from Inquiry, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2001
© Copyright 2001 Virginia Community College System
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This study examines the role perceptions of full-time faculty members at a community college, including role conflicts and levels of job satisfaction.
According to role theory (Sarbin & Allen, 1969), it is likely that faculty members’ role perceptions affect their teaching styles and, consequently, effectiveness of teaching. Given the increasing numbers of women and minority students, particularly at the community college level, and the need for women and minority faculty, it is appropriate to explore the perceived professional roles of faculty at these institutions. Very little quantitative or qualitative research has been done to investigate community college faculty (Thomas & Asunka, 1995). Thus, it is helpful to understand how community college faculty members view their respective roles and responsibilities in order to meet their own needs and the needs of the college and its students (Toman, 1995). Role perceptions often influence faculty performance in their duties as educators. If professional roles are socially constructed, then the institution, students, colleagues and discipline should have a transactional influence on the roles of community college faculty. The results of this study contribute insight into the role perceptions, expectations, conflicts, and satisfactions within community college teaching, and the effects of gender and ethnicity.
Currently, more is known about the status of students than about the status of faculty in American colleges and universities (Altbach & Lomotey, 1991). Also, it has been projected that whereas student enrollment in higher education will increase in the coming decade, there will be a decline in the availability of faculty, especially those from minority groups (Hudson Institute, 1990). The combination of the limited knowledge about faculty in higher education and the projected shortage in their availability call for more studies of faculty in American colleges and universities.
It is important to consider the satisfaction with their roles. Satisfied faculty members provide a source of strength and identity to the college atmosphere. Abraham (1994) found that instructors with high and medium levels of job satisfaction were more effective than those with low job satisfaction. Job satisfaction was independent of length of service and related solely to an individual’s attitude toward his or her job. Additionally, satisfied faculty perceived their roles as more instrumental in helping students expand their educational goals.
Research on minority faculty role issues began in the 1980s with Payne (1985) who examined the role perceptions of African American faculty in higher education and found no significant differences in minority perceptions of their roles. Swoboda (1990) found opposing results to the Payne study. Minority faculty in this study reported their role perceptions to be more stressful due to the extra demands placed on them by their minority status. More recently, Toman (1995) conducted a qualitative study on role perceptions at one community college and found that minority faculty often perceive themselves to be role models for minority students and invest themselves in student progress in ways that exceed the contractual obligations of the institution. The excessive demands were perceived to be necessary and stressful, yet rewarding depending on student success. Lastly, Thomas & Asunka (1995) found that women and minority faculty at a predominantly white institution felt relatively good about their jobs.
This study will extend these prior efforts first by combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies, and second by focusing on the perceived roles of women and minority faculty. Furthermore, examining the role expectations of women and minority faculty has even greater relevance at a community college where women and minority faculty serve the needs of a student population that is both largely female and minority.
The Faculty Survey for this study was adapted from three pre-existing scales: the first eight items of the survey collected demographic information: gender, ethnicity, age, educational level, years of teaching experience at the college/university level, number of classes taught per semester, instructional area, and percentage of time spent in teaching, advising, administration, committees, and other job-related responsibilities. Items 9-37 were taken from Rizzo, House, and Lirtzman’s Role Ambiguity and Role Conflict Scales (1970); items 38-55, from Koeske & Koeske’s Job Satisfaction Scale (1993); and items 56-75, a satisfaction scale taken from the Purdue Teacher Opinionnaire by Bentley & Rempel (1980). Thus, the Faculty Survey used in this study was a 75-item questionnaire comprised of three scales measuring role conflict and ambiguity, general job satisfaction, and teaching satisfaction.
In addition to the Faculty Survey, four focus groups were conducted to gather more descriptive and specific information from faculty members on their role perceptions. Participating faculty members were asked to provide information on how they view their roles, their levels of job satisfaction, and their respective coping mechanisms to resolve any role conflicts. A research assistant was utilized for data analysis of the transcripts. Audiotapes and transcripts were reviewed by the researcher and the assistant to insure compatible interpretations of data. Focus groups were based on ethnicity (white, black) and gender (male, female) for a total of four groups, each consisting of four to six members. The duration of the groups was approximately one hour and took place in conference rooms on campus during the day. Questions for the focus groups were semi-structured and all groups received the same questions. Questions were followed up with probing and encouraged discussion of issues. The following questions guided the group meetings:
1) How do you generally feel about the work you do as faculty members?
2) What provides you with the most satisfaction in your job?
3) What kinds of dissatisfactions/frustrations do you experience in your job?
