Beyond Teaching and Research: Faculty Perceptions of Service Roles at Research Universities
Faculty members in higher education institutions frequently have the responsibility of providing service activities to their institutions, professional societies, and external communities. This responsibility, however, generally carries little reward in the workplace and does not play a major role in promotion criteria. For the study we report here we drew upon a sample of 4,400 research university faculty members to explore their satisfaction with service roles by academic rank. Findings showed that mid-career faculty members at the associate professor rank were significantly less satisfied with their service functions, including workload, equity, work balance, recognition, and institutional support, when compared with both assistant and full professors.
KeywordsFaculty satisfaction Service Research universities
Teaching, research, and service comprise the fundamental aspects of faculty work. The teaching and research functions of this triad have been explored extensively in higher education research; however, few comprehensive studies have examined faculty attitudes about and experiences with their service roles (Blackburn and Lawrence 1995; Lawrence et al. 2012; Neumann and Terosky 2007; Schuster and Finkelstein 2006; Ward 2003). Service has been characterized as vague and “nebulous” (Neumann and Terosky 2007, p. 282) and has been found to play an insignificant role in institutional reward structures and tenure and promotion processes (Jaeger and Thornton 2006; O’Meara 2002; Ward 2003). Yet, despite this perceived lack of clarity and importance of service, institutions greatly rely on faculty members to devote their time and energies to a variety of shared governance and business operations, as well as to professional associations, disciplines, and communities beyond campus. The majority of all campus decisions and the work of professional associations involves at least some level of faculty service input and effort. Neumann and Terosky (2007) pointed to the paradox of service emerging as “necessary for the institutional welfare” and at the same time “unacknowledged in faculty work lives” and “underresearched as a ’real’ strand of the faculty career” (p. 284). However, as stated by Lawrence et al. (2012), “After years of neglect, there appears to be consensus regarding the need for research on the service dimension of faculty careers” (p. 326). Given the pervasive and prominent but at the same time unrecognized and ambiguous nature of service, it is important to examine faculty experiences with, attitudes about, and perceptions of their service functions.
What differences exist in faculty satisfaction with engagement in service, outreach, and administrative tasks by academic rank?
What differences exist in faculty satisfaction with autonomy and equity in service assignments by academic rank?
What differences exist in faculty perceptions of institutional support and recognition for service contributions by academic rank?
Background and Framework of the Study
Service has been defined as the “catchall name for everything that is neither teaching, research, nor scholarship” (Blackburn and Lawrence 1995, p. 222). Researchers differentiate between internal and external dimensions of service (O’Meara et al. 2008; Ward 2003). Internal service includes service efforts that support the internal functioning of the institution and the maintenance of the academic discipline. These efforts represent faculty commitment to their field of study and institutional co-governance. On the other hand, external service includes activities such as consulting, outreach, and public service that allow faculty members to share their expertise with external communities and address their needs (Ward 2003). Despite these attempts to categorize faculty service work, Neumann and Terosky (2007) conceded that faculty service is “broad-ranging, eclectic, variable, and thereby underdefined” (p. 283).
Although there is no agreement on how best to evaluate faculty service, such activity has been linked to greater feelings of institutional commitment. Evans (1999) noted that faculty members who were involved in providing campus service through participation in a faculty senate, for example, had higher morale, more creative problem-solving, greater buy-in for finding solutions to difficult questions, and a better attitude about completing their work assignments than those who were not involved in faculty senate activities. Faculty service through involvement in institutional governance has also led to self-reported greater satisfaction with teaching (Miller et al. 1995).
