From the Provost's Desk

Non-tenured academic professionals study

Last semester, Professor Amy Bonomi, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, conducted a study on my behalf to look at the supports, challenges, and needs of non-tenured academic professionals across our community of scholars. The Executive Summary of the study appears at the end of this post. My aim with the study was to gain some insight into ways that we can better support the success of all academic employees on campus. Data were collected from seven focus groups and via a survey sent to more than 1,300 academic employees, 530 of whom participated in the survey. The study is now complete, and the report of its findings has been submitted. We have been reassured by many of its findings and have learned a number of things that will help us, as we move forward, in providing the most relevant kinds of support and guiding our investments of resources, time, and energy.

Study findings show that most respondents are satisfied with peer collegiality, ability to voice their opinion, and feeling that their input is valued. Most respondents also expressed general satisfaction with clarity and reasonableness of job expectations. In terms of areas for attention, there was variability in responses in some cases, with men indicating higher satisfaction than women and/or tenure-system faculty expressing greater satisfaction than individuals in other appointment types. For example, tenure-system faculty were more satisfied with salary and compensation than individuals with other appointment types, and academic specialists were less satisfied than tenure-system and fixed-term faculty in the orientations for their positions. There’s room for improvement across appointment types in procedures for annual evaluations, promotion, and mentoring. For mentoring, satisfaction was lower for women than men and lower for specialists and fixed-term faculty than tenure-system faculty.

The call for more mentoring and leadership development is clear. While this is something that needs to be nurtured in each local culture, department, and college, in everyday actions and interactions, we are also increasing support at the institutional level. The Academic Advancement Network (AAN) and Academic Human Resources (AHR) have provided programming and updated materials on mentoring. On January 17, AAN offered a session as part of its Leadership Institute on evaluations and RPT for unit and college leaders on campus. Over the last couple of years, AAN has added “thriving” programs for fixed-term faculty, as well as resources, and “thriving” programs for academic specialists and resources

In addition to providing increased support for mentoring, other areas have been the foci of attention for AAN and AHR. The content and format for New Faculty and Academic Staff Orientation have been modified during each of the last two years to be more informative and inclusive, and improvements will continue. Last year, representatives from AHR and AAN participated in chairs and directors meetings across MSU colleges to discuss policies, procedures, challenges, and opportunities for academics outside of the tenure system at MSU. We will be working with deans as a primary next step, and will encourage follow-up conversations with the Academic Specialist Advisory Committee, the leadership of the Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty, and other appropriate groups, to pursue improvements related to what we learned from the study.

To those of you who participated in the study, either in a focus group or via the survey, thank you. Your input has helped us better understand what kind of support is most critical for each cohort of individuals and, in turn, is helping us identify and develop better ways to support all of our non-tenured academic professionals.

Non-tenured Academic Professionals’ Supports, Challenges and Needs

Purpose:  The project purpose was to investigate the supports, challenges and needs of non-tenured academic professionals at Michigan State University, including differences by appointment type and by gender.  Methods:  A two-phase mixed-methods approach was used.  In phase one, seven (7) focus groups were conducted with 67 non-tenured academic professionals (stratified by appointment type:  specialists/librarians, fixed term, and tenure stream) to identify initial themes.  In phase two, using six (6) overarching themes/areas identified in the focus groups, an online survey was developed and completed by 530 non-tenured academic professionals at MSU (62.76% female; 24.85% non-White) (of 1321 invited, for a response rate of 40.1%).  Using a 5-point Likert-type satisfaction response scale, six (6) areas were assessed in the survey: 1) appointment and position (5 questions); 2) salary and compensation (5 questions); 3) annual evaluations, promotion processes and mentoring (6 questions); 4) unit culture (5 questions); 5) university culture (5 questions); and 6) university processes and resources (4 questions).  Frequency analysis of the satisfaction questions was undertaken, along with cross-tabulations of the satisfaction questions by gender and appointment type.  Exemplars from the focus groups were used to both underscore survey findings and explicate discrepancies.  Results:  Regarding appointment type and position, a majority of survey respondents were very or slightly satisfied with job clarity (71.68%) and job reasonableness (70.12%), and roughly half (53.55%) were very or slightly satisfied with orientation for their position.  At the p<.05 level, women were less satisfied than men and specialists (both continuing and fixed term) were less satisfied than tenure stream and fixed term faculty with orientation for their position. While significant differences were not observed in the survey by appointment type by job clarity, during the focus groups, specialists expressed considerable concern over the lack of clarity in their positions and fixed term faculty with the uncertainty of whether they will be appointed each year.  Regarding salary and compensation, roughly half of respondents were very or slightly satisfied with their salary and compensation (55.79%) and with access to professional development and travel funds (53.22%). At the p<.05 level, a higher proportion of tenure stream faculty reported they were very satisfied with salary and compensation (compared to specialists and fixed-term faculty), with access to professional and travel funds (compared to specialists-fixed term), and with salary increases aligning with work quality (compared to fixed term faculty).  Regarding evaluations, promotions, and mentoring, slightly less than half of respondents were very or slightly satisfied with annual evaluation processes (48.01%) and mentoring (44.56%), and 22.22% were slightly dissatisfied with promotion process clarity.  Among those who indicated scholarship, teaching or service were relevant to their position, roughly half were very or slightly satisfied with feeling valued in these areas.  At the p<.05 level, satisfaction with mentoring was lower for women than for men and for specialists and fixed term compared to tenure stream faculty.  Specialists were less satisfied than tenure stream faculty with evaluation and promotion processes.  While the survey data indicated lower levels of satisfaction among specialists and fixed term faculty (as compared to tenure stream) concerning promotions, tenure stream faculty also expressed some concerns during the focus groups concerning lack of clarity in promotion processes.  Regarding unit culture, respondents were very or slightly satisfied with peer collegiality (71.72%), ability to voice their opinion (64.61%), feeling their input is valued (62.08%), and feeling diversity and inclusion is valued (61.13%).  At the p<.05 level, a higher proportion of men than women were very satisfied with the ability to voice their opinion and with peer collegiality, and women tended to be less satisfied than men with how diversity and inclusion is valued.  Specialists and fixed term faculty were less satisfied than tenure stream faculty with their ability to vote.  Regarding university culture, more than half of respondents were only slightly satisfied or neither satisfied/dissatisfied with networking opportunities (54.70%), places and events to connect with colleagues (57.21%), sense of community at MSU (54.95%), support for innovative ideas at MSU (58.07%), and encouragement of teamwork (55.96%).  At the p<.05 level, women tended to be more dissatisfied than men with the sense of community at MSU, and tenure stream faculty were less satisfied with the availability of places and events to connect compared to specialists and fixed term faculty.  Finally, regarding institutional processes, half of respondents (50.10%) were very or slightly satisfied with the availability of facilities and infrastructure for conducting their work, with women reporting lower satisfaction than men.  Lower satisfaction tended to be observed concerning the time it takes to move issues along at MSU and with communication from institutional leaders on important matters.  A summary of recommendations made by focus group and survey participants to improve concerning areas appears at the end of this report.