PULLMAN, Wash. – Budget cuts have taken a toll on WSU employees, but faculty and staff who have opportunities to build their professional skills and participate in decisions that affect their work environment are less dissatisfied and less likely to seek employment elsewhere.
 
Those are just two findings from a survey conducted last winter by WSU Vancouver psychology professor Tahira Probst to determine how budget cuts are affecting WSU employees. In particular, she wanted to know how cuts affected faculty job satisfaction, turnover intentions and performance outcomes, including teaching, scholarly productivity and service.
 
In a separate survey for staff, she wanted to know how cuts affected job-related attitudes and whether staff reported increased health-related effects.
 
Results compared to 2001, other entities
 
STEM women faculty not
as harmed by budget cuts
 
While budget cuts have affected every corner of the WSU system, a recent survey by WSU Vancouver psychology professor Tahira Probst suggests that women faculty in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) have felt fewer negative consequences than women in non-STEM fields.
 
Probst surveyed more than 1,500 WSU faculty and staff to determine how recent budget cuts have affected job-related attitudes and performance outcomes. As part of that survey, she collected information specific to faculty in STEM disciplines.
 
The survey was funded in part by a grant from WSU ADVANCE, a National Science Foundation-funded program to increase the percentage and success of women faculty in STEM disciplines.
 
According to Probst’s survey, 33 percent of women in STEM fields reported receiving a merit pay increase in the past three years, compared to 19 percent of women in non-STEM fields. The survey also found that women in STEM fields reported significantly lower turnover intentions than women in non-STEM fields. (See note below)
 
While women faculty in non-STEM fields reported engaging in significantly more service- and teaching-related activities, and receiving more rewards for doing so, women in STEM disciplines said obtaining grant funding is significantly more important.
 
The survey also found that men faculty in STEM disciplines made an average of $10,000 more than women faculty, but that difference disappeared when rank was taken into account. Compared to STEM men, STEM women reported higher levels of work-family conflict and burnout, a difference that remained significant even after accounting for rank.
 
STEM women also reported lower levels of job security and professional networking opportunities.
 
Note: Using data from the entire WSU system, instead of just the survey sample, WSU Office of Research Vice President Howard Grimes said 78 faculty women received a pay raise of some kind in the past three years. Fifty-five percent were in a STEM field and 45 percent were in a non-STEM field. In addition, he said, nearly 70 percent were principal investigators or co-investigators on a grant.
Probst, who has spent the past 15 years researching how employees react to economic stress and job insecurity, collected data from 61 deans, chairs or academic directors (about 67 percent response rate); 647 faculty, both tenure and non-tenure track (about 30 percent response rate); and 1,071 staff, both AP and classified (about 30 percent response rate).
 
Those who responded match the demographics of WSU as a whole, Probst said, except that they skewed high for females, as did the audience for Probst’s discussion of her results. Of 22 people who attended her talk last week, just three were men. Probst also discussed her findings at a meeting of WSU’s Work Life Advisory Committee.
She was able to compare her 2011 responses to responses from an earlier WSU survey her lab conducted in 2001 (prior to 9/11). For comparison purposes, she also looked at data collected from workers at 42 other companies or institutions experiencing financial distress over the past decade.
 
517 jobs eliminated in three years
 
Perhaps not surprisingly, employees who have been hit hardest by the budget cuts reported the most negative outcomes. For example, those most affected reported lower levels of scholarly productivity, less job satisfaction, more work-family conflict, less loyalty to WSU, and much greater intentions to seek employment elsewhere.
Probst began her talk by briefly describing cuts to the university over the past three years: 16 degrees or programs phased out; eight degrees consolidated or reduced; seven academic units consolidated, reduced or phased out; three program areas eliminated; nine administrative units consolidated to six; 517 jobs eliminated; an additional net $40 million cut in 2011-2013.
 
“You cannot have cuts of this magnitude and not have them be felt in all corners of the university,” she said.
 
Professional growth, procedural justice critical
 
While the overall picture is bleak, there were some bright spots. For one thing, employees continue to value their co-workers, including their direct supervisors (or department chairs).
 
“I think there is this feeling of we’re all in this together,” she said.
She and her colleagues are continuing to analyze the data, Probst said, but since the initial report was issued in May, two factors have emerged that seem to lessen some of the negative attitudes or behaviors associated with budget cuts: opportunities for professional growth and procedural justice.
 
Staff who felt that WSU provided access to job skills training responded less negatively to the increased number of job changes facing them.
 
Moreover, according to Probst, procedural justice is critical. It refers to whether employees felt that they had a voice in the budget-cutting decision making process. Even if employees disagree with the outcome of a decision, she said, if they believe the decision was arrived at fairly, they are more likely to accept the decision with fewer negative consequences for the university.
 
Probst’s research was supported by a grant for WSU ADVANCE, a National Science Foundation-supported program promoting practices and policies that increase the percentage of women faculty in STEM disciplines, support the recruitment, retention and promotion of women faculty and foster a positive, inclusive work environment for all employees. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, mathematics.