Fort Lewis College professors are overworked, underpaid and toil in a less-than-favorable academic climate, according to the initial findings of a campus faculty task force charged with improving recruitment and retention among FLC faculty.
Stephen Roderick, the college's provost and vice president for academic affairs, convened the task force in September, spurred by the resignation of 11 of the college's 215 faculty members in 2008. It was the highest number lost in any single year in FLC's history.
"There has been a growing concern that we're having a harder and harder time hiring and keeping people. ... I figured we've got smart people here with good ideas and I'd like to hear what they have to say," Roderick said.
The 12-member task force spent the current academic year talking to fellow faculty members as well as students and compared the environment at Fort Lewis against nationwide data from other colleges and universities.
Deborah Walker, an assistant professor of economics and chairwoman of the task force, said the six-month study resulted in a general consensus of the three areas of concern, but it doesn't mean every faculty member experiences every hardship.
"I think the compensation part is a big part because almost everyone would recognize we have a problem attracting," Walker said.
"People coming in have no idea about the climate or workload, but we tell them up front what the salary is."
Among the task force's preliminary findings, released March 16:•FLC salaries are at 83 percent of national averages, and salary inequities between men and women within the institution are considered a fundamental problem.
•The workload of faculty has increased to a level that makes hiring and retention challenging. Fort Lewis professors typically work about 60 hours per week, which Beverly Chew, a task force member and chairwoman of the Fort Lewis psychology department, said is a national trend, not unique to Fort Lewis. She said the national average is between 55 and 60 hours per week.
"There's more than faculty want to do or are expected to do, but you can't be on honors council and speak during women's history month and take students to this conference or that conference," Chew said.
•The campus culture hinders communication among faculty members, and the college administration does not adequately value faculty. The faculty and staff feel undervalued by the administration and there is a "disconnect" between the administration and the faculty that has led to "a sense that we have lost our sense of our historic teaching college mission," an excerpt from the preliminary report reads.
"I wasn't aware of some of the things we learned," Walker said.
She said the 45-page preliminary report will be reviewed by the faculty and the faculty senate over the next month. Recommended solutions will be prioritized in a final report in May. Walker said all involved recognize the role that the national economic uncertainty will play in any solution, especially regarding pay, but she said there are simple steps, such as creating a faculty parking lot or lessening the paperwork burden on faculty, that could be implemented quickly and cheaply.
"There are some things we can do that won't even take money ... and the next step is to prioritize those based on what we get from the whole faculty, not just the task force," Walker said.
Roderick said he was asked to review the preliminary report to identify any factual errors or misrepresentations cited by the task force. He said the Fort Lewis administration is aware of many of the findings but has already begun to find solutions in anticipation of the final report. Possible solutions include raising tuition for in-state and out-of-state students, lobbying state and federal legislatures for more funding or changing internal campus operations.
"There are a few things we can do, but if we set the priorities we're just guessing - we'd like to hear from those affected as to what they think will help them," Roderick said.