4) What kinds of things do you do to resolve your frustrations?
Do you perceive your job responsibilities to be different than that of other faculty members? If so, how are they different?
Analysis of Data
The descriptive data from the questionnaires are reported in frequency distributions and percent of responses. Responses were analyzed, interpreted, and described across ethnic groups and genders. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine any group differences as well as correlations to determine the strength of the relationship between variables of interest. Additionally, regression analyses were performed to determine the contribution of predictor variables.
The first hypothesis contends that women and minority faculty will have different role perceptions at the community college. Results from the survey did not support any differences between genders across the three scales (role conflict, job satisfaction, teaching satisfaction); however, significant differences were found among ethnic groups on the role conflict scale. The focus groups yielded different but supporting evidence of this hypothesis. White males did not perceive any gender or ethnic differences in faculty roles while both black males and white females did. Black females reported similar perceptions to that of white males; that is, there were no perceived differences in roles.
The second hypothesis in this study contends that the different role perceptions of women and minority faculty lead to greater role conflict within these faculty members. Results from the survey revealed no significant differences between genders, with the means and standard deviations being almost identical (males = 119.87/15.57, females = 119.22/14.27), thus this hypothesis was not supported. However, the survey revealed significant differences in role conflict among all ethnic groups except for Blacks and American Indians at the .05 level. Asians, Hispanics, and whites reported the highest levels of role conflict, respectively, with Blacks and American Indians reporting the lowest. The black male and white female focus groups reported greater levels of role conflict while black females and white males reported lower and equal levels. Thus, the quantitative and qualitative data produced discrepant results for this hypothesis.
The third hypothesis states that the perceived levels of stress due to role conflict will be viewed negatively by some faculty members and positively by others. This hypothesis was wholeheartedly supported by the responses generated by the focus group members. Given the reported role conflict issues of the individual faculty members in the focus groups, some faculty members embraced their respective frustrations as a challenge and worked within the limits the job imposed upon them while others reported their frustrations within a more helpless and continual state of stress. For example, one positive view of role-conflict-related stress is reported by one white male faculty member (Joe) who is verbalizing his concerns with student retention:
I recognize that not everybody here is going to make it but that still doesn’t make it easy when they don’t. They commit a form of suicide when they don’t get an education, by not preparing themselves to make the most of the life that they have and that’s depressing. But I try to recognize the fact that it is their decision. I have to live with that and I can't change it no matter how bad I may feel for them. And the fact that my life isn't based, in terms of my satisfaction, on whether everyone succeeds or fails, that I have other things I've done in my life that are also meaningful -- those things are uplifting. And again, the one person who calls you up once a year and says, "I did this," often is enough to compensate for the 30 who in the same class who did nothing. So, you take a small amount of satisfaction and you stretch it a long way.
A black female group member (Diana) stated with regard to her frustration with the same issue:
There’s a lot of dissatisfaction here, but there’s a lot of time to try to be creative; so that you can be more proactive in what you’re doingæjust because of the minority population on this campus. So as a result of that we’re not going to be sitting there, being frustrated. I’m sitting here trying to be creative and thinking of ways to keep students in the mainstream, and to keep them challenged so that they will complete what they’ve set their mind to do.
Conversely, one white female group member (Gina) verbalizes her negative perception of job stress in this statement:
I feel frustrated that students come and go so quickly. So I try to get to know them as well as I can in the time that they’re here, but there’s not a whole lot you can do. That’s the structure of the community college system. That’s just one of the unfortunate things you have to get used to.
The fourth hypothesis contends that women and minority faculty will report lower levels of job satisfaction than other faculty. Survey results revealed no significant differences between genders, and in fact the mean of the women is slightly higher (males = 88.49, females = 92.13), indicating slightly higher levels of job satisfaction. No significant differences were found among ethnic groups on the job satisfaction scale. In fact, Asians reported the highest levels of job satisfaction (mean = 103.50), with Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, and Native Americans following (means = 97.83, 90.35, 88.75, and 71.00). Thus, the results from the survey do not support this hypothesis. Similarly, the focus groups did not seem to differ in their overall reported levels of job satisfaction. All of the faculty members interviewed reported being very satisfied in their respective positions. However, the reported frustrations and dissatisfactions were more numerous and lengthy for the black male and white female groups. Apparently, these groups are experiencing greater amounts of role conflict in terms of the demands of the job, lack of personal time, and institutional racism and sexism. The overall responses of the white male and black female groups were more positive and similar.
