Faculty perspectives on academic work and administrative burden: implications for the design of effective support services.

Author:Wimsatt, Leslie


Around the world, higher education institutions face significant fiscal pressure and escalating costs. At many institutions, researchers are under increased pressure to obtain funded-project revenue as a way of counteracting a decline in government allocations for higher education (Gumport, 1997; Santos, 2007), with such involvement often seen as a key metric of individual faculty activity and performance. Moreover, heightened demands for accountability, increased competition for research grants, expanded demands on faculty time, and growing complexity and costs related to administering the research enterprise are among the challenges that make achieving institutions' research missions increasingly difficult. It is now commonplace for researchers to collaborate with institutions from multiple countries and even continents. As a result of the increased complexity and scope of research programs, offices of sponsored research have had to adapt to help researchers and their institutions win and manage funding, add value to the research mission and work toward continuous development of the institutional portfolio. There can be little doubt that research and its administration is an increasingly complex endeavor, one which poses opportunities and challenges to those involved in its leadership, administration and delivery.

The environment in which universities function today demands that the institutions' research enterprise be both efficient and effective. This article seeks to support this goal by describing the results of a study exploring faculty responsibilities and burdens related to ensuring research compliance. Several research questions guide this inquiry, including: How efficient are faculty members able to be when conducting research? What assistance do they receive from administrative and support personnel in ensuring research compliance? Is this assistance effective? To what extent are relationships between administrators and researchers helping or hindering the research enterprise? What recommendations do faculty members offer for increasing their research productivity?

As a foundation for understanding the results of this study and related implications, it is worthwhile to first consider challenges faculty members face. These challenges include a lengthening work week, expanding demands on their time, and increasing stress levels (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007). A review of literature related to these topics may be helpful in understanding how faculty researchers frame the concept of administrative burden. This review will also explore how the role of the research administrator has changed in recent years, and how these changes may have altered the nature of the relationship between faculty and administrators as they work together to fulfill their institutions' research missions.

Faculty Work Life

One challenge faced by faculty is a lengthening work week. Faculty at nearly every type of institution are spending more time engaged in research, teaching and preparing for teaching than they have in the past (Bentley & Blackburn, 1990; Dey, Milem, & Berger, 1997; Milem, Berger, & Dey, 2000). Although the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) continues to limit the budgeting of faculty grant effort to a 40-hour work week, research shows that faculty typically average 45 to 56 hours (Cataldi, Bradburn, & Fahimi, 2005; Conley, 2002).The percentage of faculty members who report working more than 55 hours a week grew from 13% in 1972 to 47% in 2003 (Bayer, 1973; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Despite this level of investment, many faculty feel dissatisfied with the time they have available to stay current in their fields (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).

The expansion of faculty roles in recent years has gone a long way toward lengthening the work week. Faculty today are called upon to incorporate new technologies into their teaching, to be available to students and colleagues through email and other technologies at any time, to engage with their surrounding communities in more meaningful ways, to conduct more assessment in the classroom, to become more entrepreneurial in securing funding for their work, and to effectively teach an increasingly diverse body of students (Gappa et al., 2007). These expanding demands are occurring at the same time that faculty are being hired into a wider variety of appointment types. At most institutions this means that a shrinking proportion of tenure-track faculty is responsible for covering the majority of governance and service duties.

Given lengthening work weeks and expanding demands on time, it is not surprising that faculty stress levels are high. According to Lindholm, Szelenyi, Hurtado, & Korn (2005), 66% of faculty members report institutional procedures and red tape as a source of stress. Longer work weeks are also reflected in the fact that a majority of faculty report managing household responsibilities (74%), lack of personal time (74%), and their physical health (51%) as additional sources of stress.

Minority and female faculty members report particularly high stress levels in some areas. Ethnic and racial minorities are likely to experience higher levels of stress related to subtle discrimination and research or publishing demands compared to Caucasians (Hendel & Horn, 2005). They are also significantly more likely to intend to leave their careers or institutions than Caucasians (Rosser, 2004). Women, compared to men, report experiencing significantly higher levels of stress related to teaching loads, time pressure, lack of personal time, subtle discrimination, and research or publishing demands. Women also tend to report lower levels of satisfaction than men with their opportunities for scholarly pursuits. (Hagedorn, 2000; Hendel & Horn, 2005; Hult, Callister, & Sullivan, 2005)

Many of these areas of dissatisfaction and stress take on particular significance in light of research related to job satisfaction. First, research administrators instinctively know that equitable access to campus resources and work-related satisfaction go hand in hand for most faculty members (Gappa et al., 2007; Hult et al., 2005; Johnsrud & Rosser, 2002; Rosser, 2004). Salary, staffing, working conditions, and the resources available to accomplish one's work are all tangible commodities that affect how appreciated and supported faculty members feel at their institutions. Several resources identified as being of particular value include secretarial and office support, technical support, library services, availability of materials, teaching and graduate assistants, and support for both professional development and research activities (Johnsrud & Des Jarlais, 1994; Olsen, 1992; Wimsatt, 2002). Sources of support can vary dramatically by college, department, and even by individual faculty member, and such perceived inequities can be demoralizing (Kerlin & Dunlap, 1993).

In addition to valuing equitable access to the resources necessary to do good work, faculty members need to feel respected by those with whom they work (Gappa et al., 2007). Research indicates that positive interactions with and support from the institution's administration is related to faculty satisfaction (Hult et al., 2005; Iiacqua, Schumacher, & Li, 1995). In addition, support from the chair and "humane treatment by the dean" (Donohue, 1986) positively influence work satisfaction (Olsen, Maple, and Stage, 1995). Research outside the realm of higher education also supports the pivotal role that respect plays in work satisfaction (Alderfer, 1972; Campbell & Koblenz, 1997; Herzberg, 1966; Maslow, 1970).

Issues of adequate support and respect for individual faculty members take on more importance as the tasks related to conducting funded research continue to grow broader and often more cumbersome. Faculty research involves a variety of related activities, including planning and performing studies and experiments, analyzing data, developing new models and theories, advising and supervising students at all academic levels as they conduct research, and collaborating with research colleagues. Research activities also include disseminating results to the public by writing journal articles and conference papers, presenting at conferences and technical meetings, and giving seminars.

In addition to these direct research activities, faculty researchers also undertake indirect activities that enable and support their research projects (e.g., managing personnel, purchasing equipment and laboratory supplies, complying with institutional rules and state and federal laws that govern research). Further, faculty collectively commit substantial effort to research-related service activities such as organizing professional meetings, peer-review of research articles and grant proposals, and service on compliance committees and panels. Such activities put faculty members in sustained touch with new research and with the best work that is being done both in and beyond their disciplines (Teagle Foundation, 2007). They also commit to tasks intended to guarantee effective use and stewardship of sponsor funding, such as writing periodic scientific progress reports, providing financial reports, and certifying the effort of research personnel.

These indirect research activities comprise an additional set of burdens that may reduce the time available to conduct research. Rutherford and Langley (2007) note that a major challenge facing research administrators is to ensure that institutional missions remain focused on relieving the academic community of administrative burdens despite distractions created by "the day-to-day development of system requirements and specifications" (p. 92). Previously, Rose (1991) encouraged research administrators to base programmatic decision-making on the specific "needs and desires" of researchers and not to lose sight of the need to facilitate the research process (p. 26).


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