Morale among faculty at UW-Madison was shaken in 2015 over budget cuts, according to a survey by the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute.
Just over 91 percent of respondents said that budget cuts – as UW-Madison tightened its belt to reflect a $250 million cut in state funding to the UW-System in the 2015-2017 budget – decreased their enthusiasm for working at the school.
Spending cuts had a significantly more negative impact on faculty’s enthusiasm for working at UW-Madison than did modifications to tenure in the UW System, another controversial change to working conditions.
Some 71.5 percent of respondents to the WISELI survey reported that new faculty tenure policies, which give the university more leeway to lay off faculty for financial reasons, lowered their morale.
The survey was sent in spring 2016 by mail to the homes of all 2,193 tenured and tenure track faculty at UW-Madison and had a 58.6 percent response rate. Results were released March 30.
The latest survey was the fifth “Study of Faculty Worklife at UW-Madison” conducted since 2003. Developed as part of an effort to support the advancement of women in academic science, medicine and engineering, it has been broadened to gauge workplace satisfaction among other groups as well.
As in past surveys women, faculty of color, faculty with disabilities and those who conduct “non-mainstream” research reported a more negative work climate than did their comparative groups, researchers reported in an executive summary of the study.
But even those less satisfied with the climate within their department rated their experience as inching up to “positive.”
In contrast to the 2012 survey, there were almost no statistical differences in climate reported by LGBT faculty and “straight” faculty in 2016.
As news spread of budget cuts, and tenure changes, recruiters from other universities contacted UW-Madison faculty with job offers. Overall, 67 percent of survey respondents said they were approached by another university or headhunter about leaving.
To address dropping morale, UW-Madison launched compensation programs to recognize outstanding performance, address pay differences with comparable institutions and alleviate inequities on campus, as noted in a UW-Madison News release on the survey results.
The university spent $23.6 million last year on retention packages for faculty; $1.8 million of which was for salary adjustments and the remainder for research support.
Jennifer Sheridan, executive and research director at WISELI, said that the survey can be a starting point for change.
“Most faculty who respond seem very happy to be here, but the pervasive gaps between majority and minority groups are a continuing problem. This survey allows those faculty who feel marginalized to voice their frustration in hopes we can improve things,” Sheridan said.
“It is slow, and we have not solved everything. But because we have some consistent measurement, we can demonstrate where progress is being made.”
Examples of survey findings leading to better worklife for faculty include improved mentoring for junior faculty and better climate in departments that received a WISELI workshop on bias. Both initiatives were undertaken because of past survey results.
Michael Bernard-Donals, vice provost for faculty and staff, said the WISELI survey identifies areas that university administrators can work to improve, like compensation, work-life integration, and respect and understanding of the nature of teaching and research work.
“We can then provide professional development and other resources to where it will be most beneficial,” Bernard-Donals said.