To at least some extent, the notion of the faculty providing service to some constituency, whether internal or external, represents an investment of professional and perhaps personal time and energy. This notion of personal investment has been shown to lead to a variety of benefits other than those identified by Evans (1999) and includes organizational commitment, loyalty, commitment to a profession, and even commitment to personal excellence (Maehr and Braskamp 1986). Yet the notion of commitment and the types of work a faculty member undertakes change throughout the course of an academic career as priorities and motivations shift, suggesting motivation and commitment to different activities are based on a current state mindset of what is immediate rather than academic personality traits. Just over two decades ago Knefelkamp (1990) offered one of the most reflective collective autobiographies describing the “seasons” of an academic’s life. In this offering of seasons or phases of an academic career, he suggested that the fourth season, one of “the public self” (p. 11) is when “careerism” gives way to “instrumental caring” and service becomes a strong element in a faculty member’s self- and professional identity.
Subsequently there are three forces at work that determine whether or not faculty members do indeed find satisfaction in their work providing service. The first such element, as suggested by Knefelkamp (1990), is that more senior faculty members want to offer something back to their professional (and civic) communities. They do this in repayment for their career and to offer something to early career faculty. The second is the perception that a faculty role is something of a public intellectual who specializes in all faculty roles equally (Bornheimer et al. 1973). These faculty members see their academic work as something to be integrated into their communities, their workplaces, and their professional societies. The third factor is that the academic workplace has changed and evolved, resulting in more specialization and a reliance on more focused skill sets rather than on a broad interpretations of work (Finkelstein et al. 1998). These faculty members tend to be more singular in their work and reward systems, focusing, for example, primarily on research and grant writing with less emphasis on teaching or provision of service.
We believe that the examination of faculty work satisfaction overall, and with service activities in particular, can provide valuable and important insights about the state of the academy and can suggest strategies and techniques for working with and mentoring faculty. Research overwhelmingly supports the assumption that increased job satisfaction encourages further good performance and reduces turnover among productive faculty (Hagedorn 2000; Mamiseishvili and Rosser 2011; Rosser 2004; Smart 1990). Faculty members who are satisfied with their work display high levels of engagement and show appreciation and loyalty towards their institutions (Hagedorn 2000). Therefore, it is essential to examine faculty members’ satisfaction with their service roles and shed some light on their perceptions of service work across different stages of the academic career.
This study used survey data collected by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. COACHE has been collecting data from faculty members at participating U.S. colleges and universities since 2005. For the purposes of this study, we received permission to use data gathered from faculty respondents at research universities who had participated in the COACHE survey in 2014 (Benson et al. 2014).
Demographic Characteristics of the Sample
% (N = 4,400)
American Indian or Native Alaskan
Asian, Asian-American, or Pacific Islander
Black or African-American
Hispanic or Latino
Multiracial or other
Non-Resident Alien and other
The COACHE survey is designed to investigate faculty members’ engagement in teaching, research, and services activities and to examine their satisfaction with work conditions and institutional support (COACHE n.d.). To address the purpose of this study, we selected 11 items from the survey that measured faculty satisfaction and perceptions related to their service work. The questions that measured satisfaction with time spent on service-related tasks asked respondents to rate their level of satisfaction with time spent on service (Q45C), outreach (Q45D), and administrative tasks (Q45E), using a five-point likert scale ranging from (1) very dissatisfied to (5) very satisfied. Examples of service activities included committee work, participation in faculty governance, student mentoring, outreach to alumni and prospective students (COACHE 2014). Outreach referred to extension work, school partnerships, community engagement, technology transfer, or economic development. Administrative tasks encompassed such activities as completing routine administrative paperwork and preparing reports (Benson et al. 2014). Items related to satisfaction with autonomy and equity measured faculty satisfaction with the number of committees (Q60A), with the attractiveness of committees (Q60B), with discretion to choose committees (Q60C), and with equity of committee assignments (Q60D). In the COACHE survey, “attractiveness” of committees was defined as the value and prominence of and personal preference for the committees (Benson et al. 2014; COACHE 2014). Two questions asked faculty members to rate their level of satisfaction with recognition for service contributions (Q215D) and recognition for outreach (Q215E), again using a five-point likert scale from (1) very dissatisfied to (5) very satisfied. Additionally, we examined two questions that asked participants to indicate their level of agreement with two statements, using a five-point likert scale ranging from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree: “I am able to balance the teaching, research, and service activities expected of me” (Q55A) and “My institution does what it can to help faculty [members] who take on additional leadership roles (e.g., major committee assignments, department chairmanship) to sustain other aspects of their faculty work” (Q55B).
