Communicating Support: Examining Perceived Organizational Support among Faculty Members with Differing Appointment Types

Given the changing landscape of postsecondary faculty employment, institutions benefit from understanding how organizational policies and behaviors affects the faculty’s perception of organizational support. Using data from faculty members, including those with contingent and part-time appointments, at a single institution in the western United States, this study examined how the faculty’s perceptions of structures and behaviors at the departmental, college, and campus levels affect their perception of organizational support. Results suggest that part-time faculty members are significantly less likely to feel supported; however, as their perceptions of being valued by college and senior administrators increase, so do their perceptions of support. Findings suggest avenues for organizational leaders to promote commitment among all faculty members.

The evolution of organizational policies and philosophies in higher education in the United States has caused the academic profession to change greatly in recent decades. Between 1975 and 2015 the percentage of full-time tenured and tenure-eligible faculty members in the academic labor force has decreased from 45% to 29%, while the percentage of non-tenure-track, contingent faculty has increased from 34% to 57%, with graduate student employees accounting for the remaining 21% in 1975 and 14% in 2015. Adjuncts, who are part-time contingent faculty members and who are often employed at more than one institution, made up 40% of the entire faculty in the U.S. in 2015; the remaining 17% of contingent faculty members held full-time, non-tenure-track appointments (American Association of University Professors, 2017). Along with the shift in faculty employment status, the massification of higher education has shifted the larger postsecondary employment landscape. At most types of four-year institutions, the number of faculty and staff members has declined significantly since 2000 compared to the number of professional and managerial administrators; in 2012 these institutions employed an average of one administrator for every 2.5 faculty and staff members (Desrochers & Kirshstein, 2014; Kezar, DePaola, & Scott, 2019).

Coupled with decreased representation, increasingly bureaucratic administrative structures have diminished the organizational power of the professoriate and eroded the sense of community that faculty members once felt (Altbach, 2000; Thelin, 2001). Contingent faculty members are often excluded from opportunities to engage with the faculty community because policies and practices limit their ability to participate in governance and other professional development activities; this marginalization is compounded for adjunct faculty members as decisions related to meeting scheduling, course scheduling, and office space allocation most often prioritize their full-time peers (Kezar, 2013). Contingent faculty members also often lack the autonomy of their tenure-eligible peers, making them “managed professionals” (Rhoades, 1998). Further, institutional policies and cultures that emphasize research productivity communicate a status hierarchy that disadvantages contingent faculty members, most of whom fulfill instructional roles (Levin & Shaker, 2011). Together, the decline of job security, organizational power, and sense of institutional community lead today’s faculty members to be less committed to their employing institution than were previous generations (Altbach, 2000).

The decline of faculty commitment has widespread effects on postsecondary institutions. Faculty members are critical participants in creating academic environments conducive to student success including learning, retention, and graduation (Kezar, 2013). Further, through research and community engagement, they add to institutional prestige and contribute to the public good. Faculty members who lack a sense of organizational commitment perform less effectively in their teaching and are less productive in terms of research and organizational citizenship behaviors (Jing & Zhang, 2014; Lawrence, Ott, & Bell, 2012; Ott & Cisneros, 2015; Umbach, 2007). Thus, postsecondary institutions face economic, cultural, and outcomes-based costs as a result of the faculty’s decreased commitment and increased turnover (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006).