COACHE Special Focus Report: Perspectives of Non-Tenure Track Faculty at UMass Amherst
The UMass Amherst Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey was conducted in February-April of 2020, at a time of great change and challenge to our campus. After a series of spotlight reports that analyzed data from all COACHE survey participants, the Office of Faculty Development is pleased to publish the first of three special focus reports.
This report focuses on non-tenure track faculty on continuing appointments. These faculty are a vital and growing segment of the faculty whose work includes running facilities, engaging in outreach, and teaching thousands of students each semester. Representation of full-time NTT faculty among all faculty has steadily increased over the decades, from 4.8% in 1990 to 26% in fall 2021. As such, these faculty reflect a significant investment by the university to its teaching and extension missions as a land grant institution.
Despite the many pressures in spring 2020, 131 of the 344 invited full-time NTT faculty at all career stages responded to the survey. The 38% response rate was the same as the overall UMass response rate, which was above that of our peer institutions.
This report discusses NTT faculty job satisfaction in the following thematic areas:
- UMass Amherst as a Place to Work
- The Nature of Work: Service
- The Nature of Work: Teaching
- Contract Renewal and Promotion
- The Department: Engagement, Collegiality, and Leadership
- Personal and Family Policies
UMass Amherst as a Place to Work
Among the highly variable and frequently disadvantageous working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty nationally, UMass Amherst has relatively strong job security, benefits, and wages for non-tenure-track faculty. The MSP faculty union and administration have partnered in creating these favorable conditions. It is not surprising then, and reaffirming, to find that 80% of NTT faculty are satisfied with the university as a place to work and 76% said they would again choose UMass. Notably, 95% of NTT faculty would recommend their department to faculty candidates highlighting that, despite some areas for growth discussed in this report, faculty feel good about their immediate work environment.
NTT faculty are generally committed to the university: 70% indicated plans to stay at UMass for at least 10 years. Given the long-term commitment of these faculty, the institution will benefit from fully embracing this rich talent pool. Inclusion in shared governance systems originally designed by and for tenure-track faculty is a key aspect of inclusion. Furthermore, investment in professional development opportunities will benefit both the faculty and the institution.
Asked what might be a potential reason for leaving the university, the most common primary reason selected was improving salary or benefits. In comparison, salary/benefits did not make the top three of potential reasons for tenured or pre-tenure faculty. About half of NTT faculty (49%) were satisfied with their salary, compared to 63% of tenured faculty and 56% of pre-tenure faculty.
The Nature of Work: Service
Faculty service is integral to the success of the university. Non-tenure track faculty at UMass take on service and leadership roles throughout the university and were more satisfied than those at peer institutions with the recognition they receive for service and advising. Furthermore, 66% of NTT faculty were satisfied with the number of committees they serve on, a proportion that is higher relative to tenured faculty (50%) and similar to pre-tenure faculty (68%).
Areas for improvement are equitability of committee assignments (35% satisfied) and the discretion to choose committees (58% satisfied). In addition, only 42% considered support for faculty in leadership roles to be sufficient.
The Nature of Work: Teaching
Teaching is an area of strength regarding job satisfaction of NTT faculty. The responsibilities of NTT faculty vary widely and may include graduate and undergraduate courses in different modalities and class sizes, supervision of clinical students, or no instruction at all. A large proportion of these faculty are satisfied with how much of their time is spent on teaching (86%) and with the number (82%) and the level (85%) of courses they teach. In addition, NTT faculty express satisfaction with the number (73%) and quality (70%) of students.
UMass is strong in its support for assessment of student learning and accommodating different learning styles, as indicated by the greater satisfaction expressed by our faculty as a whole compared to peer institutions. However, NTT faculty specifically show lower levels of satisfaction (60% and 69%, respectively) around these supports compared to NTT faculty at peer institutions (66% and 75%, respectively). Absolute satisfaction levels, together with the comparison to peer institutions, suggest that support for NTT faculty around assessment and meeting students’ needs is an area for potential growth at UMass.
Among NTT faculty, many are concerned about equitable distribution of the teaching load across faculty in their department. Only 35% of NTT faculty were satisfied with the equitability of teaching load, compared to 50% of tenured and 56% of pre-tenure faculty. This contrasts with the high satisfaction of NTT faculty with the overall time spent on teaching and other aspects of their teaching work.
