It is sometimes assumed that junior (i.e., pre-tenure) professors work much harder and have lower levels of job satisfaction than their more senior, tenured peers. However, a new study of full-time Canadian university faculty published in the April 2012 edition of Higher Education Quarterly (vol. 66, no. 2) concludes that this assumption is incorrect. Junior and senior faculty report working approximately the same number of hours each week, and both groups report high levels of job satisfaction.
Combine these findings with other data indicating that Canadian faculty are well remunerated, particularly at the early stages of their career, and also enjoy a wide range of workplace benefits, and it would be reasonable to conclude that a junior faculty position at a Canadian university is currently a very good gig. Or, as the authors put it more moderately: “Generally speaking, the findings suggest that full-time early-career faculty in tenure stream positions are doing well.”
The study’s lead author is Glen Jones, who holds the Ontario Research Chair in Postsecondary Education Policy and Measurement and is a professor of higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. The other authors are Julian Weinrib of U of T, and Amy Scott Metcalfe, Don Fisher, Kjell Rubenson and Iain Snee at the University of British Columbia. The study is based on data from the Changing Academic Profession Survey, which involved the administration of a common survey to professors in 18 countries in 2007-2008. Over 1,100 faculty members responded to the Canadian component of the study.
(At the time I post this, Higher Education Quarterly has not yet placed its April edition online – I received a copy of the article in PDF format directly from Dr. Jones. However, you can download an earlier version of the manuscript here, which was presented at a conference in the U.K. in April 2011.)
Looking more closely at the numbers, over 70 percent of both junior and senior faculty in Canada report high or very high levels of job satisfaction. Parallel figures for young faculty at American, Australian and British universities were 61percent, 53 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
The authors did find some differences between junior and senior faculty. While both groups report working approximately 48 hours per week (during teaching terms), junior faculty spend slightly more time on teaching-related activities while senior faculty spend more time on administrative duties. During non-teaching terms, junior faculty report spending slightly more time on research activities and senior faculty report spending more time on administrative duties.
As well, junior faculty report higher levels of stress than senior faculty. Approximately 46 percent of junior faculty indicated that the job “is a source of considerable personal strain” compared with 35 percent of senior faculty. The authors say these findings “are interesting but not unexpected. … For those who have already attained the highest rank in Canadian universities, those at the full professor rank, it is not unreasonable to expect that the absence of promotional pressures and the attainment of the highest position in departmental hierarchies would lower overall stress levels and usher in a more favourable opinion of personal and professional circumstances.”
The authors conclude that there exists a “relatively stable and healthy professional environment for both junior and senior faculty in Canadian universities.”
There is the elephant in the room, however, not directly addressed by the paper: what about the burgeoning ranks of PhD graduates toiling away as part-time, sessional instructors? The authors do acknowledge that “there is evidence that the global shift towards more contingent labour is also occurring in Canada.” However, reliable data are lamentably scarce. Anecdotally, I have heard estimates that perhaps half of all courses are taught by contingent faculty, but that can’t be verified. “The implications of these broad changes in the balance of academic professionals in these quite different employment categories require further study,” the authors write.