In a study released last week, researchers Nathalie Dyke and Frédéric Deschenaux expressed surprise at finding that more than 77 percent of Quebec professors are “highly satisfied” with their work. Given that their study, Enquête sur le corps professoral québecois, was born of a 2006 study that showed that 29 percent of young professors were leaving academia within their first five years on the job, the two researchers expected to find a greater degree of dissatisfaction.
Speaking in Montreal at the recent conference, Faut-il reconstruire l’université québécoise?, Dr. Dyke compared the paradoxical findings to interpersonal relationships. “You can love someone and still have many dissatisfactions,” she said, adding that women and young professors of both sexes were less satisfied with their jobs than, respectively, men and older professors.
Of the 1,328 professors who participated in the 60-question study, 58 percent of those aged 61 or older were “very highly satisfied,” compared with 23.4 percent of professors aged 35 or younger who expressed the same level of job satisfaction. In the younger group, 54 percent expressed “moderate” satisfaction.
The conference was organized and the study was commissioned by the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université, an organization representing Quebec professors.
Another indication that Quebec’s 9,000 professors are not equally happy with their situation was the authors’ finding that almost half of respondents (49 percent) had seriously considered leaving their jobs. Of those that had considered leaving 39 percent had thought of leaving academia altogether while 19 percent had thought of leaving for another institution of higher education. Almost two-thirds cited job dissatisfaction, while 17 percent cited professional advancement and 13 percent, salary, as the reason for considering leaving.
The study attempted to measure various aspects of satisfaction. One strong source of satisfaction was in the area of human relationships, where more than 97 percent reported good relationships with students and 83 percent, with colleagues. On the other hand, close to 40 percent of respondents were unhappy with the work climate, with criteria for promotion and with funding.
One of the factors cited in undermining job satisfaction is the difficulty in reconciling the obligations of the job with the obligations of family. Close to 40 percent expressed little or no satisfaction with the consideration and support given to professors raising families, and only one in six felt that she or he had enough time for life outside the university. Among the women respondents, 24.6 percent reported that because of the situation, they wanted to have fewer children than they had originally wanted, while 8.4 percent said the situation made them decide not to have children.
Women, the study found, enjoy research just as much as men, and 30.2 percent of them consider themselves primarily researchers, compared with 31 percent of the men who do. More women than men indicated that they would like more time for research: almost 82 percent vs. almost 73 percent.
The study also asked participants to identify the difficulties faced by Quebec universities. Nearly everyone who filled out the survey (85 percent) took provided their ideas in written comments.
The underfinancing of universities and of research, with the consequence that professors must seek funding from the research councils and the private sector, is one such difficulty and, as was evident from the published quotations, a cause of job dissatisfaction. “Because of the low success rate in receiving grants, we are obliged to spend an unreasonable amount of time writing applications. This would be time better spent on the research itself and on training students,” wrote one professor.
Others feared that the prestige given to research, over teaching, was leading to a devaluing of teaching and to the end of the concept of the “complete” professor: “There’s a tendency now for the teaching assistants to do the teaching, the bureaucrats to do the managing and the profs to do the research. That professors are no longer essential to all components of university life is the worst of situations.”
The area of difficulty most cited by the respondents was the governing of universities. Most denounced the model of management imported from the private sector, the competition between universities to attract funding and new “clients,” and the loss of the concept of the university as a place for independent thought. “The elements of trust, reflection and collegiality that constitute the cornerstone of intellectual development is threatened,” wrote one respondent.
A participant at the conference, Dutch professor Antoon De Baets, sympathized with his Quebec colleagues. “In Holland,” he said, “we call this idea of the university, the McUniversity.”
Regarding the future of Quebec universities, Dr. Dyke, an independent scholar, hopes that the data that she and Dr. Deschenaux, a professor at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, collected will be a tool for the collectivity of Quebec professors as they continue to shape their institutions. “We want this to stimulate reflection and exchange within the professoriate,” she said. As far as future research goes, both she and Dr. Deschenaux plan to further examine the satisfaction of professors within their individual disciplines.