Many faculty would like to see classroom improvements. Only 44% of NTT faculty are satisfied with classrooms and the numbers are similar (44%) for tenured and even lower (35%) for pre-tenure faculty.
NTT faculty highly value and benefit from mentoring, which national studies point to as key to faculty success. NTT faculty are almost unanimous (92%) in their belief that having a departmental mentor is important. UMass sets a positive example among our peer institutions for NTT faculty mentorship: NTT faculty at UMass are more satisfied than those at peer institutions in all aspects of effectiveness of mentoring. For example, 80% rated mentoring from a colleague in another department at UMass as effective.
The situation in departments is more complex. Of those who have received mentoring, 81% of NTT faculty rated mentoring they received from a departmental colleague as effective. However, only about one third (38%) of NTT faculty judge departmental mentoring of NTT faculty as a whole to be effective. At first glance, the discrepancy between satisfaction with (81%) and effectiveness of (38%) mentoring in the department seems hard to reconcile.
However, faculty may be satisfied with their own mentoring by a colleague whom they sought out but still find formal departmental mentorship lacking. In addition, the sample sizes indicate that only a subgroup received mentoring and participated in rating their satisfaction level while a much larger number rated the effectiveness of departmental mentoring. Departments might address some concerns around mentorship by developing clear and proactive mentoring plans that address the needs of both tenure and non-tenure track faculty.
Although UMass NTT faculty are more satisfied than their peers at other institutions, only 24% of NTT faculty agree that UMass provides adequate support for faculty to be good mentors. Explicitly crediting the effort faculty invest in mentoring of faculty colleagues (e.g. in annual faculty reports and promotion materials) may be a good first step. Some departments support a meal for a mentor/mentee or mutual mentoring group meeting once a semester for early career NTT and TT faculty.
The early stage of employment at UMass may be filled with excitement but also uncertainty, as faculty onboard and settle into their new responsibilities while getting to know their department, college, and the university as a whole. Non-tenure track faculty begin their professional journey at UMass Amherst on contracts that can span a single year or multiple years.
The contract renewal process is unclear to many: about half (57%) of NTT faculty know what to expect during this process. Specifically, only 50% say that they know what criteria are used to make decisions about renewal, 46% are clear about the level of performance required for reappointment, and 47% know what materials are considered in their reappointment. Overall, 66% of NTT faculty have a clear sense of whether or not their contract will be renewed.
Typically, lecturers and clinical and extension faculty are on continuing appointment after their 4th year of full-time equivalent service and do not have to go through the contract renewal (reappointment) process any longer.
Lecturers are eligible for promotion to Senior Lecturer after six years of full-time equivalent service and again for promotion to Senior Lecturer II after another six years of full-time equivalent service. The promotion process for clinical and extension faculty typically aligns more with the timing and structure of promotions of tenure track faculty.
As the COACHE survey shows, many NTT faculty find the promotion process lacks transparency: Only a little over half (53%) agree that they know what to expect during the promotion process. Moreover, only 47% of NTT faculty have clarity about what criteria are used to evaluate their performance, 42% are clear about what level of performance is sufficient for promotion, and 42% know which materials are required for their application. Overall, 55% have a clear sense of whether or not they will be promoted.
The bargaining agreement (at the time of the COACHE survey) requires NTT faculty to track when they are eligible for promotion. This may add to the dissatisfaction of NTT faculty who may not only feel confused about their eligibility but also feel less valued compared to assistant professors, for whom departments have a clear timeline in place. Senior colleagues and departmental leaders could help reduce confusion, increase transparency, and likely reduce stress and anxiety by mentoring faculty prior to and during their promotion year.
Department: Collegiality, Engagement, and Leadership
Local departmental culture has perhaps the greatest influence on faculty satisfaction and morale. The COACHE survey asks faculty to judge their department in three broad areas: collegiality, engagement, and quality. Furthermore, faculty are asked for their views on departmental leadership; Heads and Chairs have an important role in strengthening and changing departmental culture.
About three quarters of non-tenure track faculty have a positive view of their department’s collegiality, a critical aspect of departmental culture. The department as a whole is judged as collegial by 71% of NTT faculty, and 67% agree that colleagues pitch in when help is needed. Furthermore, 72% agree that colleagues are supportive of balancing one’s work and personal life.
