General Education

Discrimination Increases Faculty Stress and Diminishes Productivity

Discrimination Increases Faculty Stress and Diminishes Productivity
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Amanda Morris February 8, 2019

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Do race and gender have anything to do with how faculty members react to stress?

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Higher Education, yes.

Researchers M. Kevin Eagan, Jr. and Jason C. Garvey used data from the <a href="{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }, which included responses from over 21,000 full-time undergraduate faculty at 411 [colleges and universities](" target="_blank">Higher Education Research Institute’s 2010-2011 Faculty Survey, to analyze “the associations between sources of stress and faculty’s activities of research, teaching, and service" to determine if stress from specific sources — family obligations and subtle discrimination — relate to scholarly productivity, community engagement, and student-centered teaching.

The study’s respondents included 59 percent male faculty, 83 percent white faculty, with an average age of 50 and who had been at their current institutions for an average of 12 years. According to Eagan and Garvey, “Just over half (55 percent) of respondents reported having earned tenure, and the average nine-month salary of faculty in the sample fell just shy of $78,000 per year."

Key Findings and Implications

  • Faculty of color who report greater stress due to “subtle discrimination" experience a decline in research productivity, which creates a larger disparity between faculty of color and their white colleagues.

  • Research productivity among white faculty appears to increase slightly when they experience subtle discrimination.

  • Female faculty practice student-centered teaching more regularly than male faculty, which correlated to changes in work responsibilities, institutional budget cuts, and family obligations.

  • Male faculty of color and white female faculty experienced increased community engagement when affected by stress due to institutional budget cuts or family obligations.

The study’s authors warn campus administrators, “The negative association between stress due to subtle discrimination and research productivity among faculty of color represents an ominous sign," especially because of the heavy emphasis on research in the tenure and promotion process. Their study suggests that non-white faculty are at a severe disadvantage when going up for promotion in a discriminatory or hostile campus environment.

Eagan and Garvey further state that diversifying faculty across racial and gender lines is as much about retention as it is about recruitment, and discriminatory environments lead to faculty flight. In addition to providing adequate support and safe spaces for women faculty and non-white faculty to make connections and develop relationships, administrators must also provide resources and promote a more welcoming campus climate by undergoing sensitivity training and becoming “more knowledgeable about gender, race and ethnicity, and other social identities and their influences on recruitment, stress, and retention."

Finally, this study discredits the myth that family obligations create stress that negatively impacts faculty productivity. Eagan and Garvey write, “Faculty from all backgrounds who encountered stress associated with family obligations did not suffer in terms of their productivity; in fact, in our models of student-centered teaching and engagement in civic-minded practices, family-related stress corresponded with greater levels of productivity." However, they also warn that institutions should promote a balanced environment by increasing institutional support for work and family issues, in part by providing quality day care services and departmental support for work and family issues to decrease fear or guilt that faculty may feel when trying to excel in both personal and professional realms.

Research Limitations

The authors of this study acknowledge several limitations, which are themselves potentially interesting areas for investigation. For instance, they analyzed secondary data collected in an older existing research project, which opens the door for a more current and detailed investigation of such issues as discrimination.

Eagan and Garvey’s study only considered “subtle discrimination" relating to race and gender, but it does not account for overt discrimination as a stressor or specific institutional practices that lead to a climate of discrimination. It also seemed to focus primarily on racial discrimination in a study with 83 percent of respondents being white. Conducting a similar study when the majority sample is non-white faculty might yield different results.

The authors write, “It is unclear from our study the specific discriminatory experiences causing stress for faculty, but previous research has suggested that unequal expectations and beliefs among faculty of color that they must work harder than their colleagues contribute to this type of stress" and “suggests that such stress experienced by faculty of color is often due to racist practices within departments and institutions." Conducting primary research with a range of faculty across several institutions that considers more detailed categories and specific questions related to “racist practices within departments and institutions" might provide a clearer picture of non-white faculty stress and how these types of discriminatory stressors affect faculty research, teaching, and service obligations. Furthermore, a faculty stress study focused solely on the effects of gender discrimination would likely be eye-opening and potentially troubling.

The study is also limited by how the category of productivity is defined. It includes articles and book chapters, but not books, public writing, or performances, all of which have different requirements, pressures, and expectations that are potentially important for the trajectory of a faculty member’s career.

In terms of race, gender, age, and income breakdowns, this study was, again, limited by the research sets provided by an existing study. A finer-grained approach with a more precise questionnaire that includes the opportunity for individual faculty members to share anecdotal evidence, would certainly provide a more nuanced and possibly more complex result.


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