Summary and Conclusions
A Quantitative & Qualitative Integration
It is notable that, in many areas, the quantitative and qualitative data from this study present conflicting results. Based on the analysis of the survey data, no significant gender differences were obtained on any scale, and the only significant ethnic difference was obtained in role conflict. However, as indicated earlier, the limited participation of minority respondents makes it difficult to warrant drawing a valid inference or conclusion from the findings of this study for minority populations. Conversely, the focus groups generated data that was rich with perceived differences in roles.
In this specific study, significant findings were limited to the qualitative data of the focus groups, which may or may not reflect the perceptions of the larger populations. With this in mind, the primary conclusion drawn from this study is that the faculty at this particular community college are generally satisfied with their roles. Those faculty members who responded to the study were, in general, comfortable with their perceptions of themselves as teachers and also believed that they played an important role in helping students to reach their academic and personal goals. Their respective levels of satisfaction were largely determined by their perceptions of their students’ academic successes and failures. Faculty members enjoy teaching and supporting students in their efforts, and the feedback they receive from students ultimately helps faculty members determine their levels of job satisfaction. Thus, student interaction becomes the primary resource for determining faculty job satisfaction.
A second major finding of this study, which deserves attention, is that race and gender do interact and have an impact on faculty perceptions of roles. In fact, at this institution there is evidence that the white male faculty members have more in common with the black female faculty members, and the black male faculty members have more in common with the white female faculty members in terms of the perceptions of their respective roles.
In keeping with previous research, the faculty members at this institution reported that the goal of the community college is different than that of four-year institutions in higher education. Most faculty see their work as providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged students; thus they derive satisfaction from the successes of these students. In each of the four groups, members expressed a great deal of concern and perceived responsibility for their students’ achievement. As they generally stated, many of the students were there in a nontraditional sense seeking a second chance at obtaining an education or attempting to gain an education under circumstances that were difficult or nontraditional. At this college, students are generally perceived as being too numerous and under-prepared. As expected, faculty become frustrated with their lack of success in such an institution which is intended to provide an avenue for these students to become successful. Due to the feelings of frustration experienced by these faculty, many become detached from taking personal responsibility for student failures, while others assume additional responsibility for the success of these students, resulting in additional stress and role conflict for those faculty.
Furthermore, there is consensus in the perceived difficulty to reach some of the students who need help the most, especially black males. Many of the faculty also expressed frustration with the administrative process and administrative members because they perceived them as barriers to assisting the students. Spanning each group was a tone of frustration with a bureaucratic system and uncooperative administration for denying them additional opportunities to reach students whom they already felt were in precarious educational positions. Even with these perceived setbacks, the smaller successes with individual students tends to outweigh the more numerous and regular failures that faculty experience.
With the exception of the white males, all other groups reported taking the initiative to meet student needs beyond the scope of their assigned duties. This agrees with previous findings and has been called the ethno-humanist role (Lomotey, 1994). In fact, the faculty members at this college have mentioned sacrificing personal time, professional time, and money to meet student needs. In particular, black males discussed at length their strategies for connecting with and helping black male students, whom they see as struggling with similar issues within the institution.
Lastly, the results of this study agree strongly with Swoboda’s (1990) in which minority faculty were expected to carry disproportionately high teaching, advising, and service loads; they were often victims of racism or sexism; and they felt cut off from a range of networks and supportive services. In particular, black male and white female faculty members reported having these same difficulties in this study. Black male faculty members spoke at length about institutional racism, higher service loads, and lack of network with other minority faculty and minority students. White female faculty members discussed institutional sexism and lack of personal time due to high teaching demands and lack of administrative support. Interestingly, black female faculty members also mentioned some of these issues subtly but did not report them to be stressful or conflicting in their respective roles.
Practical Implications & Future Directions
In general, based on the findings of this study, the faculty members at this institution were satisfied with their jobs and their perception of their individual roles. The survey did not demonstrate significant race and gender differences in the role conflict or job satisfaction domains. The focus group interviews did not differ from the survey with regards to job satisfaction; however, they revealed differences in the role conflict domain.
Specifically, white male faculty reported frustration with regards to student retention, while black males reported frustration in the lack of minority faculty at the college and a lack of community with black male students. White females reported frustrations in the areas of student retention and lack of time/support services while black females report frustration primarily in the area of lack of funding. The white male and black female groups did not perceive their roles to be different than other groups while the black male and white female groups perceived role differences based on race or gender.
The results of this study clearly call for further investigation of these respective gender/minority groups and the perceived differences among them in the realm of higher education. A more in-depth study of other groups who were not represented in the qualitative aspect of this study is also warranted.