We used IBM SPSS statistics 22 software to analyze the data. The study utilized the analysis of variance (ANOVA) to explore differences in faculty members’ satisfaction with and perceptions of their service roles by academic rank (i.e., assistant, associate, and full professors). Prior to the ANOVAs, we checked the data for violations of normality and homogeneity of variance. We found that the assumption of normality was not tenable for all groups. Some of the distributions among the three groups were asymmetrical and deviated from the normal curve. However, considering the robustness of the ANOVA and the relatively small deviation from the normal distribution, we determined to proceed with the analysis, keeping the impact of this model violation under consideration (Schmider et al. 2010). In terms of homogeneity of variance, based on the results from Levene’s tests, there were significant differences in the variances among the three groups in Satisfaction with Time Spent on Service (Q45C), Satisfaction with the Number of Committees (Q60A), Satisfaction with Recognition for Service Contribution (Q215D), and Perceptions of Institutional Support Provided to Faculty in Leadership Roles (Q55B). Thus, due to the unequal sample sizes among groups, we conducted Welch’s F tests with Games-Howell post hoc multiple comparisons for the variables listed above that violated the homogeneity of variance. For those that did not violate the homogeneity of variance, we proceeded with one-way ANOVAs with Scheffe post hoc tests. To compensate for the effects of multiple testing and large sample size, alpha levels were set at p < 0.001 (Johnson 2013).
Results of One-Way ANOVAs
One-Way ANOVAs with Scheffe Post Hoc Tests
Scheffe p < .001
Satisfaction with time spent on outreach
1 < 3
Satisfaction with time spent on administrative tasks
2 < 1
Ability to balance teaching, research, & service
2 < 1 < 3
Satisfaction with attractiveness of committees
Satisfaction with discretion to choose committees
Satisfaction with equity of committee assignments
2 < 3 < 1
Satisfaction with recognition for outreach
2 < 1
Satisfaction with time spent on outreach.
There were significant differences in satisfaction with time spent on outreach among the three groups of faculty, F (2, 3,378) = 8.92, p < .001, η2 = .01. Scheffe post hoc tests showed that full professors were significantly more satisfied with time spent on outreach (M = 3.69, SD = .86) than assistant professors (M = 3.55, SD = .86); however, associate professors (M = 3.58, SD = .85) were not significantly different from assistant or full professors.
Satisfaction with time spent on administrative tasks.
Results from one-way ANOVA indicated significant differences in satisfaction with time spent on administrative tasks by academic rank, F (2, 3,397) = 10.13, p < .001, η2 = .01. Assistant professors reported significantly higher satisfaction with time spent on administrative tasks (M = 3.00, SD = 1.05) than did associate professors (M = 2.80, SD = 1.01). Full professors (M = 2.87, SD = 1.04) did not differ from assistant or associate professors.
Ability to balance teaching, research, and service.
Results from one-way ANOVA revealed that there were significant differences in faculty perceptions of their ability to balance teaching, research, and service among assistant, associate, and full professors, F (2, 4,365) = 58.53, p < .001, η2 = .03. Scheffe tests further revealed that full professors reported significantly higher agreement (M = 3.52, SD = 1.28) with that statement than did assistant and associate professors. Further, associate professors were significantly less likely to perceive that they were able to balance teaching, research, and service than were assistant professors (M = 3.04, SD = 1.26; and M = 3.26, SD = 1.26, respectively).
Satisfaction with attractiveness of committees.
