Send Me In, COACHE!

Peter Wood

                The National Association of Scholars, as disclosed in a recent essay, occupies offices on the site of a former secret Cold War research facility. Today the land around Richard E. Young’s materials lab is blanketed in snow. The war is over; now it is just cold. Somewhere, I would like to think, workers in their bunkers are taking a break for beer, pretzels, and darts.

                But here the wind is just sweeping through the tips of ice-stroked weeds and tumbling little avalanches of snow off the scotch pines. It is another day to think about—

                Diversity. The “Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education earlier this month issued its “Highlights Report 2008,” which occasioned an account in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “On the Road to Tenure, Minority Professors Report Frustrations.” John Leo writing at Minding the Campus efficiently dispatched the grievance mongering. In a survey of 8,500 pre-tenure faculty member at 96 colleges, white and Latinos appeared more satisfied than blacks, Asians, and Native-Americans. Colleges, it seems, have been guilty of treating faculty members too much as individuals and not enough as members of identity groups. 

                The COACHE report is one of those dreary affairs where respondents are asked everything on a five-point scale:

Clarity scale: 5 = Very clear, 4 = Fairly clear, 3 = Neither clear nor unclear, 2 = Fairly unclear, 1 = Very unclear

Agreement scale: 5 = Strongly agree, 4 = Somewhat agree, 3 = Neither agree nor disagree, 2 = Somewhat disagree, 1 = Strongly disagree

Reasonableness scale: 5 = Very reasonable, 4 = Fairly reasonable, 3 = Neither reasonable nor unreasonable, 2 = Fairly unreasonable, 1 = Very unreasonable

Satisfaction scale: 5 = Very satisfied, 4 = Satisfied, 3 = Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 2 = Dissatisfied, 1 = Very dissatisfied

          COACHE’s survey of Tenure-Track Faculty Job Satisfaction is an annual affair, but this year, “for the first time, results disaggregated by race/ethnicity; by university control; and by gender within both colleges and universities.”  What ensues is page after page of bullet-point results along the lines of:

·               Females at colleges reported significantly less clarity than males on the tenure process, standards, and body of evidence.

·               American Indian faculty felt that expectations for performance as colleagues and as campus citizens were significantly less reasonable than white faculty.

·               Faculty at universities attributed significantly greater importance to professional assistance in obtaining externally funded grants and formal mentoring than did college faculty.

There are 112 of these bullets (yes, I counted), which is enough ammunition in some parts of the world to hijack an oil tanker. 

                But in this case, it is a bit hard to imagine just what the good folks at COACHE think this report will do. I don’t underestimate the hard work it took to devise the questionnaire, acquire the permission of 80 colleges to participate, send it out to 12,807 full-time, pre-tenure faculty, collate the answers from the 8,513 who responded, and produce these analytical results. It seems churlish to say, “So what?” But…

                COACHE sees its noble purpose as “to enhance the quality of life for pre-tenure faculty and to enhance their institutions’ ability to recruit, retain, and develop the cohort most critical to their long-term future.”   We can perhaps make a few inferences about what both COACHE and the participating institutions see as “the cohort most critical to their long-term future.” Might they be thinking that hiring tenure-track faculty members according to their sex and race is what’s critical? To that end, might not it be helpful to have the points of dissatisfaction among faculty members categorized this way?  

                The report thus seems a tool aimed, as John Leo suggested, at helping the people who administer colleges and universities as an exercise in identity group politics. That inference is powerfully enhanced by what the report doesn’t do. “Female faculty members” in this analysis are an aggregate, as are “male faculty members,” indistinguishable by their disciplines or departments. Likewise with members of racial categories. A faculty member is “White, non-Hispanic,” “Black or African-American,” “American Indian or Native Alaskan,” with no recognition of his or her field of study. 

                This doesn’t seem entirely innocent in a survey devoted to “job satisfaction.”   At a guess, I would expect faculty members hired into fields where there are real and knowable academic standards probably have greater clarity about what is expected of them as scholars than people hired into fields that are academically marginal or are based on the pretence that a grievance repeated often enough is the same thing as a discipline. But there is no way to disentangle the relevant data from the COACHE study. 

                Taken on its own terms, the COACHE study shows a few things very clearly. First and foremost, female faculty pre-tenure members are unhappier than their male counterparts. Women faculty members find the tenure process, in all its dimensions, less clear; the expectations about their scholarship more confusing; the messages from their tenured colleagues less helpful; the standards for teaching less reasonable; the number of hours they work less satisfying; the facilities less amenable; the balance between home and work less satisfying; interaction with other pre-tenure faculty members less satisfying; their supervisors less fair; their opportunities for collaboration less abundant; and they expressed less overall satisfaction with their institutions as a whole and their departments in particular. 

                Two areas, however, stood out as exceptions women faculty members’ relative unhappiness. They had the same level of satisfaction with their pay.   And they like the bureaucracy better, finding numerous policies such as “paid and unpaid personal leave” more satisfying than the men did. 

                I am reasonably confident that COACHE does not intend college and university administrators to draw what seems an obvious conclusion: hiring female faculty members in pre-tenure positions brings into your institution people who, on statistical average, are malcontents. Rather, the intended message is surely: look at all the institutional changes that are needed to make colleges and universities attractive place to work for female faculty.

                But that’s enough. I’ve spent several days rummaging around in statistics. I want to go out walk in the snow. One of my dissatisfactions is with five category questions on questionnaires. 

Clarity scale: 5 = Very clear, 4 = Fairly clear, 3 = Neither clear nor unclear, 2 = Fairly unclear, 1 = Very unclear

Is very clear but it is also:

Boring scale: 5 = Dreary, 4 = Tedious, 3 = Stupefying, 2 = A Mausoleum for the Soul, 1 = Chloroform

I think we would be well served by having better five point scales. 

I like this article so much:

1.       I’d give you all I have, but Bernie Madoff already took it.

2.       Please accept this watch. It was my grandfather’s.

3.       I’ve taken you off my spam filter.

4.       Pistols at Dawn, Monsieur.

5.       Hanging’s too good for you.

Your analysis persuades me that:

1.       I’ll name my first-born for you

2.       I’ll name my dog for you

3.       I’ll name my parakeet for you

4.       I’ll name my doormat for you

5.       I’ll name you to the FBI

The snow awaits.

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