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Survey reveals COVID-19’s significant stress on Stanford faculty

By February 27, 2021 No Comments

Members of the Faculty Women’s Forum presented to the Faculty Senate results of a survey that reflect the stress caused by COVID-19, particularly among women faculty, as well as those who are pre-tenure, at the lowest salary levels and with family obligations.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on work-life balance and teaching, research and service have caused significant stress for Stanford faculty members, particularly women faculty, as well as faculty members who are at the lowest level of the Stanford professoriate salary scale, are pre-tenure and who have at-home and family obligations.
Professors Anne Joseph O’Connell, law, and Sara Singer, medicine, delivered to the Faculty Senate a presentation on a quality-of-life survey conducted by the Faculty Women’s Forum. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)
A faculty quality-of-life survey conducted by the Faculty Women’s Forum in late 2020 revealed that untenured faculty members are especially concerned about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on tenure progress and about how the pandemic will be addressed in promotion reviews. The survey also reflected the perception among respondents that the university needs to do more to avoid faculty attrition and increasing inequity, according to the members of the Faculty Women’s Forum.
Findings of the survey were presented to the Faculty Senate on Thursday by Anne Joseph O’Connell, the Abelbert H. Sweet Professor in Law, and Sara Singer, professor of medicine. During the meeting, the Faculty Senate also heard a report on academic continuity during the pandemic and learned more about the decision to invite back juniors and seniors for spring quarter.
A lot more stress
O’Connell and Singer reported that the Faculty Women’s Forum survey found that the pandemic caused “a lot more stress” for 57 percent of all respondents, with the number higher for women – 60 percent – than for men – 49 percent. Broken down, 61 percent of pre-tenured faculty, 61 percent of those at the lower end of the salary scale and 62 percent of those caring for children said they were especially under duress.
Thirty-six percent of all respondents said they were dissatisfied with Stanford’s COVID-19 response, with the highest dissatisfaction (46 percent) seen among pre-tenured faculty. Twenty-seven percent of those with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 indicated they are more likely to leave Stanford post-COVID.
Particularly pronounced in the survey findings is the pandemic’s effect on care for children and other dependents. Forty-five percent of respondents said they were spending at least four more hours per day as a principal caregiver compared with prior to COVID-19. Women bore more of the caregiving responsibilities than their male counterparts. Fifty percent of women and 33 percent of men said they were spending at least four more hours per day as a principal caregiver. Additional caregiver duties were highest among associate professors (52 percent) followed by assistant professors (48 percent). Women faculty also reported bearing a higher burden as educators for their children at home.
Partly as a result, affected faculty say they are spending less time in the pursuit of research. The survey found that 75 percent of respondents anticipated spending less time on research, and 85 percent of those respondents said they expect to decline, cancel or postpone a publishing, proposal or research commitment because of COVID. The survey results indicate that many faculty members are spending more time dealing with the challenges of online teaching, participating in university service activities, and advising and mentoring students who are also struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
The survey was sent to 1,547 faculty members and was open between Oct. 9 and Nov. 6, 2020. The survey was sent to all 710 women faculty, as well as 837 male faculty members – or about half the total – with dependents on their health insurance. Fifty-four percent of the 527 responses came from women faculty. Only 138 male faculty – or 16 percent of men sent the survey – responded. Survey organizers attribute that low number to men likely believing they received it by mistake.
Survey respondents were encouraged to offer personal comments expressing their experiences.
“Some of these quotes are very disturbing about the stress levels faculty were and are continuing to experience,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell and Singer said respondents acknowledged the mitigations already implemented by individual departments and by the university overall. Among those cited included, for example, the tenure clock extension, post-pandemic research quarters for junior faculty, course and service relief, and assistance for online teaching. Faculty respondents, however, cited the need for additional relief, including, for example, additional mental health offerings, help with family COVID testing, an expansion of childcare options and an elimination of the hiring and salary freezes. They also expressed concern that mitigations at the department level often had to be individually negotiated and that the repercussions of COVID-19 are likely to be long-lasting for many careers.

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