Faculty Survey Results Show High Job Satisfaction

December 04, 2012

Faculty members at the University of Virginia are largely satisfied with U.Va. as a place to work. They’re proud of the University, work long hours and value the employee benefits.

At the same time, many are concerned about salary stagnation and see opportunities for better communication with some leadership.

Those findings highlight, but only scratch the surface of the results of a comprehensive survey of University faculty conducted early this year. The survey results are based on 2,102 responses to the Web-based questionnaire, representing a response rate of 53.7 percent.

The survey, sponsored by the Faculty Senate and conducted by the Weldon Cooper Center’s Center for Survey Research, was the first in five years, and was conducted months before the summer's resignation and reinstatement of President Teresa A. Sullivan. It was designed to assure anonymity for respondents.

“The results, including both data and written comments, are intended to serve as a baseline of faculty opinions on key topics that the administration, which was new at the time, could use to inform decisions in the years ahead,” said Dr. Christopher Holstege, an associate professor in the School of Medicine, chair-elect of the Faculty Senate and past chair of the Senate Faculty Recruitment, Retention, Retirement and Welfare Committee, which organized the survey.

Holstege and Joe Garofalo, associate professor at the Curry School of Education and current chair of the Faculty Recruitment, Retention, Retirement and Welfare Committee, presented an overview of the survey results during Monday's Faculty Senate meeting, held at the Harrison Institute.

Among the solid results, 82 percent of respondents expressed some level of satisfaction with the University, with almost half reporting that they are very or extremely satisfied. The most satisfied respondents included males, faculty over age 65, administrators and those with more than nine-month contracts. Only 5.5 percent said they were very or extremely dissatisfied, with 5.8 percent neutral.

Areas receiving the most satisfaction among faculty include collegiality, autonomy and benefits.

“People think this is a pretty collegial place in general,” Garofalo said during the presentation.

Though the survey results show areas of strength at U.Va., they also point to areas in which the faculty believes improvement is needed.

“No surprise – pay is the top one,” Garofalo said.

Some 46 percent of faculty expressed dissatisfaction with their pay, while 42 percent expressed some level of satisfaction. Administrators and males were generally more satisfied with their pay, while associate professors and tenured faculty were less satisfied. Written comments reflect disappointment with the lack of raises in recent years.

Faculty members soon may see their key issue addressed by the University. Among Sullivan’s top priorities is development of a financial plan that would include raising faculty salaries into the top 20 of the Association of American Universities by 2016-17. U.Va. currently ranks No. 26 overall among AAU members and No. 6 among public institutions.

In remarks to the Faculty Senate Monday, Sullivan estimated that the effort would require $65 million added annually to the faculty payroll.

“Supplementing faculty salaries through endowments and raises must now become the highest priority for the Board of Visitors, for the foundations and for donors. Several of the foundations are already excited about this prospect, and they have begun working on it,” she said.

Sullivan said she plans to present a four-year comprehensive financial plan at the February Board of Visitors meeting. That plan will address priorities such as faculty support and retention, fundraising, enrollment growth and more.

Survey respondents showed some dissatisfaction with University leadership at the dean level and above, and with performance reviews.

A third of the respondents were neutral on the issue of leadership at the dean level and above; 47 percent were satisfied and 23 percent either somewhat or very dissatisfied.

“The written, comments, however, clearly demonstrate strong faculty support for President Sullivan’s leadership,” Holstege said, “which is an interesting finding considering the survey closed just prior to her forced resignation and the faculty’s subsequent reaction in response.” 

More than 70 percent were very or somewhat satisfied with leadership at the departmental level. 

General satisfaction with University benefits scored high, at 81 percent. Some respondents expressed concern over eroding health benefits, and the lack of either dependent tuition benefits or domestic partner benefits.

More than 70 percent of respondents said they were somewhat or very satisfied with issues of diversity and equal opportunity. During their presentation, however, Garofalo and Holstege said that category of responses illustrates why a careful review of the survey results includes knowing the demographics of respondents and consideration of written comments.

For example, Garofalo said, the survey response rate among African-American faculty members was low, and added that responses only from African-American faculty on the issue of diversity and equal opportunity showed a much lower level of satisfaction than the overall survey.

The Honor System drew strong support among survey respondents as an important part of U.Va. However, that support erodes among faculty who have experienced the system firsthand. Forty-one percent of those who have not referred a case strongly support the system, while only 20 percent who have referred a case strongly support it.

“Written comments show many faculty members are against the single sanction,” Garofalo said.

The survey’s results show faculty members putting in many hours to meet responsibilities in and out of the classroom and with research activities.

On average, full time U.Va. faculty members report that they work about 57 hours per week. Full professors average 61 hours, and instructors reported averaging 49 hours. Tenured and tenure-track faculty average 61 hours; non-tenure track average 53 hours. Those who balance teaching and research reported an average of 60 hours per week.

For benchmarking purposes, the survey retained about half the questions used in the 2007 survey, which included questions on work/life balance and student interaction. A fourth of the survey featured new questions on issues not addressed in the previous survey, and the remaining fourth addressed how faculty members utilize their time.

A set of individual school and subgroup reports is currently being reviewed and will be released soon. Those reports will provide tables showing school-level responses, with comparisons on those questions among schools.

The survey will be delivered to University administrators and other groups, along with a request for those groups to evaluate the responses and provide a response to the Faculty Senate.

“These represent the starting point for the new University’s leadership,” Holstege said of the survey results.  

Also at Monday’s meeting, the Faculty Senate voted unanimously to approve the creation of a new Bachelor of Science in Education degree program in “Youth and Social Change” in the Curry School of Education.

Sullivan also provided updates on the new strategic plan process for the University and U.Va.’s efforts to prepare for the effects of possible sequestration, if Congress and President Obama are not able to reach a compromise to avoid the automatic federal spending cuts and tax increases.

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