. The result has been an orchestrated campaign leading to educational gag orders restricting discussions of so-called divisive concepts around issues of race, racism, gender, LGBTQ+ identities and reproductive rights … the removal of funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs; efforts to eliminate tenure and terminate tenured professors; legislative overreach into the appointment and removal of campus leaders … the turning of critical race theory into an epithet; and recent proposals to measure the economic value and opportunity costs of academic programs at public colleges that would require state institutions to prioritize graduating students with degrees leading to high-paying jobs.”
She said that “each of these moves constitutes a monumental threat to the distinctively American tradition of liberal education, grounded in the principles of academic freedom, shared governance and the unfettered pursuit of the truth, essential to our nation’s historic mission of educating for democracy. If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past that led to the purging of academics in times of national crisis, college and university leaders at all levels must engage in both individual and collective action, speaking out in support of academic freedom, decrying attempts to control the curriculum and subvert the autonomy of colleges and universities, and resisting efforts to diminish the concept of higher education as a public good.”
Pasquerella added that “Doing so will require speaking across differences to articulate the enduring value of liberal education and making clear what is at stake if we fail to safeguard a system whose strength is derived in part from the fact that what is taught in our classrooms is protected from direct government control and undue political influence.”
The provosts also said that politicians and board members favor STEM and professional programs over the liberal arts and general education. But on the question of eliminating departments that have few majors (something that continues to happen), the provosts are split.
Most provosts anticipate major allocation of funds to STEM fields and professional or pre-professional programs in the next budget year. Additionally, more than half of provosts anticipate major allocation of funds to online programs (55 percent). However, only 30 percent anticipate that arts and sciences programs will be prioritized in the next budget year. Significantly more provosts in the West (43 percent) than in the Northeast (26 percent) and Midwest (25 percent) anticipate the prioritization of arts and sciences programs in the next budget year.
Most provosts (82 percent) report that their institution uses data to measure student outcomes. Provosts are most likely to agree that faculty members at their college view assessment as requiring a lot of work on their behalf (79 percent); however, they also report that their college regularly makes changes in the curriculum, teaching practices or student services based on what it finds through assessment (66 percent).
More than half of provosts report that faculty members currently feel at least very engaged with their work, but they are less likely to report that faculty members feel supported or connected to the administration. Provosts are most likely to report that the deans and chairs (77 percent) at their institution are primarily responsible for ensuring faculty members feel supported, engaged and connected. Provosts from private nonprofit institutions are more likely than those from public institutions to report that faculty at their institution are at least very engaged and very connected to the administration.
Almost all provosts report that they believe faculty at their institution would describe the resources and tools made available to them during the pandemic as at least somewhat effective. Mass emails (78 percent), services managed at the college or department level (76 percent), and institutional offices that are tasked with providing faculty services (75 percent) are the most common channels available to faculty to ensure they are supported, engaged and connected. Provosts from public institutions (63 percent) are more likely than those from private nonprofit institutions (52 percent) to report that faculty at their institution use their institution’s website as a channel for support, engagement and connection.
Approximately half of provosts agree that the growth of assessment systems has improved the quality of teaching and learning (51 percent) and has led to better use of technology in teaching and learning (54 percent). However, provosts at public institutions (56 percent) are significantly more likely than those at private nonprofit institutions (44 percent) to agree that the growth of assessment systems has improved the quality of teaching and learning at their college.
Most provosts’ views about textbooks and resources tend to be centered toward student interests. For instance, more than half of provosts agree that open educational resources are sufficient and should be used in most general education courses (56 percent). Additionally, about half of provosts feel as though faculty members should be open to changing textbooks or other materials to save students money, even if the lower-cost options are of lesser quality (53 percent). Provosts at public institutions (62 percent) are significantly more likely than those at private nonprofit institutions (48 percent) to agree that open education resources are of sufficiently high quality.
An overwhelming majority of provosts indicates that financial concerns are prevalent in their institution’s discussions about launching new academic programs. Most provosts agree that most new funds their institutions will have to spend on academic programs will come from reallocation rather than new revenues (70 percent). Although provosts tend to report that budgets are a concern at their institution, only 32 percent of provosts report that their institution needs to reduce the numbers of academic programs it offers by the end of the 2022–23 academic year.
Most provosts agree that inflation will cause them to limit budget growth. And provosts also agree that faculty members don’t understand the impact of inflation on their institutions.