We also found significant differences in satisfaction with attractiveness of committees among the three groups, F (2, 4,279) = 6.57, p = .001, η2 = .003. However, even though ANOVA results showed significant differences, the Scheffe post hoc comparison tests did not confirm any significant differences among assistant professors (M = 3.45, SD = .92), associate professors (M = 3.33, SD = .93), and full professors (M = 3.43, SD = .96). In general, the sensitivity of ANOVA is greater than the sensitivity of the pairwise test; therefore, the pairwise test requires larger differences to detect the significance.
Satisfaction with discretion to choose committees.
Significant differences in satisfaction with discretion to choose committees were found among the groups of professors, F (2, 4,284) = 3.94, p = .02, η2 = .002; however, the Scheffe post hoc tests did not confirm any significant differences among assistant (M = 3.40, SD = .99), associate (M = 3.38, SD = 1.01), and full professors (M = 3.47, SD = 1.03).
Satisfaction with equity of committee assignments.
Results from one-way ANOVA revealed significant differences in satisfaction with equity of committee assignments among the three ranks, F (2, 4,269) = 28.44, p < .001, η2 = .01. Scheffe tests showed that assistant professors’ satisfaction with equity of committee assignments (M = 3.20, SD = 1.13) was significantly higher than the associate and full professors’ satisfaction (M = 2.85, SD = 1.13 and M = 3.01, SD = 1.17, respectively). Full professors were also significantly more satisfied with equity of committee assignments than were associate professors.
Satisfaction with recognition for outreach.
There were significant differences in satisfaction with recognition for outreach among the three groups, F (2, 3,081) = 11.09, p < .001, η2 = .01. Assistant professors showed significantly higher satisfaction with recognition for outreach (M = 3.19, SD = .98) than did the associate professors (M = 2.95, SD = 1.08). On the other hand, full professors (M = 3.07, SD = 1.08) were not significantly different from assistant and associate professors with regard to this element.
Results of Welch’s F tests
Welch’s F Tests with Games Howell Post Hoc Tests
Games-Howell p < .001
Satisfaction with time spent on service
2 < 1, 3
Institutional support to faculty in leadership roles
2 < 3 < 1
Satisfaction with the number of committees
2 < 1, 3
Satisfaction with recognition for service contribution
2 < 3 < 1
Satisfaction with time spent on service.
There were statistically significant differences in satisfaction with time spent on service among the three faculty groups, Welch’s F (2, 2,641.49) = 17.06, p < .001, η2 = .01. The Games-Howell tests indicated significantly lower satisfaction of associate professors (M = 3.27, SD = 1.02) than both assistant (M = 3.48, SD = .96) and full professors (M = 3.44, SD = 1.03), but no significant difference was found between assistant and full professors in their satisfaction with time spent on service.
Perceptions of institutional support provided to faculty in leadership roles.
The findings showed that the differences in faculty perceptions of institutional support provided to faculty members in leadership roles were statistically significant by academic rank, Welch’s F (2, 2,153.75) = 23.05, p < .001, η2 = .01. Associate professors indicated significantly lower perceptions regarding institutional support provided to faculty in leadership roles (M = 2.61, SD = 1.26) than did assistant and full professors (M = 2.98, SD = 1.21 and M = 2.79, SD = 1.29, respectively). Assistant professors’ perceptions of institutional support were significantly higher than full professors.
Satisfaction with the number of committees.
Welch’s F test revealed that there were statistically significant differences in satisfaction with the number of committees among the three ranks, Welch’s F (2, 2,544.55) = 26.29, p < .001, η2 = .01. Associate professors’ satisfaction with the number of committees (M = 3.33, SD = .95) was significantly lower than assistant professors (M = 3.60, SD = .92) and full professors (M = 3.48, SD = .92); however, no statistically significant differences were found between assistant and full professors.
Satisfaction with recognition for service contribution.
