Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Greener Pastures: Faculty Turnover Intent in Urban Public Universities

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Greener Pastures: Faculty Turnover Intent in Urban Public Universities

Article excerpt

Urban public universities have cultivated a unique position in the higher education landscape. These institutions provide access to diverse student populations, engage in applied and interdisciplinary research, and address the complex economic, social, political, and environmental challenges of urban life. Similar to the land-grant universities established in the 19th century to address the needs of rural America, urban public universities were founded "in response to urbanization, mass migration to the cities, and the educational needs of World War II veterans and their baby-boomer children" (Severino, 1996, p. 298).

Lynton (1991, 1996) was among the first to note that faculty in urban universities experience unique challenges in their teaching, research, and service roles. In the classroom, urban faculty members encounter a wide range of student preparation levels, life experiences, and learning styles. Urban universities serve large populations of adult learners, first-generation college students, and English language learners. Diverse pedagogical skills are necessary to address the heterogeneous learning needs of urban students (Elliott, 1994).

In their research role, urban faculty may experience conflicting expectations. Urban universities espouse commitments to community-focused research agendas, which often entail interdisciplinary approaches to solving social problems (Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, 2004). Most urban university faculty, however, are educated in graduate programs where theoretical, discipline-based research is emphasized (Spaights & Farrell, 1986). Thus, the enduring tension between institutional priorities and those of the academic discipline (Baker & Zey-Farrell, 1984) is likely to be exacerbated in the urban public university. Finally, expectations for faculty service extend beyond the institution and include what Lynton (1995) referred to as "professional service" to local schools, businesses, government agencies, and community organizations.

Research on urban faculty roles is limited, and it has focused primarily on academic policy changes at single institutions (McCallum, 1994; McMahon & Caret, 1997; Ramaley, 1996). Case studies have illuminated the complexities of aligning faculty rewards with urban university missions. Johnson and Wamser (1997), for example, argued that the faculty rewards question in urban universities is not simply a matter of resolving priorities among teaching, research, and service. Instead, institutional leaders are challenged to consider how each dimension of the faculty role reinforces the university's connection to the urban community.

The literature has focused on institutional strategies and academic policies related to urban faculty roles and rewards. Less attention has been devoted to the actual work environments of urban university faculty. We know little about urban faculty work-life and what keeps urban faculty satisfied and committed to their institutions. The purpose of this study is to advance our understanding of the urban faculty work environment, and to examine relationships between work environment variables and the job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover intentions of urban university faculty.

Faculty Turnover Intent

Practitioners and scholars have raised concerns about stress, workload, and burnout among urban university faculty (Fuhrmann, 1994; Goodwall, 1970; Spaights, 1980). Heavy teaching loads, community-based research, and professional service responsibilities may constitute an overwhelming set of role expectations (Kingston-Mann & Sieber, 2001).

Workplace stressors often have detrimental effects on faculty job satisfaction (Sanderson, Phua, & Herda, 2000) and may lead to decisions to leave the institution or to leave higher education entirely (Johnsrud & Rosser, 2002; Rosser, 2004). Although some degree of turnover is inevitable and perhaps desirable, high rates of faculty turnover can be costly to the reputation of an institution and to the quality of instruction. …

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