What Makes Professors Happy on the Tenure Track? A New Book Explains

August 22, 2012

An expert on faculty jobs who works at Harvard University has published a new book on what makes professors happy along the tenure track, with examples of universities whose policies have earned high ratings from faculty members.

The book—by Cathy A. Trower, research director of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, run by Harvard's Graduate School of Education—was published this summer by the Johns Hopkins University Press and is called Success on the Tenure Track: Five Keys to Faculty Job Satisfaction.

 The book is based on surveys the collaborative conducted in the 2005-6 academic year of 6,000 pre-tenure faculty members at 32 universities. The book showcases policies at seven public institutions that Ms. Trower says scored the highest on faculty ratings in five areas that professors said mattered most. The areas are: clarity about tenure policies, work-life balance, collegiality, support for research, and good leadership. The seven institutions that scored the highest are Auburn, North Carolina State, and Ohio State Universities, and the Universities of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina at Pembroke.

At North Carolina State, for example, Ms. Trower says new tenure-track professors sit down with administrators and complete a "statement of mutual expectations" that clearly tells faculty members what kind of work and how much of it are expected in six key areas, including research, teaching, and outreach. "North Carolina State is off the charts on clarity of the tenure process," says Ms. Trower. "The tenure-track faculty love it because there are no surprises there."

Ms. Trower says she expects the book to be used by administrators who are putting new policies in place or tweaking old ones, as well as by scholars of higher education.

Since the collaborative's initial survey, in 2005-6, it has continued to question faculty members every year and has expanded to include more than 30,000 professors at all levels at 250 universities. Institutions must pay to participate in the survey.