There were statistically significant differences in satisfaction with recognition for service contribution by academic rank, Welch’s F (2, 2,458.40) = 31.44, p < .001, η2 = .01. Assistant professors were significantly more satisfied with the recognition they received for their service (M = 3.26, SD = 1.03) than were associate (M = 2.91, SD = 1.12) and full professors (M = 3.09, SD = 1.14). Full professors’ satisfaction with recognition for service contributions was also significantly higher compared to associate professors.
The findings indicated that associate professors were significantly less satisfied with time spent on service activities as well as the number and the equity of committee assignments compared to both assistant and full professors. Associate professors were also significantly less satisfied with the recognition they received for service contributions and had significantly lower perceptions regarding institutional support provided to faculty members in leadership roles than their full and assistant professor colleagues. Moreover, they were significantly less likely to agree with the statement that asked about their ability to balance teaching, research, and service activities compared to both assistant and full professors. Conversely, assistant professors were more satisfied with recognition for service, equity of committee assignments, as well as institutional support for leadership roles compared to full professors; but full professors were significantly more satisfied with balance in their work activities compared to both assistant and associate professors.
The findings of this study are consistent with the findings from prior research that show that associate professors in general tend to be less satisfied with their work when compared with both assistant and full professors (Trower 2011; Wilson 2012). Hagedorn (2000) compared midcareer trigger to midlife crisis when faculty members start to question the meaning of their work and reflect on their career paths. During pre-tenure years academics focus on a singular goal of achieving tenure; but once that goal is accomplished many of them “go through a crisis of meaning” (Wilson 2012, p. 2), which can serve as the trigger resulting in changing job satisfaction or job outlook (Hagedorn 2000). Additionally, the “overloaded plate” problem that has been reported in research may become even more apparent in post-tenure years when protections from service and administrative responsibilities disappear and non-research related work increases (Terosky et al. 2014, p. 64). Associate professors often take on additional responsibilities for committee and administrative tasks and find themselves trapped in service work, which negatively affects their next promotion prospects. This increase in service workload, especially when it is misaligned with what academia values and recognizes, may explain their dissatisfaction with service roles that we found in this study.
In his study of faculty participation in service committees Porter (2007) found that “the biggest driver of faculty committee participation is the faculty life cycle” (p. 537). Our study seems to indicate that faculty life cycle may also play a role in faculty members’ perceptions of and satisfaction with participation in service work. Associate professors in our study were the least satisfied with almost all service measures, including service workload, equity, autonomy, work balance, and institutional support. Research indicates that service activity increases at the mid-career point and during post-tenure years, and faculty members have to adjust to this new reality of growing service demands. As noted earlier, at research universities, many pre-tenure academics are protected from service responsibilities, but soon after receiving tenure they experience an expansion of service work as well as “intensification of responsibility in higher-stakes or higher-status service roles” (Neumann and Terosky 2007, p. 291). This may lead to dissatisfaction, especially considering the mismatch between service demands and the value that is associated with service in institutional reward structures (Jaeger and Thornton 2006). Furthermore, even though associate and full professors both share the protection of tenure at the institution and may display similar commitments to service, they are at different stages of their academic careers. Mid-career crisis of meaning and prospects for the next promotion bring unique vulnerabilities to the academic lives of associate professors that can potentially also lead to their dissatisfaction with increased service demands.
Service in many ways is a learned behavior in academia (Fitzmaurice 2013). New faculty members have to learn what to value and how to invest their time, especially in making determinations about service commitments, when annual evaluations and workload policies can be vague and unclear (Fitzmaurice 2013; Lucas and Murry 2011). In their study of faculty socialization into service roles, Reybold and Corda (2011) revealed that early career faculty members engaged in service with positive attitudes and enthusiasm but that over time “they developed a distrust of service and either curtailed or actively avoided service activities” (p. 139). Findings from our study also suggest that early career faculty members perceive their service responsibilities more favorably than mid-career and to some extent even late career academics. Reybold and Corda (2011) also noted that “veterans” (p. 142) learned to manage their work responsibilities effectively and find balance in their work roles, which could be true for full professors in our study as well because they were the most satisfied with balance in research, teaching, and service expectations of the three faculty groups.
