The Department Report

The Department Report

Academic departments are the primary context in which faculty members experience university life. The COACHE instrument captures three important dimensions of departmental culture: collegiality, engagement, and quality. Quality is a function of intellectual vitality, scholarship excellence, and teaching effectiveness. Engagement characterizes how often faculty interact with one another and participate in discussions germane to the academic enterprise. The third dimension, collegiality, encompasses how well faculty members work as a team, include and support one another, and support work-life balance. In addition, department chairs and heads play critical roles in shaping faculty work satisfaction. Their decisions impact faculty morale, participation, and success in departmental shared governance, workload equity, and collegiality. This report examines these dimensions of departmental context experienced by faculty at UMass Amherst.

Departmental Quality


StrengthUMass faculty are highly impressed by their colleagues’ scholarly productivity, intellectual vitality, and ability to recruit and retain world class faculty, both in terms of absolute levels of satisfaction and compared to our peer institutions. Senior faculty are particularly impressed with the quality of junior faculty’s intellectual vitality (85% satisfied) and productivity (83%). Furthermore, tenure-line faculty are highly satisfied (82%) with the teaching effectiveness of NTT faculty. While somewhat lower, UMass faculty report strong satisfaction levels (71%) with success in faculty recruitment and are more satisfied than our peers (63%) with success in faculty retention. 


GrowthOne measure of departmental quality is an exception to broad satisfaction: Only 21% of UMass faculty agree that departments address substandard tenured faculty performance (with 62% dissatisfied). This is significantly lower than ratings at our peer institutions, and men were more satisfied on this measure than women.  




Departmental Collegiality and Engagement 



Relative to faculty at our peer institutions, UMass faculty report that discussions of student learning occur frequently or regularly at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Sixty-three percent of faculty say these conversations happen on at least a regular basis. UMass faculty appreciate the flexibility of departments in holding meetings at times that are compatible with the personal needs of faculty, with 82% in agreement with this item. Importantly, over 75% of UMass faculty agree that their departments are committed to diversity and inclusion. 





The data reveal several areas for improvement with respect to departmental collegiality and engagement. While the majority of UMass faculty (71%) rate their departments as collegial, this is lower than the average for our peer institutions (78%). Similarly, UMass faculty are somewhat less likely to agree that their colleagues pitch in when needed (65%), compared to peer institutions (70%). UMass faculty also report fewer departmental discussions of research methods, teaching effectiveness, and effective use of technology relative to peer institutions. 

Some groups of faculty are significantly less satisfied with department collegiality. Those include URM faculty, women, and associate professors. There is a racial gap in assessments of collegiality, with 73% of white faculty and 61% of URM faculty* finding departments to be collegial. Similarly, while 59% of white faculty are satisfied with their personal interactions with tenure stream faculty, this satisfaction falls to 48% among URM faculty.  Other notable areas of disparity include personal and professional interaction with other faculty, how well faculty feel they fit the department, colleagues’ willingness to pitch in when needed, and interpersonal collegiality. To illustrate, while the majority of faculty feel that they “fit” with their department (e.g., sense of belonging, level of comfort), 66% of white faculty and 52% of URM faculty felt this type of belonging.  

*Defined by COACHE as faculty who identified as non-white and non-Asian/Asian-American 


Department Leadership









Overall, UMass faculty are more satisfied than faculty at our peer institutions with their department chair/head’s leadership. In particular, faculty are satisfied with their chair’s inclusion of faculty input (72%) and with their chair’s fairness in evaluating faculty work (71% satisfied). In addition, UMass faculty are more satisfied with their chair’s pace of decision-making (67%) compared to peer institutions.  










Although satisfaction with departmental leadership is high overall, URM and NTT faculty expressed lower satisfaction, compared to peers at UMass and our peer institutions, with the communication of priorities, pace of decision making, and ensuring faculty input. For example, 59% of URM faculty are satisfied with the pace of decision-making, compared to 67% of white faculty. And while 72% of faculty overall are satisfied with their chair’s inclusion of faculty input, this falls to 64% for URM and 61% of NTT faculty. 





Department Quality

  • The benefits of mentoring continue throughout the career and can alleviate the need to address substandard performance. A proactive mentoring approach with tenured faculty to periodically reassess faculty strengths, challenges, and priorities as careers evolve can support faculty to stay current and engaged in research, teaching and service.

  • To the extent inequities in workload undergird issues of faculty underperformance, a recent study (O’Meara et al. 2020) finds that departmental faculty work activity dashboards make workloads more transparent and can help diagnose equity issues. According to the authors, dashboards promoted accountability, clarity, and reference points for expected contributions of faculty.

  • How to promote equitable faculty workloads is described in a report published by the American Council of Education (O’Meara et al. 2021). This report provides an audit tool and worksheets to support departments in their effort to develop activity dashboards.

Department Collegiality and Engagement 

  • Create forums for faculty to work together: convene to discuss research, methodology, interdisciplinary ideas, pedagogy, and technology. 

  • Create forums for faculty to play together: schedule regular networking events and accessible connection opportunities, such as a weekly coffee hour.  

  • Celebrate! Ensure everyone knows about important milestones in each other’s lives.   

  • Use department meetings as more than just a review of a list of chores, but as an opportunity for generative thinking.  

  • Enlist colleagues to discuss new teaching and research methods or to present case studies for faculty to problem-solve.  

  • As often as possible, ask departmental colleagues to volunteer to present their work. Using this structured time to initiate departmental engagement may encourage continued engagement outside of departmental meetings.  

Department Leadership

  • Fair process and inclusion: Departmental decision-making is best conducted by providing clarity about the issue at stake, outlining the timeline for making a decision, ensuring input is heard from all stakeholders, and communicating the rationale for decisions taken. Allow for multiple channels (faculty meetings, individual meetings, written feedback) for faculty input. When faculty are included and heard, individuals can support decisions made even if the outcomes are contrary to their preferences. 

  • Transparency: it is almost impossible to over-communicate with faculty about changes to mission, institutional priorities, and resource allocation. 

  • Communicate departmental/institutional priorities: communicate via multiple channels, media, and venues. A blanket email or a website update does not ensure broad communication of institutional priorities. Develop a communication plan that considers how the faculty everywhere—even the hard-to-reach—get information. 

    - The UMass ADVANCE team has developed best practices for shared decision-making.
    - Performance Management Resources from Workplace Learning and Development