By Billy Huntsman
This is the fifth installment in The Round Up/Oncore Magazine‘s 14-part series investigating professor turnover at NMSU.
Why Eber’s respondents left
Christine Eber, professor emerita in the Department of Anthropology, published a study in 2008 titled “A Diamond in the Rough: Faculty Retention at New Mexico State University.” The study focused on why 34 professors left NMSU between 2005 and 2008.
The reasons Eber’s respondents left NMSU were “a mixed bag.”
Most, 18 in fact, left for tenure-track assistant professor positions at other universities. Two left for deanships, two for department headships. Interestingly, four left for non-academic positions, and another four left NMSU without another job arranged.
Twenty received substantial salary increases (anywhere from $15,000 to $55,000 increases), while three received decreases, though “dissatisfaction with salary was not a major factor in most respondents’ decisions to leave NMSU,” Eber writes.
Eber’s 34 interviews, some as many as two hours long, were conducted one-on-one, with Eber asking a series of open-ended questions, rather than having the respondent respond to a survey.
From the respondents’ comments, Eber created encapsulations of what respondents said was most problematic at NMSU
Among the issues Eber found were:
- Lack of meaningful mentoring for new faculty from senior or experienced faculty (25 of Eber’s 34 respondents mentioned this in some way).
One respondent reports feeling as though new faculty are given the message, “We’ll see if he/she can make it” by experienced faculty.
- Resignation about limited resources, acceptance of mediocrity and the status quo, not thinking highly enough of one’s colleagues and students, administrators feeling threatened by faculty members with new ideas and theoretical perspectives (19 respondents).
“‘At NMSU if you came up with a new idea there was much resistance,’” Eber quotes one respondent. “‘They always wanted to do it their way.’”
- Faculty members feel a lack of appreciation from administrators (17 respondents).
“‘Administrators give the faculty the impression that they are replaceable,’” Eber quotes. “‘Fungible, as (Donald) Rumsfeld said about the troops in Iraq. NMSU has a callous, cavalier attitude about losing faculty.’”
In this section also, three separate respondents emphasize what “a difference” a thank you would have made.
“‘I got some very large grants that went to NMSU,’” Eber quotes one respondent. “‘I never got a note from anyone, no acknowledgement that this was an important contribution to NMSU. If a person had contributed as a donor, they would have received a thank-you card. A note from the VP or Provost – ‘This is wonderful’ – would have been nice. I got the impression that getting huge amounts of money is just expected of faculty at NMSU.’”
- Faculty members become exhausted from heavy teaching loads (15 respondents).
“‘I could not do research with such a heavy teaching load,’” one respondent says. “‘I was expected to be superhuman.’”
In addition to heavy teaching loads, respondents also frequently complained of being unable to meet departmental and/or college research and service expectations.
“‘All faculty at NMSU do burdensome work, serve on many committees and lots of extracurricular work,’” says one respondent. “‘The learning curve to serve on committees is steep. The administration at NMSU keeps wanting to suck people dry.’”
- Colleges and departments are poorly connected (13 respondents).
“Difficulty working across departments or units was a problem,” Eber paraphrases a respondent. “In the faculty member’s current position, working across units is considered an advantage because the university is trying to transform itself. There is greater willingness to try different things.”
- Lack of a sense of community, exhibited in inadequate welcome, orientation and assistance for new faculty members to integrate into the NMSU and surrounding communities (12 respondents).
“‘At my new job I have been invited to and introduced at many events since my arrival,’” one respondent in Eber’s study says. “‘Faculty have helped me get to know the people I can work with. No such effort was made at NMSU.’”
Further, Eber pairs this problem with “a sense of people competing with one another for scarce resources, recognition, benefits.”
“‘E-mail messages describing the accomplishments of departments and faculty from the college had the effect of pitting departments against one another, evoking a sense of competition, rather than of celebration,’” Eber quotes one respondent. “‘There must be a better way to celebrate faculty accomplishments.’”
- Administrators are out of touch with faculty members’ realities and don’t seem to care to know (12 respondents).
“For example, some staff members think that professors just ‘show up’ for their classes,” Eber again paraphrases a respondent.
Later, she paraphrases another respondent as saying faculty members are not respected by all levels of administration.
- Administrators have superficial understanding of diversity. Racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia are persistent problems (11 respondents).
Two respondents report instances of misogyny in their respective colleges. Another opposed two male colleagues hiring a candidate the respondent felt was “sexist, rude, and inappropriate.”
Another respondent reported “strong racism” in his/her department, college, and the university at large. Colleagues of the respondent seemed to give him/her the message, “Remember, you’re not one of us.”
“‘It is possible to flourish at NMSU, but mostly only White men flourish,’” one respondent says.
Eber also makes note of several Anglo respondents who reported being accused of racism by Hispanic administrators whom the respondents had confronted about abusing their power.
Diversity issues are not confined to the realms of race/ethnicity, Eber reports.
“At least three junior faculty members in this study left NMSU because they were unable to resolve their problems with senior male faculty members who belong to an ‘old-boy network’ that protected them at the expense of the junior faculty members,” Eber writes.
- Lack of transparency in decision-making (11 respondents).
Complaints in this area ranged from being unable to “get answers from administrators about resource distribution,” “a person could be denied tenure and the dean didn’t feel (he/she) had to say why,” and “efforts on search committees were empty because in the end administrators made the decision about whom to hire.”
- NMSU does not offer help or services to the people of the state (8 respondents).
“After the devastating rain in New Mexico in 2006, the university did not do anything for the nutrition and food safety of the displaced migrants in the affected areas,” Eber paraphrases one respondent. “There were no course releases (for professors) for (volunteer) efforts to take the university to the people, because no one cared about this.”
Poor leadership, either at the dean and/or department head/chair level, was also frequently cited, by Eber-interviews.
Nine of Eber’s respondents say their department heads were “a negative force.” Other comments include “‘I got the impression that the dean didn’t care,’” “‘that the dean expected faculty to leave,’” and “‘the college and university doesn’t seem to care (that [professors] are leaving).’”