Most workers at OCC say the same thing: it’s cloudy on campus – and a storm is gathering in the west.
The administration says: break out the sunscreen.
Well, let’s check the weather report.
Consider two surveys — one by the FAOCC in which one third of members participated (around 45 respondents), and the other, by The Chronicle of Higher Education, where 72 faculty – (FAOCC and non-members) participated.
Both suggest it’s time to break out the slickers and rubber boots.
Some quick background is helpful here. In 2008, a procedure that had endured for several decades was changed. The faculty evaluation of the President, Vice President of academic affairs, indeed, all administrators was abruptly ended. (Oddly, this was the same year that all faculty began to evaluated every semester).
In 2011, in part to fill this void, the Faculty Association of Ocean County College, conducted a survey of its members. The results were tallied and presented to the President and the Board.
While the survey bears a full and considered reading (especially the part that shows 88% were too concerned about retaliation to offer any constructive criticism – this at a public college), I’d like to focus on the open ended questions, which provide a kind of climatology on the work environment at OCC.
In response to the question “Describe how you feel about working at OCC,” faculty wrote the following:
1 Tired, tired, tired . . . .
As a college educator of thirty years, I have never felt more disenfranchised from the academic process.
Most of all, I regret the apparent retaliatory practice of dismissing excellent non-tenured faculty colleagues because they do not demonstrate submissive quietude in their relations with college administrators.
2 The atmosphere in which we must work is one of constant duress and fear that permeates into the classroom, diminishing teaching effectiveness.
3 I no longer feel proud to be a professor at OCC; rather, I feel demoralized, humiliated, and dehumanized. I used to enjoy working at OCC. I used to feel respected and valued as a professor. Now I feel intimidated, unsure of myself–never in my academic career did I expect to be depressed, insecure, and quite frankly, afraid of losing my job if I speak openly about issues on campus, even those relevant to my discipline.
When employees fear going to work, worry about everything they say or do at work, cannot trust some members of their staff, experience bullying from administrators, discover that their excellent evaluations and work do not necessarily count, and listen to administrators threaten their jobs at the college meetings, then they no longer feel safe and grounded. How then, are they to teach 100%?
4Working at OCC has become uncomfortable. My opinions, thoughts and ideas are disregarded. The professors who deliver the product are not important–only the bottom line is. This is administrative shortsightedness and (really there is no other word for it) stupidity. I would freely participate on committees but my suggestions and ideas are trashed. If you want a community to pull together then everyone has to be valued. I do not feel valued under this administration.
5 The current atmosphere is one of fear and intimidation. Faculty voicing any opinion other that held by the administration are likely to face retaliation, censure or a trumped up article X [disciplinary hearing]. Cronies and toads are rewarded no matter how incompetent. Fearing integrity and competence, our best new faculty are fired.
7 OCC used to be a great place to work until Middle States renewed our accreditation in 2004 and then President Larson made a concerted effort to take away faculty input on anything regarding OCC. I believe that Larson detests the faculty as a whole and would love to be able to fire each and every one of us. He is a tyrant.
OCC is no longer a good place to work. If I could find another position at a different community college, then I would do so and give up tenure and rank.
Everyone at OCC is scared. Scared that they are going to lose their job. That is exactly how Larson wants it. He is a home-grown terrorist.
8 Love teaching students. Hate all the micromanagement of, and disrespect for, faculty. To the administration, we are just so many replaceable cogs in the wheel — and if it were all up the them, we would be much easily replaceable, based not on merit or experience, but on whether a given administrator likes us or not.
As the college grows, it seems we are subject more and more to efforts to standardize and “can” our teaching and less and less to true individualistic academic freedom. When I was in college, I loved the fact that each of my professors had a different style.
(view the entire survey at http://faocc.org/files/2014/03/2011_climate_survey.pdf)
This rather dispirited view was also seen in the 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education’s survey of all faculty (not just FAOCC members), which found that
- 83% believe there are problems with “Faculty, Administration, Staff Relations”
- 81% believe there are problems with “Senior Management”
- 78% of faculty believe there are problems with the “Teaching Environment”
- 72% believe there are problems with “Fairness”
More recently and informally, the Strategic Initiatives consulting group held discussion sessions and the Board has met with constituents. In both cases, faculty members – and in the former, staff and administration – made their displeasure with the status quo clear.
Why is all of this important?
Because such an atmosphere prevents us from doing our best work.
But don’t take it from me. Recounting over a decade of international research on workplace satisfaction, Christina Maslach, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, concludes that worker dissatisfaction “has negative consequences and thus is something to be lessened, prevented, or ameliorated in some way” (609). She adds that “situational and organizational factors play a more major role [ . . . ] than individual variables” (619). Maslach concludes, in a comment that should strike a chord with OCC workers, that in an organization with negative employee attitudes – which she labels broadly as burnout — “quality and efficiency [ . . . ] will decline” (611).
Similarly, Chris Majer and Chauncey Bell, in the aptly titled “The Silent Killers Of Productivity And Profit,” argue that when workers feel “distrust, resentment, resignation, [and] cynicism [ . . . . they] simply cannot or will not perform to their potential” (64). While this seems obvious, Majer and Bell assert that too many organizations remain “largely stuck in dated thinking, practices, and programs that are increasingly ineffective and often irrelevant” (62).
Given the comments of faculty noted above, their blunt assessment of organizations which are characterized by “institutionalized mistrust, resignation, or resentment” should give pause to our administration. They argue that such a management approach “kill[s] productivity and profitability” (65).
How can we move away from such a negative cycle?
It begins with a clearing of the air.
This can only be accomplished with a climate survey, an in-depth look at campus attitudes. To ensure transparency and “buy in,” this survey should be conducted jointly by the FAOCC and the administration. It will provide the college with the necessary data to institute truly transformative change. Without such an open examination of the realities of the current work environment, any initiatives are doomed to fail.
Some might say there’s no need to check the weather: everything’s okay. The negative comments from faculty? That survey was three years. To that I would reply, good point. If the comments above are no longer applicable, the administration should relish a new survey. It would give them a chance to show how their recent actions have improved worker morale.
The importance of keeping faculty morale high is crucial: as Guvenc G. Alpander argues in his widely cited “Developing Managers′ Ability to Empower Employees,” “The prices we pay for worker alienation are staggering: underproduction, poor quality, sabotage, turnover, absenteeism and alcoholism. Clearly, motivating workers remains one of management’s primary concerns and one of its most difficult tasks” (qtd. in Bess 10). Given these high stakes, it’s clear that determining motivation deserves a central role in any kind of change initiative. How, for instance, will we know what needs to be changed?
Dr. Larson himself, in his Spring 2012 commencement, called for just such a survey, asking, according to my notes, for a “realistic self-assessment” which “seek[s] to understand and support.” A climate survey will meet his goal of discovering our “strengths weaknesses and solutions” and, most importantly, “identify what needs to be fixed.”
Let’s start fixing things by checking the weather together.
Bess, James L. “Contract Systems, Bureaucracies, and Faculty Motivation: The Probable Effects of a No-Tenure Policy.” The Journal of Higher Education 69.1 (1998): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 13 June 2014.
Majer, Chris, and Chauncey Bell. “The Silent Killers Of Productivity And Profit.” T+D 65.2 (2011): 62-67. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.
Maslach, Christina. “What Have We Learned About Burnout And Health?.” Psychology & Health 16.5 (2001): 607-611. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.