The findings of this study should be interpreted in light of limitations. First, we used secondary data from the COACHE survey, which restricted our choice of available variables. For example, questions on the survey did not directly measure satisfaction with activities related to service to professional associations and disciplines. Second, faculty participants in this study came from 13 research universities with very high and high research activity. Faculty participation in the COACHE survey depends on the institutional membership that is purchased by institutions. Therefore, the faculty respondents from 13 research universities that participated in COACHE in 2014 are not representative of all faculty in U.S. research universities, which limits the generalizability of our findings beyond our sample. Future research should broaden the scope of the study and include other types of higher education institutions. Finally, future research would benefit from including the length of time in rank as one of the variables when analyzing faculty members’ satisfaction with service roles. For example, the number of years since promotion to associate professor may affect faculty perceptions of their service work itself as well as recognition and support they receive for that work.
Mid-career faculty members make significant contributions to the academy in all areas of their work, and especially in service. Research confirms that mid-career academics devote more time than other groups to administration, assume more leadership roles, and become more engaged in their professional associations, which may lead to added stress, role conflict, and dissatisfaction (Baldwin et al. 2005). Research also confirms that institutions do not often target their resources, support programs, and incentives to faculty members in the mid-career stage (Strage and Merdinger 2014). Their contributions and efforts, especially in the areas of committee work, outreach, or mid-level administration often go unnoticed and unrecognized, which may not only lead to dissatisfaction but also adversely affect their commitment and loyalty to the institution (Lawrence et al. 2012). Dissatisfaction with service roles may also spill over to other work roles, such as their teaching responsibilities and work with students; however, examining to what extent faculty members’ attitudes towards service affect their perceptions or experiences with other work roles was beyond the scope of this study.
Baldwin and Change’s (2006) study found that nationally few institutions provided programs and initiatives designed to support mid-career academics in a comprehensive and systematic way. Based on their review of available programs, they designed a model that identifies key strategies to assist mid-career faculty members with career assessment, reflection, and planning. The key elements of the model include support programs that provide mentoring and networking opportunities and resources that allow mid-career academics to get release time, research support, and funding for professional development. In addition to institutional support and resources, Baldwin and Change (2006) identified awards and recognition as a critical piece of the comprehensive system of mid-career faculty development. Institutions should also create opportunities and contexts that allow faculty members to reflect on their careers, reassess professional goals, and identify deliberate and purposeful actions to accomplish these goals (Campbell and O’Meara 2014; Strage and Merdinger 2014). Our findings highlight the need for institutions to communicate a message that service is valued and recognized and allow faculty members to have more autonomy and discretion in choosing service commitments that are of personal and professional interest to them. Moreover, they should be allowed to stop out of any given role to redirect their focus and regain fulfillment with campus and professional service. Knefelkamp (1990) encouraged institutions to allow and promote fluidity across an academic career. For example, the value of sabbatical leave programs might even be explored not in terms of increased productivity, but in terms of faculty members psychologically working through their own mid-life and mid-career events. Mid-career mentoring should also be encouraged as it has the potential to create faculty support networks and foster the academic environment that is responsive to faculty needs.
By understanding the needs and perceptions of faculty members at different career stages, higher education institutions can address the sources of their dissatisfaction and provide them with more targeted support structures and resources. We hope that our study is an encouragement to institutions and the academy at large to recognize service as a valued aspect of faculty members’ work; to promote equity and autonomy in service assignments; and to provide support to academics who contribute their time and expertise to their institutions, professions, and communities.
Acknowledgement and Disclaimer
The authors acknowledge that the reported results are based in whole on analyses of the COACHE Data Set. These data were collected as part of a multi-site survey administration and supported by funds from participating colleges and universities and made available to the authors by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education. This article has not been reviewed or endorsed by COACHE and does not necessarily represent the opinions of COACHE staff or members, who are not responsible for the contents.
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