Minority and women faculty members across the nation have reported experiencing more stress than their white, male counterparts because of factors like personal finances and subtle discrimination, according to a new study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.
The comprehensive survey, which is administered every three years, is sent out to colleges and universities across the United States to see what is new and interesting in faculty opinions, stress and teaching practices, said Kevin Eagan, assistant director for research at HERI, and co-author of the study.
The survey asked about 24,000 faculty members from 417 four-year colleges and universities to rate the stress they felt from factors like subtle discrimination, personal finances and institutional budget cuts.
Researchers split up the data by race, gender, academic discipline, faculty rank and type of institution. UCLA, USC and UC Santa Cruz were among the schools that contributed data to the study.
Minorities were on average more likely than white faculty members to report stress within the “subtle discrimination” category.
The report also found that women were twice as likely to report stress because of discrimination than men.
Brenda Stevenson, a professor of history at UCLA, said that as a woman and black faculty member, these statistics do not surprise her.
“The person people expect to see when they walk in the classroom is a middle-aged male Caucasian and that’s often what they expect to see in faculty meetings, too,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson added that she sometimes feels seen as part of a racial group rather than as a woman.
“Being both a woman and a member of a racial minority is hard because most people don’t see that combination together. … Ethnic minorities are more highly scrutinized and their work and actions are more tightly observed,” she said.
At public universities such as UCLA, budget cuts were also a significant factor of faculty stress.
Maria Cristina Pons, an associate professor of Chicana/o studies and director of the Chicana/o studies graduate program, said she acknowledges that budget cuts are likely to increase stress levels for professors at a public university like UCLA.
“Here we have to deal with less staff, more students in our classes, and less resources for our TAs or readers,” Pons said. “It’s hard because everything counts.”
Stevenson added that she has personally experienced pressure caused by budget cuts.
“Though the administration at UCLA does a good job of comforting faculty and assailing our fears (about cuts), I’ve had two pay cuts since I started at UCLA 21 years ago, and only one has been recovered,” Stevenson said.
There is no easy long-term solution to the budget cuts and the stress they cause for faculty, said Shane White, a professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry and member of the Committee on Faculty Welfare for the University of California Academic Senate. Results from a previous UCLA survey ““ put out by the committee to evaluate the impact of budget cuts on faculty welfare – were in line with the national trend reported more recently, White said.
Personal finances and job security were also reported as factors of faculty stress, according to the HERI study. Those who indicated a higher level of stress based on these factors tended to be untenured or lower on the tenure track.
Reports of stress caused by personal finances also varied among different racial groups.
Black, American Indian, Latino and multiracial faculty were more likely than white and Asian faculty to report stress because of personal finances, Eagan said.
Pons also spoke about the additional hardship she feels being in an ethnic studies department.
“We (the Chicana/o Studies department) continually have to demonstrate to the rest of the university ““ particularly to the authorities ““ that we are a real department, not just a political department,” Pons said. She added that continual dialogue among colleagues is one way to help ease faculty stress.
Christine Littleton, vice provost for diversity and faculty development at UCLA, said there are a number of programs in place to counteract discrimination and bias at UCLA.
“(We) do counseling and referral for faculty experiencing stress that they attribute to bias,” Littleton said.
She added that her department also puts together conferences on diversity research to inform and educate with the latest findings on the subject.
Though many factors that cause faculty stress differ between racial and gender groups, there were a few factors that created a high level of stress for most study participants regardless of gender, ethnicity or institutional type, Eagan said.
More than 80 percent of all faculty reported “some” or “extensive” stress based on lack of personal time and self-imposed high expectations, according to the study.
Stevenson said she agreed that lack of personal time and high expectations are major issues that cause stress, though she disagrees about all of the expectations being self-imposed.
“(Pressure) is not only self-imposed but institutionally imposed,” Stevenson said. “You are pressured to perform and produce if you want to receive tenure and gain the respect of your peers.”