Associate professors less happy

In “Unhappy Associate Professors,” Scott Jaschik (Inside Higher Ed) tells us that, “The preliminary results of a national survey of professors by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, at Harvard University, has found that in most measures, associate professors have lower job satisfaction levels than both assistant and full professors do.”

The survey of 13,510 faculty members at 69 American four-year institutions (public and private) during the 2011-12 academic year did not include adjunct professors and we can presume that the adjuncts really would be the least happy of all.

One obvious issue is the length of time one spends at the rank of associate. Unlike the rank of assistant professor, there isn’t a limit as to how long you can remain an associate. Indeed one university I know had a culture of thinking of associate as the ‘career rank’ with the idea that there is no shame in not reaching full, which was seen as a research honour. One might expect that recently minted associate professors start out happy and that the satisfaction with work declines with years spent at that rank.

The article raises the issue of whether the happiness gap is gendered:

“Some of the work that has been done by others on associate professors points to gender as a key issue. A 2009 report, “Standing Still,” by the Modern Language Association, found that English and foreign language departments promote male associate professors to full professors on average at least a year — and in some cases, depending on type of institutions, several years — more speedily than they promote women. Over all, the average time for women as associate professor prior to promotion is 8.2 years, compared to 6.6 years for men.”

The promotion to associate usually happens with tenure and there is a fixed deadline at most institutions, while many universities require or expect a faculty member to put himself or herself forward for promotion to full. I have wondered whether this needing to put yourself forward results in a difference between men and women in the time for promotion to full professor.

I’d be curious too how this plays out in university systems around the world with a different set of academic ranks.

2 thoughts on “Associate professors less happy

  1. As someone currently on the job market, it can be difficult to sympathize with people who have tenure and aren’t happy. But I can recognize that it’s still an important long-term issue for both myself and lots of others. It’s good to hear that some universities are addressing this.

  2. At Sydney women are less likely to apply for promotion than men, at every level (there is no up-or-out at any stage in a permanent job: you apply for promotion to the next rank). But women are more likely to get promoted once they apply, which does suggest that they are not putting themselves forward as much as they should.

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