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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

January 6, 2009

Written by C.N.

Racial Differences in College Faculty Job Satisfaction

Firstly, thanks for your patience these past few weeks — between the end of the semester, grading, traveling to visit relatives over the holidays, and most recently, switching web hosts, I was not able to post as often as I wanted. But a new year brings a new start!

As many of you already know, since I am a sociology professor and a person of color, issues related to the intersection of those two areas of my life are particularly significant for me. With that in mind, as Inside Higher Education reports, a new report examines levels of job satisfaction among college faculty and finds some interesting differences by racial group:

Compared to white faculty members, African American, Asian and Native American faculty were less satisfied on a series of questions on climate, culture and collegiality at their institutions. Of the 10 climate measures in the survey, Asians were less satisfied on 6; Native Americans on 5; and African Americans on 4, all by statistically significant margins.

These gaps may be particularly important to colleges seeking to diversify their faculties, as a key theme of COACHE reports has been the idea that today’s younger generation of professors — far more than previous generations — will judge colleges as employers on issues of campus culture and supportive employment policies, not just on prestige or compensation.

At the same time, the new data show that the issues are not identical for all minority groups and that colleges that “lump everyone together” may not be reaching the topics crucial to different populations. . .

For black faculty members, for example, job satisfaction levels with regard to work-life balance were similar to those for white faculty members. But they reported lower levels of satisfaction on interactions with tenured and pre-tenure colleagues, with sense of “fit” at their institutions, and with their sense of fair treatment in their departments. African American faculty members are also less likely than their white counterparts to believe that tenure decisions are made primarily on job performance. . . .

Asian faculty members indicated a different set of issues. Compared to their white counterparts, Asian faculty reported greater clarity about tenure expectations and higher levels of satisfaction on many questions about job satisfaction. But when it comes to questions related to teaching, they were less happy on most questions.

The actual report provides more detailed descriptions of the findings by racial group. Since I have a particular interest in the findings regarding Asian American faculty, some of the findings that struck me was as noteworthy are (as stated in the text of the report):

  • Asian faculty responded that expectations for performance as scholars were significantly more reasonable than did white faculty; however, they felt that expectations for performance as campus citizens were significantly less reasonable than did white faculty.
  • Asian faculty reported significantly more satisfaction than did white faculty with how they spend their time, the number of hours they work as a faculty member in an average week, the amount of time they have to conduct research, the quality of the facilities, the amount of access they have to [graduate assistants]. . . . However, they reported significantly less satisfaction than did white faculty with all but one item in the teaching composite (number of students they teach).
  • Asian faculty reported significantly less agreement than white faculty that their institutions do what they can to make raising children and the tenure-track compatible
  • Asian faculty reported significantly less satisfaction than their white colleagues with regard to the fairness with which their immediate supervisors evaluate their work . . . and their sense of ‘fit’ in their departments.

To summarize, the report data shows that, compared to their White counterparts, Asian tenure-track faculty generally felt that expectations for scholarly performance were reasonable, that they were satisfied with how they spent their professional time and the quality of the academic resources available to them.

However, also compared to their White colleagues, Asian tenure-track faculty were more dissatisfied with their teaching demands, the demands of them as “campus citizens,” with the resources available to them to balance work and family responsibilities, with how their immediate supervisors evaluated their work, and their overall “fit” within their departments.

How should we make sense of these results regarding Asian faculty? At first, these results may actually seem contradictory but for those like me who work in academic settings, they do make sense. The results basically show the Asian faculty know what’s expected of them research-wise and are fine with such expectations, but generally don’t like the teaching demands.

But perhaps most troubling is that Asian faculty generally feel that they aren’t fully integrated or aren’t given fair opportunities to integrate into the more informal “collegial” social environment around them. If this is true, what are the reasons behind such frustrations?

To try to answer that question, I refer back to my earlier post about the effects of racial diversity on college students in which the results of a different study showed that, among other things, increased racial/ethnic diversity among student populations resulted in more racial tolerance, with the notable exception of when White and Black students had an Asian roommate.

