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Faculty, Staff Voice Discontent in Survey

By Angela P. Won

MIT has formed committees to address faculty and staff quality of life issues following dissatisfaction expressed in two surveys.

The surveys indicated a large amount of discontent with the pace and pressure of working at MIT. Both faculty and staff voiced concerns that the stress of working at MIT negatively affected their health.

President Charles M. Vest called the survey important and said, “Awareness is a key step to improvement.”

“Significant progress has already been made in some areas such as child care and tenure clock adjustments for child-bearing,” Vest said. “Issues like housing costs in the area are increasingly difficult to confront, but we are working to improve the ability of younger faculty to deal with this.”

Provost launches committee

Provost Robert A. Brown has created a committee on faculty quality of life, focused on making “specific and prioritized recommendations and establishing continuous methods for monitoring improvements at MIT,” as a result of the surveys, according to the MIT News Office.

Faculty requested increased personal and professional support in the form of mentoring, additional staff support, better resources and technology for home offices, housing assistance, and affordable on- or near-site child-care.

A second committee, focusing on staff quality of life, found that staff sought greater flexibility in their work schedules and ongoing career guidance. Additionally, staff requested a more comprehensive orientation program for new staff members.

A. Rae Simpson, co-chair of the recently reactivated MIT Council on Family and Work, said that programs such as the rewards and recognition program and the new orientation program “were set into motion well before the release of the survey” and that continued efforts will be made to reward and recognize staff. “Guidelines [for job flexibility] are well under way and will soon be coming to completion.”

Council conducts survey

The Council on Family and Work, which was established in 1991 and reactivated by Vest in 1999, conducted the two surveys in October 2001. An independent consulting firm, WFD Consulting, Inc., analyzed responses from the one-third of faculty and staff who completed the survey.

“Looking at the concerns of the faculty and trying to alleviate their stresses is necessary to continue to attract the best people to faculty positions at MIT,” said Roy E. Welsch, co-chair of the CFW.

“Students look to faculty as role models,” Welsch said, and if they see faculty continually stressed and concerned, “they may choose to go elsewhere.”

“We brought to the table what we all thought should be issues to be addressed in the survey,” Simpson said. “We hope we will learn more about issues with staff at forums where people can air concerns that employees feel were not asked on the survey.”

Feelings vary among departments

Only one-third of the faculty surveyed are satisfied with the pace and pressure at MIT, but a disproportionate number of women and younger men suffer from a negative sense of well-being because of intense work environments.

The study indicated that pace and pressure vary among Institute departments, with 75 percent of engineering faculty and two-thirds of Sloan faculty responding that their jobs take up too much of their time, as compared to the 46 percent of Science and Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences faculty.

In contrast, nearly two out of every three of the staff respondents are satisfied with the pace and pressure of their jobs, and 73 percent find their work challenging and fulfilling. However, staff that work directly with faculty -- post-doctoral students and administrative assistants -- noted higher levels of stress and work longer hours.

“It was an intriguing find,” Simpson said, “and will definitely be looked at more closely by both faculty and staff committees on quality of life.”