Emory Report

November 29, 1999

 Volume 52, No. 13

HERI survey gives glimpse of Emory faculty perceptions, attitudes-but is it valid?

Nearly three-quarters of Emory professors feel departmental support at the University for research is "good" or "excellent," and 37 percent report teaching as their "primary activity," according to a study done recently by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning (IRP).

At the request of the provost's office, IRP administered a study designed by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) last academic year for a cohort that included Emory, Carnegie-Mellon, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton and Stanford universities. IRP mailed questionnaires in two stages--November 1998 and January 1999--to all regular full-time faculty affiliated with academic schools and received 599 responses out 1,847 total (32 percent).

"I am encouraged that one-third of the faculty responded," said IRP Vice Provost Susan Frost, adding that the response was "basically reflective" of the University by gender, rank and school. Response rates for the various schools ranged from 10 percent at Oxford and 20 percent in business to 65 percent in nursing and 66 percent in theology.

Some of the findings are very encouraging. For example, a significantly larger percentage of Emory faculty compared to their peers feel undergraduate education is important in "developing a moral character" (62 percent to 43 percent), in "preparing for a responsible citizenship" (62 percent to 43 percent) and in "instilling commitment to community service" (40 percent to 22 percent).

Other findings are more curious and suggest the need for more research. Emory professors are more likely than their peers to have received another job offer within the last two years (40 percent to 34 percent), but they are also more likely to have considered leaving academia for another job (42 percent to 26 percent) or early retirement (29 percent to 19 percent). Emory faculty also report institutional procedures and red tape more often as a source of stress (71 percent to 50 percent).

"We have to be a bit suspicious of the actual numbers since many of our faculty did not take the survey," said Provost Rebecca Chopp. "But I think many persons do find our systems at Emory difficult to navigate; I often hear that we are not 'user-friendly.' I want to make our systems more user-friendly and transparent, because they need to serve our faculty and students."

Chopp summarized what those who have seen the HERI data seem to think: while the validity of the study's methodology might have some problems-responses from clinical faculty, for example, were not separated and likely skewed the results--the findings do pose some legitimate questions. They also offer encouragement.

"We've been working very hard at the University to increase support for faculty research, and this response is a manifestation of that investment, which I think is very good," Frost said. "A survey like this is good at pointing out useful questions-it's less good at answering them."

Other efforts may do just that. The "Faculty at Emory" project being led by Faculty Council looks to examine many of the same aspects of faculty life that were touched upon by the HERI survey.

"It might end up being helpful," said John Boli, chair of Faculty Council. "It really needs to be done with a little more complex analysis; you need to at least get the professional school people in a different group so we can see who's saying what. If we end up using the information, we'll have to look at it more carefully."

-Michael Terrazas

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