I pointed out that perhaps there is a qualitative difference between having an Asian immigrant roommate and having an Asian American (U.S.-born or raised) roommate and that such a distinction would account for this particular negative finding. I think the same idea can be applied to these results regarding Asian faculty.

That is, perhaps Asian immigrant faculty have a qualitatively harder time integrating into the “mainstream’ collegial social environment than do U.S.-born or raised Asian American faculty. This difficulty may be due to cultural and language barriers.

Or perhaps more interestingly (and again alluding to what I wrote in my earlier post), perhaps it may also involve an unconscious bias or hostility against Asians as ‘foreigners’ and as Asian faculty being perceived as representatives of the economic and cultural threat posed by the rise of countries such as China and India.

I think there is a lot of circumstantial evidence emerging that suggests that as the world in general and American society in particular become increasingly diverse, racial/ethnic tensions seem to be gradually and unfortunately rising as “mainstream” Americans feel economically and culturally unstable and even threatened.

Nonetheless, that does not mean everything is doom and gloom. With the example of Obama’s election as our next President, I think there are some very strong rays of optimism, tolerance, and cooperation.

Inevitably, there will be an adjustment period for a new sense of “normalcy” to get established, but ultimately, I am hopeful and confident that as a society, we are on the right track and that racial/ethnic disparities, whether they relate to college faculty of color or some other set of issues, will become less of a problem as we move forward.


June 16, 2008

Written by C.N.

Racial Equality: Military vs. Civilian Life

For most academics who study racial/ethnic relations, we almost exclusively focus on civilian society. But what are such relations like in the military? You might recall that the military was one of the first American institutions to desegregate, occurring in 1948 through Executive Order 9981.

To help us compare racial/ethnic relations in the military versus civilian life, as Newsweek magazine reports, University of Massachusetts at Amherst sociologist Jennifer Lundquist recently published a comprehensive study that contains some interesting findings:

The study of over 30,000 active duty personnel suggests that the armed forces’ social hierarchy—explicitly based on rank—overrides many of the racial or gender biases in civil society, which tend to act as barriers for women and minorities in career advancement. . . .

In civilian society African-Americans generally express higher dissatisfaction with their jobs than their white counterparts and are less committed. But Lundquist’s study of 30,000 active-duty personnel found that those norms are largely flipped in the military.

She looked at five measurements of career satisfaction, including overall quality of life and opportunities for advancement, and found African-American women to be the most positive and satisfied with their jobs, followed by African-American men, Latinas, Latinos and white women. White men are the least satisfied with their military careers, rating their satisfaction and overall happiness with their jobs much lower.

“It’s not that the military environment treats white males less fairly; it’s simply that, compared to their peers in civilian society, white males lose many of the advantages that they had,” Lundquist says. “There’s a relative deprivation when you compare to satisfaction of peers outside of the military.”

I should provide the disclaimer that Prof. Lundquist is a colleague and also a good friend of mine. Nonetheless, her research findings are quite compelling in their own right.

To summarize, those findings are that within the military, there is a much more stringent set of regulations regarding how personnel are judged and promoted. Based on this structure, outcomes do not differ nearly as much by race/ethnicity as they do in civilian society, where such criteria is much less standardized.

Therefore, Whites in the military generally do not enjoy the same privileges of being White that their counterparts enjoy in civilian life and conversely, people of color fare better and have higher levels of life satisfaction than their counterparts in civilian life.

Prof. Lundquist’s results also show that women report higher levels of satisfaction inside the military than do men, although the specific details are a little more complicated. In the end, as the Newsweek article sums up, “There’s a very clear contrast in job satisfaction between civilian and military society, and it seems to come down to the military’s meritocractic structure.”

Of course, Americans continue to debate the institutional morality of the military’s existence and the role it plays in international affairs, but that’s a separate question. The take-home message here seems to be, in regard to fostering racial/ethnic equality, apparently American civilian society can learn a few lessons from its military.