Surveys show faculty, staff mostly positive about work at Cornell

Author: 
Nancy Doolittle

According to two universitywide surveys conducted in fall 2016, most faculty and staff members are “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their work and the collegial environment at Cornell, while lower levels of satisfaction are related to finances and overall direction of the university.

The Academic Work Life Survey and the Employee Survey were last done in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

“We appreciate the faculty and staff taking time to respond to the surveys,” said Provost Michael Kotlikoff. “Their input is of critical importance as we continue to develop strategies to improve work-life experience while furthering our research, teaching and engagement mission.”

The 2016 survey results show perceptions have not changed significantly, and Kotlikoff has called for two working groups to delve deeper into the surveys’ findings.

The Academic Work Life Survey, with a response rate of 55 percent, elicited feedback from tenured and tenure-track faculty, librarians, lecturers, research and extension associates, academic visitors, postdoctoral fellows and visiting professors. The Employee Survey of nonacademic staff had a response rate of 70 percent.

The surveys’ summary results have been posted on the Institutional Research and Planning website.

Faculty and staff indicated similar rates of satisfaction, with about 80 percent of academics and 81 percent of staff somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs at Cornell.

Those responding to the 2016 academic survey were most satisfied with library resources and services, teaching schedules, and the quality of Cornell’s graduate and professional students. They also gave high marks to their department or unit being a “good fit” for them and having a dean, chair or department head whom they can trust and who creates a collegial and supportive environment.

Lower levels of satisfaction were related to current salary, startup funds, support for securing or managing grants, and funding for graduate students.

Female faculty members were less satisfied than their male counterparts on their rank, benefits, salary, office space and staff support, classroom space, and access to teaching assistants, grants and funding. Asian faculty were more satisfied than white faculty with classroom space, but less satisfied with other aspects. Underrepresented minority faculty were more satisfied than white faculty with staff support and library resources. They also had higher levels of satisfaction overall in 2016 than in 2010.

“While we’ve made steady gains in increasing the numbers of women and underrepresented minority faculty over the past 10 years, we continually look for ways to improve how we support the faculty we have recruited. In the past five years, we’ve focused on better supporting academics throughout their career stages with policies and programs,” said Yael Levitte, associate vice provost for faculty development and diversity.

She pointed to the implementation of an automatic tenure clock extension for a faculty parent of a newborn or newly adopted or foster child and a moratorium on meetings held after 5 p.m. as ways to support work-life balance. The provost’s office also offers a menu of faculty development programs and mentoring lunches. “These positive changes should hopefully impact how supported faculty feel in the future,” she said.

Overall, staff ratings have remained steady since 2011. “We have been heartened to see that four-fifths of our staff again would recommend Cornell as a good place to work and feel their supervisor treats them with respect,” said Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer.

Opperman also noted positive gains were made in performance reviews, supervisor feedback, and supervisors’ support of their staff for professional development opportunities or in balancing work and family responsibilities. Many staff say recent organizational changes have had a positive change on their work, and have created new opportunities for them. In addition, concern about job security among employees has decreased about 10 percent since 2011.

Other areas – workload, staff recognition and consistency universitywide in workforce policy administration – are issues that remain a concern for many respondents.

“We need to look more closely at the data to better gauge the effects of our efforts to address these concerns,” Opperman said.

Academic and nonacademic perceptions of the overall direction of the university are not as positive. Approximately 39 percent of tenure and tenure-track faculty agreed that Cornell was moving in a positive direction, while 54 percent of other academic professionals and 54 percent of staff responded that Cornell was moving in a positive direction. Forty percent of staff say they understand the strategic goals and objectives of Cornell – a drop of about 10 percent since the last survey.

Kotlikoff said the changes Cornell has experienced since the last surveys were given may account for some of these perceptions. “The 2016 surveys were administered following a sustained period of budget reductions, organizational changes and the implementation of a new budget model, and during a time of extended leadership transition at Cornell,” he said. “I have discussed these issues with President-elect Martha Pollack, and we look forward to better understanding the views of faculty and staff, and using them to inform future institutional plans.”

As with the 2010 and 2011 surveys, the deans and vice presidents will be given custom sets of data for their areas, aggregated to maintain survey respondents’ confidentiality. The working groups will meet with these senior leaders to further their analysis and develop next steps.