Faculty Climate Surveys

Summary and Analysis of Narrative Responses to the 2013 and 2014 surveys

Meera Sitharam and David Groisser for UFF-UF,   October 13, 2014

The 2013 and 2014 surveys had a substantial response rate, with over 600 respondents each year from the colleges in the bargaining unit, and  40% of the faculty responding in the two largest colleges, Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) and Engineering (ENG). The statistical summaries of both the 2013 and 2014 survey responses are available below, and several newspaper articles have given them substantial coverage (for example, articles in the Gainesville Sun on June 8, 2013, on May 13, 2014, and on May 29, 2014 ). The 2013 and 2014 surveys also included two questions requiring narrative responses.  All responses were anonymized by the survey software, and, under the terms of the surveys, the narrative responses were available for view only by the UFF-UF Council.  Since the narrative responses themselves cannot be made public, here we provide an analysis based on the common themes that appeared.

Two questions requiring narrative responses were posed. One of these, “Please share any concerns or recommendations with respect to the practices and performance of UF’s administration,” received a large number of responses.  Both years, at least 150 of the approximately 600 survey respondents answered this question, with an average response length of 75 words. Text analysis showed the primary themes reflected in the responses to this question were as follows.

Low faculty morale is a prevailing theme in most of the narrative responses.  This is consistent with what the multiple-choice responses revealed.  In the 2014 survey, for example, over two-thirds of the respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, “I would leave UF if I were offered a comparable job elsewhere and personal factors did not keep me here.”   Some respondents regretted having joined UF, and others expressed  regret in having encouraged outstanding faculty candidates to join their departments at UF.  Several narrative responses criticized the neglect of existing faculty whose hard work  has resulted in  UF’s  recognition and stature. The multiple-choice responses show that negative sentiments such as these pervade many aspects of faculty members’ experience, but not all aspects.  The  overwhelming majority of faculty responded “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” to “I feel free to conduct research in topics considered meritorious by my peers” and to “I am able to exercise academic freedom in the classroom.”  However, the responses to other short-answer questions in the surveys sheds some light, perhaps, on why low morale seems to prevail even in the presence of these positive elements.  Fewer than a third of the respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with “I feel no pressure to bring in grants that are unnecessary for the pursuit of my research interests,” and with “My ownership of the intellectual property I create is recognized by the university.”  Most tellingly, fewer than a fifth of the respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with “I am able to openly express a dissenting opinion about the administration’s policies without fear of reprisal.”  There were explicit references to this sense of fear in multiple narrative responses.

Another recurring theme in the narrative responses is a sense of  starvation and consequent decline in strength and vitality of core teaching and research programs that form the backbone of academic quality.    This is consistent with two thirds of the respondents  strongly or somewhat disagreeing with “The allocation of resources is well-balanced between administrative needs and faculty needs,”  with a similar overwhelming majority disagreeing with  “My activities and my department’s activities are well-supported by the administration,” and with a majority  disagreeing with “Resources earmarked for faculty needs are being apportioned in a manner consistent with policies developed via shared governance” (with the apportioning at the university level  faring somewhat worse than the college level in the 2014 survey).   Several narrative responses  suggested that departments and units were being haphazardly created, abolished, or reorganized to support administrative goals rather than academic quality. Others remarked on an “ever-widening gulf”  between the administration’s and the faculty’s academic values and conceptions of  the University’s mission, both in regard to basic research and to educating the next generation of citizens.  In this context, multiple narrative responses in the 2014 survey referred to the haphazard pace and nature of the pre-eminence searches,  and more generally the flow of resources being guided solely by  short-term trends, fads, and potential short-term external funding streams, as opposed to academic  values and long-term vision.

A further theme in the narrative responses is a breakdown in shared governance and faculty consultation. This  is amply corroborated in the  response-statistics for questions about shared governance. Over two thirds of the respondents strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statements “The flow of information is such that faculty can effectively participate in decision making,”  “The administration clearly communicates its decisions about strategic direction, policies and actions,” and “The process of shared governance, as it exists at UF, meaningfully incorporates my input in important decisions, affairs and operations.” (In the 2014 survey,  an even higher  three-fourths  of respondents strongly or somewhat disagreed with the last statement when referring to the university level differentiated from the college level).    In the 2014 survey, several narrative responses explicitly referred to a severe erosion of shared governance in faculty hiring,  a matter  in which collective faculty vision, expert judgment, and agreement are key to sound decision-making.  The 2014 narrative responses additionally relayed a sense of not only being left out, but also being kept in the dark concerning practically every decision about UF’s entrance into the online arena, from faculty and department compensation, to formation of consortia with  external institutions, to signing contracts with for-profit corporations.

A large number of narrative responses explicitly mentioned the administration’s lack of appreciation for the faculty’s expertise, judgment, hard work, cooperation and collective action, openly demonstrated as disrespect—even disdain—through words, attitudes and actions.  This is consistent with the response statistics for: “There is a healthy working climate between  faculty and administrators at UF” (70% somewhat or strongly disagreeing)  and “The administration gives clear indication that it values my success and respects my work” (60% disagreeing).

A final prevalent theme that is closely connected with all of the above in  many narrative responses is a lack of accountability of the  administration for the (lack of) effectiveness of its decisions. This is consistent with the overwhelmingly negative response statistics for the statement “I have confidence that the administration is making well-researched and strategically sound decisions to set the future course of UF”  and the statement “There is a climate of accountability for the actions of administrators.”   Over two-thirds of the respondents strongly or somewhat disagreed with both statements, with over three-fourths disagreeing with these statements concerning university-level administration in the 2014 survey.  While some of the smaller colleges showed moderate confidence in their leadership  (about 35% responding negatively), the  two largest colleges—CLAS and Engineering—showed a majority  (ranging from 51% to 65%) strongly or somewhat disagreeing  with the statements “I have confidence in the performance and leadership of the dean (respectively provost, president)” and “I support reappointment of  the dean (resp. provost, president).”

The problems documented by the 2013 and 2014 Faculty Climate Surveys are serious but not insurmountable.  UF will soon have new leadership.  We hope that the new administration will work with faculty to create a climate more supportive of principles of shared governance and administrative accountability. We believe these matters are central to making UF attractive to top scholars and researchers and to making UF a place to which faculty will be happy to devote their talents, energies, and careers.

The statistical summaries of the survey responses have been tabulated by college and presented side-by-side with the 2013 survey statistical summaries below.