How Can Colleges Break Out of the Funk of Low Morale?

Low morale for professors and university leaders has turned into one of the biggest problems in higher education this year.

Just take a look at our “most read” list here at EdSurge over the past few months, and you’ll notice the headlines include frustration and burnout. Conversations on social media about these articles — and similar stories in other publications — show a growing sense of weariness with working conditions on college campuses in the country nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the pandemic is part of the story, many say the underlying issues predate the global health crisis. Colleges were already relying more and more on low-paid extensions with precarious job situations. It is the inferior positions of professors that give security of tenure. And the romantic idea of ​​getting into deep discussions with students about big ideas doesn’t always happen in reality.

“Before ‘normal’ may not have worked well for many people, and the pandemic has made it worse,” notes Kevin R. McClure, associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. McClure is a columnist for EdSurge, who has written some stories that It was widely spread about low morale in colleges.

But despite the many frustrated voices he hears, McClure believes there is a way to learn from this moment. Perhaps the deep-rooted problems of college life will be solved to get rid of this funk.

We reached out to McClure on this week’s EdSurge Podcast, to hear more about what he’s found as he delves deeper into the cause of his boredom at the academy.

EdSurge: What is frustration, and how is it different from burnout?

Kevin McClure: This is a relatively new term for me as well, and so I’ve drawn on the writings of many other people who have been talking about frustration, especially in K-12 education. And the way they describe it is that frustration occurs when you feel as though the values ​​that brought you into the profession are hard to implement. And part of that is because there is a conflict of values ​​between you and your employer.

And so I tend to think of frustration or low morale as something that is group-based or group-based – a group of people has reached a point where they not only feel overwhelmed or overwhelmed, but are really sick and discontented and in some cases want to act on that kind of emotion in a different way. .

And so I think there’s a very clear link between frustration and the national “big quit” conversation that we’re seeing happening in many industries – including education. Moral frustration has led people… to quit this profession altogether or switch to a new organization or a different job.

What makes the frustration you describe in your columns so referring to in higher education?

This is a question that I actually asked to the individuals I interviewed as part of the article, because there hasn’t been a lot of research I’ve been able to find on specifically what causes frustration in higher education. The things that have come up time and time again… is that we’ve had a compensating problem in higher education for a long time. Many jobs in higher education haven’t seen big salary increases for a long time.

Another big problem people mentioned is this feeling as if leaders haven’t done a good job of listening and don’t show a willingness to listen and learn. I’ve heard stories of city council meetings where leaders have disabled the chat feature because they didn’t want to see or hear some of the things that were mentioned in the chat.

And part of that is this idea that many leaders were going ahead with the natural fall, regardless of what was required to do so and what was going on around us. This shocked people as a prime example of not really listening to what people were trying to tell them.

Another big problem associated with the idea of ​​big resignations is the lack of staff or very understaffed offices. What happened is you’ve got some organization that, through budget cuts and austerity, has never hired enough people to do the work well, even if it’s like, say, increased enrollment or increased expectations. So you have people doing more and more work at the same time.

The most frustrating thing for me as someone who has invested my entire career in higher education is the number of times I’ve been talking to people in the past six months and they’ve said, ‘I don’t know if this place I’m at really cares about me. If I were to leave, if I was to walk away from this job, would anyone stop and ask me why? Or will they just say “have a nice day” and then post the job the next day. I came into this profession myself with a commitment to take care of people, however the place I work does not provide that kind of care for me. So what does that say about the way they value or value me?

How does low teacher morale affect students?

The college itself is essentially a function of the working conditions of its faculty and staff. We do so much harm if we focus exclusively on student experience and student success that we lose sight of the fact that in order to have that positive experience and success we need good people working in colleges and universities.

Parents, students, and anyone investing in higher education should think about how they can do a better job of improving the academic workplace. Other than that, I’m afraid people will feel as though they work hard to get to college, earn a lot, sacrifice, pay a lot of money and then what they get at the other end, the people who made it [there to teach] Not necessarily the best people we want, but the people who just managed to hold out long enough to keep them there?

Listen to the entire conversation on the EdSurge Podcast (if you want to jump into this part of the episode, it’s around 12:30).

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