Job Satisfaction of Experienced Professors at a Liberal Arts College

By Marston, Susan H.; Brunetti, Gerald J. | Education, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Job Satisfaction of Experienced Professors at a Liberal Arts College


Marston, Susan H., Brunetti, Gerald J., Education


How satisfied are professors at liberal arts colleges? What are the principal factors that contribute to their satisfaction or dissatisfaction? By listening to the voices of experienced professors, we can gain important insights into their motivations for staying in the profession, as well as their attitudes towards scholarship, service, and other factors that uniquely define their work. Such information could help trustees and administrators--and professors themselves--increase faculty satisfaction and effectiveness, with positive outcomes for the education of students. This information could also be of use to prospective faculty members considering teaching at a liberal arts college, enabling them to more realistically prepare for the rewards and challenges of such an institution. Austin (2002) reminds us that "one of the long-lasting contributions of most current faculty members lies in preparing highly capable, innovative new colleagues for the challenges they will face" (p. 118).

The purpose of the present study was to examine the level, sources, and nature of satisfaction among experienced professors at a moderate-sized, west coast liberal arts college that has a strong emphasis on teaching. In designing the study, the researchers built on earlier research they had conducted with experienced elementary and high school teachers (Brunetti, 2001; Marston, Brunetti, & Courtney, 2005; Marston, Courtney, & Brunetti, 2006). They sought answers to the following research questions:

1. To what extent are experienced college professors satisfied with their work?

2. What are the primary areas of satisfaction that motivate professors to remain in their positions?

3. What role does scholarship play in the lives of professors?

4. How important is it for professors to provide service to their institution?

Theoretical Framework

Job Satisfaction Among College Professors

Numerous studies have examined job satisfaction among college and university faculty (August & Waltman, 2004; Hagedorn, 1996, 2000; Hagedorn & Sax, 2004; Johnsrud & Rosser, 2002; Olsen, 1993; Olsen, Maple, & Stage, 1995; Reybold, 2005; Rosser, 2004, 2005; Smart, 1990). Rosser (2005) identifies four significant areas in the literature on faculty satisfaction: rewards and salary, work and career satisfaction, relationships with students, colleagues and administrators, and benefits and job security. Faculty satisfaction has also been shown to have an impact on the turnover of faculty members (Johnsrud & Rosser, 2002; Rosser, 2004; Smart, 1990).

Smart (1990) focused on faculty intentions to leave their current institution. He proposed and tested a model that examined three areas of satisfaction: organizational, salary, and career. He found that higher levels of satisfaction with both organizational and career measures reduce faculty intentions to leave their current institutions, while salary satisfaction is significant only for nontenured faculty. Emphasizing the complexity of faculty satisfaction, Hagedorn (2000) proposed a conceptual framework for studying the phenomenon based on "two types of constructs that interact and affect job satisfaction--triggers and mediators." She defined a trigger as "a significant life event that may be either related or unrelated to the job" (e.g., change in life stage, change in personal circumstances [such as a death in the family], change in rank or tenure) and a mediator as "a variable or situation that influences (moderates) the relationships between other variables or situations producing an interaction effect" (e.g., motivators, demographics [such as gender, ethnicity, discipline], environmental conditions).

Pollicino (1996) found that faculty satisfaction varied significantly in degree and nature based on the kind of collegiate institution (from two-year college to research university). Ambrose, Huston, and Norman (2005) offered "A Qualitative Method for Assessing Faculty Satisfaction" based on semistructured interviews rather than surveys. …

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