Survey finds CSU female faculty unhappy with work environment

Stuart Smith

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that both female faculty and staff were part of the study. Only female faculty were surveyed. 

An internal study by the University has revealed that, in general, female faculty are not happy with their working environments.

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The Colorado State University Standing Committee on the Status of Women Faculty held a forum Monday afternoon to introduce the results of a study conducted by the committee on the environment and working culture that female faculty experience at CSU.

During the forum, the Committee went into detail about what the anonymous survey of 76 women said and proposed a set of recommendations to CSU President Tony Frank.

Dr. Nadya A. Fouad, one of the commissioners of the study, said the results were fairly consistent with those conducted at other academic institutions, such as the University of California system, Syracuse, Purdue and the University of Colorado. But, the CSU survey showed differences in two key areas.

One difference, according to Fouad, was the finding that parental leave is not enforced in the same way across departments in the University.

“I was shocked to hear that (in) almost every single focus group, the women talked about the parental leave, and their experiences were dramatically different,” Fouad said. “The same policy, across the University, was implemented completely differently.”

Another difference, Fouad said, is that department chairs at CSU were said to have more power than in other universities.

“In a lot of Universities, the department chair and department head … (have) some level of accountability at the University level to ensure that the chairs are indeed implementing the policies appropriately,” Fouad said. “But (at CSU), you have the policies, (but) there’s no accountability to make sure that they’re being implemented fairly and equitably across the University.”

Fouad added that when a work environment is more equitable for women, it becomes more equitable for men and faculty of color.

In general, the women surveyed had a negative perception of their pay equity, and the process of negotiating a raise.

“There was a perception that (in) the salary equity exercise… the women had to depend on their department chair, who they already didn’t trust,” Fouad said. 

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Fouad said that the procedure for negotiating a raise has since changed, but the survey nevertheless collected numerous comments on this topic. She also stressed that not every woman who was surveyed felt negatively, and that there were several who had had good experiences with their department chairs.

“There were two or three focus groups where somebody came with an agenda to say ‘everything’s fine,’” she said. “And, while I was happy to hear that their experience was more positive, I was very concerned that they (would) silence the other people who were in the focus group.”

During the survey, one woman who had had a good experience with her department chair realized that what she had experienced was uncommon.

“There was one woman who came very eager to say how things had gone well for her, and when she heard the other experiences she realized that (it) was really because her department chair had worked very hard to be equitable,” Fouad said.

The survey also found that there was a major difference in the experiences of tenure track versus non-tenure track professors and faculty.

“The non-tenure track women felt more vulnerable,” Fouad said. “They felt that their expertise was not valued; they also felt more vulnerable in terms of being evaluated by students. There were a couple of comments by women who felt that they were not set up to succeed by the faculty in the department.”

The Committee’s presentation quoted one of the women surveyed about this particular issue.

“As non-tenure track part-time adjunct faculty, I have talent and experience to give, but few opportunities to use and express those talents and my experience,” the respondent said.

Another female faculty member surveyed described the depression and troubles that she had experienced.

“It just kind of reached a point where I was so depressed and I was very worried about my own health,” the respondent said. “… I know that I’m not talking suicidal, but I mean you reach a point in time where you start getting into that situation.”

Another respondent quoted in the presentation said that the rush and importance of the new on-campus stadium made her feel as if she had a fundamentally different vision of progress than the University.

“I started this career not to make money; it wasn’t my goal. I wanted to create value in the world and I want to be part of an institution whose primary goals are to create value, whether it’s solving cancer or ameliorating poverty or something like that,” she said. “And so, I feel like right now, my values are just so out of alignment with the University’s values.”

Fouad finished her speech by emphasizing that the survey only gave a voice to one side of the story: that of the female faculty.

“I don’t know the other side of the story; I don’t know what the department chairs said,” Fouad said. “It’s just study… on different experiences of the same policy.”

The report ended with a set of recommendations for President Tony Frank. 

The following recommendations were made by the board:

  1. Develop accountability measures and training opportunities
  2. Develop plans to ensure gender-related concerns are adequately resolved
  3. Review and identify policies and procedures that adversely affect women faculty
  4. Revise and audit faculty evaluation protocols and processes to better account for potential gender-bias
  5. Review and ensure University policies are consistent
  6. Centralize and apply parental leave policies to ensure benefits are consistently applied
  7. Ensure all rationales for formulas for salary equity are known
  8. Ensure search processes are compliant with the Office of Economic Opportunity
  9. Audit service contributions of faculty and create adequate measures of service and processes to credit faculty for service work

The committee also had a primary recommendation for Frank, which was to bring in an outside consultant.

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In an email provided to the Collegian, Frank responded to the commission.

Frank wrote that he was disappointed by the results of the survey, and that he and his board have fully embraced the recommendations made by the commission.

“The experiences described by the 76 people who chose to participate in this survey are troubling,” Frank wrote. “Many of the situations described cannot be accepted in an organization committed to caring about the people who make up the organization.”

Frank wrote that the primary recommendation of the committee, that the administration utilize an outside consultant, has resulted in the formation of the President’s External Advisory Committee on the Status of Women. Frank added that other recommendations within the report are being addressed, and that this problem will necessitate action from everyone in the CSU community, regardless of gender.

“For real change to occur… it will require us to engage these topics with a focus on improvement driven through accountability, communication and transparency,” Frank wrote. “All of our efforts are needed to accomplish the improvements to which we’ve committed ourselves – changes to whose time we know has more than come.”

The Colorado State University Standing Committee on the Status of Women Faculty plans to hold future meetings and town halls to continue discussion on this topic.

Collegian news reporter Stuart Smith can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @notstuartsmith.