ModernThink Survey Shows Decline in Faculty, Staff Satisfaction

Hartford Hall, which contains the offices of WCC's top administrators. (Photo: Victoria Fennell)

by Dana Hirsch


A ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey titled “Great Colleges to Work For” was released in Dec. 2016, showing an overall satisfaction rate of 44% among all administrators, faculty, and staff—a 17% decline compared to the same survey from 2013.

According to the Feb. 2017 newsletter of the Westchester Community College Federation of Teachers (WCCFT), 170 members of the WCC community were selected at random in March and April to answer questions about job satisfaction in 15 different categories.

The survey was released in December, after Mel Bienenfeld, President of WCCFT, made inquiries and formally requested the report.

In regards to the results of the survey, WCC President Belinda Miles pointed out that while certain categories did have low scores, other key areas displayed improvements.

“The Great Colleges to Work For survey revealed better scores in job satisfaction, pride, and professional development, and it showed low scores in shared governance, communications, and faculty/administration/staff relations,” President Miles said.

However, Richard Courage, Editor of the WCCFT newsletter, speculated that the college refrained from releasing the survey earlier due to fear of embarrassment by what he called “abysmal results”.

“I called the ModernThink organization and asked someone there when the reports are sent to the campus and she said they were sent out in August,” Courage said. “Consequently, the several hundred participating institutions received the reports in August.”

According to the ModernThink survey, the satisfaction rate among faculty in the category of shared governance was 16%. The term “shared governance” refers to the faculty’s role in the college’s decision-making process.

Regarding the shared governance statistic, President Miles stated that developments were being made to address that specific area.

“We are initiating an inclusive process to gain insight from employees regarding each item on the Great Colleges survey,” Miles said. “We are reaching out to faculty and staff leaders to design a process that may include anonymous surveys and affinity group meetings.”

Courage, however, feels as though WCC’s official stance on the issue is not reflected in the administration’s actions.

“The college has an official policy of shared government and decision making but it doesn’t follow its own policy,” Courage said.

Presiding Officer of the Faculty Senate, Heather Ostman, believes that faculty are included, though their inclusion is uneven. Ostman claims that an explanation for the low satisfaction with shared governance could be that the same connection people had with former WCC President Joseph Hankin does not exist with President Miles.

“We have a new administration and there’s a learning curve for everyone,” Ostman said. “One of the things that the previous president enabled was an open access. Everyone had access to Dr. Hankin—you would email him and he would email you back.”

According to President Miles, areas regarding shared governance are of “highest concern” with WCC administration taking specific steps to address the issue.

“Our goal is to develop consensus around specific actions we can take together that will address the areas of highest concern,” Miles said. “These will be a valuable addition to town halls, visits with various academic departments and schools, and open office hours that have created different spaces for community members to share their perspectives.”

Sympathetic to WCC administration, Ostman believes that various external factors, including a review of WCC’s accredited status by independent organization Middle States, led the new administration to shift focus away from faculty satisfaction, leading to the currently tense atmosphere.

“I think the governance issue emerged because the school was reorganized without input, then there was this long, drawn-out process and some of the departments are still in slight disarray in terms of their organization,” Ostman said. “We’ve had so many deans in almost every division– some of the deans have stayed longer but in arts, humanities and social science we’ve had a turnover of about five deans in two years.”

WCCFT President Mel Bienenfeld shared Ostman’s sentiment that former President Hankin is missed by faculty, but conceded that many issues had accumulated before Hankin left office.

“When Dr. Miles first took office in January of 2015, we all had high hopes for the new administration,” Bienenfeld said. “The previous President, Joseph Hankin, was well-respected, but problems had accumulated in his final years and there was a long, chaotic interim period in which we did not have a permanent administration.”

Bienenfeld pointed out that changes to the standard protocol at WCC by new administrators also contributed to current faculty dissatisfaction.

“Changes continue to be made in the way things are done, often by new, inexperienced deans who do not understand how things work at WCC,” Bienenfeld said. “In department after department, faculty members find that how classes are being scheduled and duties assigned only makes their jobs harder and does nothing to help students.”

Miles, however, said that the President’s Communication Council, previously closed to staff and students, has become more inclusive by bringing together leadership from across the college for effective communications and shared governance.

“A transparent, collaborative, and inclusive Student Success and Academic Excellence Summit in October involved more than 200 employees and prioritized our student success work,” Miles said. “As one example, a cross-functional team is revamping the students’ first year experience, which will start to roll out later this year, and, most importantly, our faculty and staff are making great strides in producing record levels of student success outcomes.”

The survey results are being discussed amid increasing tension over the still-unsettled contract disputes among faculty, staff, and WCC administration, which President Miles believes to be the primary reason behind widespread faculty dissatisfaction.

“Although I cannot speak for faculty, the WCCFT union leadership has made known its dissatisfaction with contract negotiations,” Miles said, reiterating a statement released to The Viking News in the fall of 2016. “We have reached an agreement on staff contracts, which was not accepted by the county, [but] we continue to work on behalf of staff to resolve that contract, which has been my commitment from the start.”

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