Why campus leaders must prioritize faculty morale

Administrators can take a proactive approach to involving and engaging faculty

Campus leaders can’t wait until faculty morale is tanking until they add it to their list of priorities.

Keeping instructors engaged requires a proactive approach that includes giving faculty a meaningful role in decision-making as well as building pride in academic departments and institutions, says Edward Hebert, a professor of kinesiology at Southeastern Louisiana University who has studied morale.

“Once morale is bad, it’s really hard to turn the ship around,” Hebert says. “Morale is not something that’s easy to manipulate—you might think, I’ll just pay people more money but that’s not it either.”

COVID, of course, has put even more stress on faculty, as they contend with the twin challenges of overhauling teaching techniques while helping students cope with trauma and anxiety.

More from UB12 signs of growing faculty stress during COVID

“You need to have a strategic plan,” he says. “You need to have some things you do on purpose to improve morale.”

Hebert says, the key components to raising morale remain the same:

  • Sustaining a strong sense of collegiality on campus
  • Opportunities for faculty to work together on meaningful initiatives
  • Allowing more experienced faculty to mentor younger instructors
  • Publicizing a department’s or program’s success.

Facing the future

The economic crisis caused by COVID has many faculty members worried about the health of their institutions and potential consolidations, furloughs and layoffs.

In Pennsylvania, a faculty association has been lobbying state officials to provide more certainty and stability, says Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

At the beginning of the fall semester, the state system had warned of layoffs at 10 universities. The faculty association has pressured officials to lower that to number to only five schools, says Martin, who is also a professor of criminology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Her organization is also closely monitoring a plan to consolidate two groups of the state system’s universities.

“Faculty are isolated from their students and isolated from colleagues who can provide moral support from, and they’re facing all issues like losing jobs and health care in the middle of a pandemic,” Martin says.

More from UB: How faculty can ease students’ stress—and their own anxieties

Administrators can help faculty by providing as much information and clarity as possible.

For example, faculty appreciated when administrators at some state campuses announced the entire fall 2020 semester would take place online, rather than struggling to conduct in-person classes and then having to switch to remote.

“My colleagues at those universities breathed a palpable sigh of relief because they knew in advance how they had to design classes,” she said. “That was extremely helpful.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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