A sense of belonging is a strong indicator of collegiality and while a majority of faculty (59%) were satisfied with their fit in the department, 22% were dissatisfied with their sense of belonging, and the remaining 19% felt neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. When asked about interactions with other NTT faculty in their department, 78% of NTT faculty were satisfied with the amount of professional interactions and 73% were satisfied with the extent of their personal interactions. Similarly, 74% say that their colleagues are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion. Clearly, there are factors not captured here that affect the sense of belonging of NTT faculty.
Departmental Engagement and Quality
Non-tenure track faculty tend to think highly of their NTT colleagues, with 86% reporting satisfaction with the teaching effectiveness of their NTT colleagues* and 75% being satisfied with their intellectual engagement. Similarly, tenure-track faculty also think highly of the teaching effectiveness of NTT faculty: 87% of pre-tenure and 79% of tenured faculty are satisfied with the teaching effectiveness of NTT colleagues. However, NTT faculty are less satisfied with the teaching effectiveness of tenured (45% satisfied) and pre-tenure (56% satisfied) colleagues and only 24% of NTT faculty agree that the department is successful at addressing sub-standard performance of tenured faculty.
Around two thirds of NTT faculty say that discussions around teaching occur often: they agree that undergraduate student learning (70%) and effective teaching practices (63%) are discussed regularly or frequently.
*Most, but not all, NTT faculty at UMass teach undergraduate and/or graduate students.
Departmental leaders play an important role in shaping and supporting departmental culture. Heads and chairs mentor and evaluate their faculty, and they support their faculty by recognizing their efforts and contributions. Six out of ten non-tenure track faculty (60%) were satisfied with the recognition they received from their department head/chair and 66% thought the chair evaluated their work fairly.
NTT faculty were considerably less satisfied than tenure-track faculty with communication of priorities from heads/chairs: NTT faculty (55%) were much less satisfied compared to tenured (65%) and pre-tenure (72%) faculty. Similarly, NTT faculty (42%) were much less satisfied with their head/chair’s support to adapt to changing priorities* compared to tenured (54%) and pre-tenure (73%) faculty—the 31% difference between NTT and pre-tenure faculty satisfaction with support is especially noteworthy.
*The survey responses were collected both before and after the campus closed due to SARS-CoV-2 in March 2020.
Personal and Family Policies
This section focuses on university-wide policies relating to dual career issues, caring for family members, and health benefits. Compared to peer institutions, NTT faculty at UMass are more satisfied with the spousal/partner hiring program (37% UMass vs 28% peers) and with eldercare (35% UMass vs 28% peers). However, satisfaction with these policies around care are generally fairly low: in addition to 35% satisfaction with eldercare, 30% of those rating their satisfaction were happy with childcare provisions. Furthermore, while the majority of NTT faculty expressed satisfaction with family medical/parental leave and health benefits for oneself and for family, these numbers are low compared to tenured and pre-tenure faculty.
Many thanks to Alicia Remaly and Liz Williams at the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment for their cheerful and patient support. Alicia and Liz kindly provided additional data files, explanations of the underlying COACHE survey structure, and patiently answered my many questions.
Rachel Smith graciously helped by creating the snippets, thus turning pieces of data into effective communication tools, and creating this webpage. Thank you, Rachel, for your can-do attitude!
I'm grateful to the entire OFD team for your help with this report and special thanks for to Michelle Budig for her insightful feedback and staunch support throughout all of my COACHE reporting.
Author Bio: Christiane Healey, Ph.D.
Dr. Christiane Healey is a Faculty Fellow in the Office of Faculty Development and a Senior Lecturer in the Biology Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she teaches in the Department of Biology and the Integrated Concentration in Science (iCons) Program. First as a Chancellor’s Leadership Fellow and now a Faculty Fellow in the Office of Faculty Development, Dr. Healey has conducted research to assess the professional development needs of non-tenure track faculty. She has developed two programming series based on her research and she has been deeply involved in the dissemination of the COACHE faculty job satisfaction survey across campus.
As Chair of the Undergraduate Education Council at UMass, Dr. Healey has led initiatives to improve the undergraduate experience at UMass, including advocating for more equitable grading methods. In her teaching, Dr. Healey has employed a wide range of pedagogical approaches, from flipped classrooms to team-based learning, to encourage her students to learn actively and engage deeply with the material. She was awarded the Outstanding Teaching Award of the College of Natural Sciences and she was the first recipient of the Mahoney Teaching Award, related to her work in the iCons Program.