New study offers insight into faculty life at Penn


48 percent of faculty indicate workload is 'just right,' while 41 percent say it is 'too heavy'




A recently published study is providing insight into faculty experience at Penn.

With a 73.5 percent response rate, the University’s first-ever survey of all standing faculty members — the results of which were released last week — offers a window into the faculty’s opinions of their workloads, compensation and resources for teaching and research, among other topics.

The Office of Institutional Research and Analysis, the Faculty Senate and various University administrators designed and distributed the survey last November as part of an effort to bolster recruitment and retention rates and better understand the Penn faculty experience.

“These quality of life issues are important to make sure that the administration’s impression of what is going on out there matches the faculty’s opinion of what’s going on,” Dean of the College of Arts and Science Dennis DeTurck said of the survey’s impetus.

Though a plurality of respondents said they felt their workload was “just right,” 41 percent indicated that it was “too heavy.” Vice Provost for Faculty Lynn Lees noted that the average estimated work week is about 60 hours.

“I love my profession. But there is this image of it being easy,” Sociology professor Camille Charles, who chaired the Faculty Senate throughout the survey creation process, said in an email. “We work nights and weekends and early in the morning. In theory the job is flexible, but we are often filling our ‘free’ moments.”

Forty-eight percent — the plurality — of respondents reported spending 21 hours or more on research-related work in a typical week, while forty percent — also the plurality — of respondents reported spending 1-5 hours on teaching-related work.

DeTurck said that in a typical summer, however, most faculty members are engaged solely in research, which could have increased this figure. Lees also stressed that this amount is about one-third of the average reported number of work hours per week.

“This is a research university, where faculty are expected to do substantial amounts of research and writing,” she said. “Those activities necessarily take a big slice of time.”

In addition, 38 percent of respondents said they feel their department or school should do more to assist individuals with questions on tenure and promotion — the area where the greatest number of faculty expressed a need for more information.

“This tells me we ought to do a better job of mentoring and to have more conversations within departments and schools,” Lees said.

The guidelines for tenure and promotion are not easy to follow, Charles agreed, noting that she also felt the need for more assistance surrounding the process when she was a junior faculty member.

Another focus of the survey was diversity, following President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price’s adoption of the Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence in the summer of 2011. The program committed $100 million toward recruitment and retention over the next five years, and mandated that each school appoint a diversity officer to promote faculty diversity within their schools.

Seventy-five percent of respondents viewed Penn as “moderately diverse” or “very diverse.” Similarly, 95 percent of respondents indicated that they “agree or strongly agree” that faculty members are respected regardless of their sexual orientation. 92 percent said they “agree or strongly agree” that faculty members are respected regardless of race or ethnicity.

“This tells me that faculty perceive the University to be diverse, welcoming and open,” Lees said.

However, though the Sociology Department individually is diverse, Charles said “there is much less racial and ethnic diversity in the administration of my school [School of Arts and Sciences] and in the central administration. These are areas where I and some of my colleagues hope to see some improvements.”

Lees explained that the dean of each school has seen the survey results, and will share them more widely with their faculties to assess the effectiveness of school policies.

The survey will likely be administered again in approximately five years, she added.

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