Minority response for this study was very low as should be anticipated at any institution that is composed of a limited minority representation. It is quite possible that members of minority groups who are in a position where their representation is very limited would not be comfortable in responding to surveys or interviews concerning their jobs, particularly if they do not perceive a feeling of security within that job. With this in mind, research in this area may be severely limited if it does not tap the very subjects who potentially exhibit the highest levels of role conflict and/or lower levels of job satisfaction.
With regards to the problem of student retention, all groups interviewed, with the exception of black females, reported concern and frustration in this area. The low rate of student retention is an unfortunate reality at the community college. The open admissions system at community colleges yields an influx of large numbers of students with varied backgrounds. This, in itself, has the potential for an increase in the likelihood of teacher and student failures, thus resulting in low retention rate. Due to this dilemma, support should be given to faculty members (especially new faculty) on how to accommodate this norm into their personal definitions of job satisfaction and success. Also, the faculty and administration should be encouraged to develop a mentoring system within the respective departments. This would enable both the faculty members and students to benefit from the emotional and academic support needed to enhance the pursuit of academic and personal goals.
Additionally, the different coping mechanisms cited by different faculty members should be further explored both quantitatively and qualitatively. It is worth investigating why different faculty members (based on ethnicity and gender) cited different coping mechanisms for dealing with student failure/retention. It is also worth investigating why some of these options may not even be considered by certain faculty members. Such information would further enhance our understanding of how different faculty members perceive their roles. For some faculty members, their perceived duties may end with teaching in the classroom. It would, therefore, be useful to examine the differences in faculty that perceive their roles to expand beyond the contractual obligations of the job to better understand those who take on additional responsibilities at their own personal choice, and often, expense.
The equality in the proportion of male and female faculty members at this college may have attenuated any potential significant gender differences in the results of this particular study. In institutions where there are adequate or proportional representations of minority groups (race or gender), there is greater opportunity for equality of responses. In fact, for this study, more women (103) responded to the survey than men (74). Future research should investigate differences between institutions that possess equal representation of minority groups and institutions which consist of a more sparse minority representation. Such an investigation would allow researchers to determine the impact that group size has on the job-related variables such as role conflict and job satisfaction. It would also be interesting to investigate these differences at the four-year institutional level.
Also, recommendations for future research include further work with broader based populations of teachers in higher education. Conceivably, more experienced instructors have different needs and expectations than do their less experienced colleagues. It would be valuable to determine if the processes leading to job satisfaction are similar or different for teachers beginning their careers, at the middle of their careers, or at the end of their careers.
Because many of the role perceptions of this study were affected by race and gender interactions, it is important to take into account these factors in faculty members' induction into higher education. All of the focus groups in this study mentioned a concern with a lack of administrative support. Thus, improving communication between faculty members and administrators might be a way to facilitate the college’s educational goals. Teaching administrators how to learn and meet the needs of the minority groups of faculty in the college could prove to be of great benefit. Concerns should focus on how such needs differ across race and gender groups, and how administrative actions or college policies affect these different groups.
According to the data, differing role perceptions were discovered to exist among faculty members. The variance in role perceptions was based on the gender and race of the faculty members who participated in the study; however, the clarity of how these role perceptions relate to levels of job satisfaction is ambiguous. Based on the results of this study, the relationship between role conflict and job satisfaction is inconclusive. Those faculty members who reported experiencing greater role conflict and, subsequently, more stress, nevertheless seemed to be satisfied in their roles. In fact, in accordance with previous research, the findings of this study may suggest that greater stress could conceivably motivate certain faculty members to embrace the challenge of their roles, or indeed, that stress may not be the significant factor in determining job satisfaction. The data from this study contributes to a better understanding of the role conflict construct, particularly as it relates to job satisfaction.
Lastly, the results from this study support the need for combining qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The previous, more in-depth, quantitative studies may be missing valuable data that the qualitative interviews of this study are extracting, particularly in institutions where the numbers of minority faculty are limited. Also, within an institution such as this one, which accommodates a greater number of minority students, job satisfaction becomes a critical issue to examine since the efficiency of student education is affected. Satisfied faculty will undoubtedly respond in a more effective manner to the needs of their students, as well as to the needs of the institution, and to other faculty members.
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Sal Corbin, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Virginia Community College, Woodbridge Campus. Before accepting the full-time position at NVCC, he worked as an assistant professor at West Virginia State College and was the Assistant Director of Education at the Computer Learning Center in Alexandria, VA.