WCU is what is known in the higher education world as a regional comprehensive university, which essentially means it is a small, regional school. It is not a liberal arts college nor is it a research institution.
It focuses equally on three aspects of the university mission: teaching, research and service in the community. Because of this, some researchers argue that WCU-like colleges tend to have identity crises and therefore lower faculty satisfaction rates.
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“We have tried too often to be all things to all people,” said Bruce Henderson, a WCU professor of psychology.
Henderson wrote a book, Teaching at the People’s University, about the identity problems among small, regional universities. He argued that professors become unhappy at colleges like WCU because they want them to be something they aren’t, such as a high-level research institution. And since most professors come from a research university background, they may not be satisfied working at a “people’s university.”
However, a group of fellow WCU faculty and staff hope to disprove that. WCU employees are inputting data taken in the 2011 COACHE surveys, faculty satisfaction reports put together by Harvard, and using that information to plot the satisfaction rates among professors at different types of universities.
“What we are doing is testing it to see how sensitive it is to institution type,” said Laura Cruz, associate professor of history and associate director of the Coulter Faculty Center. Cruz is one of the WCU employees conducting the study.
The data will show researchers if in fact WCU-like schools have lower satisfaction rates when compared to other types of colleges.
“I suspect that that is at least in some part untrue,” Cruz said.
Research only began recently and will take at least another few months to complete.
“We are still building a foundation now,” said Kirk Smith, an assistant professor of human resources and leadership who is working with Cruz.
But once all the information from the survey is inputted, researchers can begin drawing conclusions about the data — the key point of the study. For example, if universities like WCU do have low faculty satisfaction rates, the researchers, using the data available, can suggest how those colleges can improve those rates.
“What kind of implications and recommendation can we draw?” Smith said. “If you are just doing it for the sake of letting it sit on a shelf, it is really only an academic exercise.”
The COACHE surveys are split in to general areas such as leadership, family policies, tenure and promotion. Faculty at various universities ranked their institution on aspects of each category. Once all the data is crunched, WCU researchers will be able to see where certain types of universities scored lowest or highest and individually analyze subsets of the data — leading possibly to subsequent research projects.
Marie-Line Germain, an assistant professor of human resources and leadership and a research team member, said she is most interested in how leadership was ranked among the various colleges.
“We’ve learned through practice and also experience that leaders … need to know how to create a better workplace,” Germain said.
The WCU team may also expand its research using data from COACHE surveys prior to 2011. However, they could hit a speed bump if the questions are different each year. Differently worded questions would like yield different answers from faculty because of the way people comprehend what is being asked.
“That is a real problem,” Germain said.