HERI survey shows faculty discontent

By
February 2, 2009

Helena Guan

A survey administered to Mills College faculty members last year shows that while professors have high regards for students and the organization as a whole, they perceive their relationship with the administration as problematic.

The College jointly administered the Faculty Survey from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) in both 2004 and 2008, according to Alice Knudsen, director of Institutional Research, Planning, and Academic Assess.

The organization is housed in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The web-based survey was first e-mailed to both full-time and part-time faculty at Mills on April 28, 2008. Out of 97 full-time faculty members, 57 responded. The core data is based on those respondents.

The Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Academic Access issued a report after the completion of the 2008 HERI survey.

The Executive Summary portion of the report states that replies in the areas of governance and campus decision-making “were not positive in 2004 and have deteriorated significantly in the last four years.”

Compared with 2004 results, “significantly few faculty now report that the administration is open about its policies” and “considerably fewer faculty perceive that they are involved in campus decision-making.”

Plus, “considerably more faculty than in 2004 report that they are ‘at odds’ with the administration.” When compared with other private institutions, Mills results are even more pronounced.

Associate Economics professor Siobhan Reilly said such results are “staggeringly bad,” and raise important issues about leadership on campus.

In a separate faculty survey administered by the Faculty Executive Committee in 2000, Economics professor Roger Sparks said faculty members were told they could not send results to the Board of Trustees. Issues surrounding the deteriorating relationship between the administration and faculty were noted in that survey as well.

“One thing this illustrates is faculty [members] have been trying to communicate their displeasure with the President to the Board of Trustees. There have been all these surveys that indicate very serious problems, yet we have no one on the Board who can check to make sure the information is going there,” Sparks said.

President Janet Holmgren said she had not seen the results of the 2008 HERI survey.

In a fact sheet addressed to college professors on its website, HERI said all individual results are “strictly confidential,” and that a requirement of participation is for institutions to agree not to examine individual responses to any questions.

“But all of us are intelligent enough to understand it’s actually pretty easy to sort the data to figure out who said what because it asks very individual questions,” Reilly said, including asking from what institutions they received their undergraduate and graduate degrees.

“So I personally know people who had strong opinions but did not answer because they were afraid of retribution,” she added.

Sparks, who has taught at Mills since 1989, said even with such results, the environment at Mills is one in which faculty members are afraid to speak out and have “been really cowed by the administration over the years.”

Yet, the comprehensive survey results show other sides of how the faculty views Mills. Professors are still satisfied with their job overall, and with the quality and diversity of the student body and curriculum-specifically the weight given to feminism, multiculturalism and community service at the College.

In particular, 75.4 percent of professors were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with overall job satisfaction, only two percentage points below the national average for all private four year colleges. 98.2 percent of Mills faculty are “committed to the welfare of this institution;” slightly higher than the national average.

Only 3.5 percent of faculty thought the statement “There is a great deal of conformity among the students,” was “very descriptive,” while 32.3 percent of the faculty at private four-year colleges thought so.


HERI survey shows faculty discontent was published on February 2, 2009 in News

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