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onCampus--Ohio State's faculty/staff news

Vol. 38, No. 18

By: Joni Bentz Seal

Cohort experience beneficial in tenure process for women faculty

A descriptive analysis of the Faculty Cohort project, administered by The Women’s Place and now in its fourth year, demonstrates that the project is proving beneficial to the participants and validating cultural changes important for the advancement of women faculty at Ohio State.

“The cohort project was a pilot incubator for exploring the extent to which the university can be proactive in facilitating the journey of assistant professors through the tenure and promotion process,” said Jill Ellingson, associate professor of management and human resources in the Fisher College of Business and lead investigator on the study. “This research presents a retrospective evaluation of the cohort project and in doing so, serves as an evaluation of those factors that relate to retention and turnover within the female assistant professor population here at Ohio State.”

Ellingson presented the findings of the team, which includes Fisher College associate professor Arnon Reichers and two graduate students, to the President’s Council on Women’s Issues at its Jan. 24 meeting.

To conduct the evaluation, Ellingson said multiple collection approaches were used to gather exploratory data on cohort members’ experiences during their first three years at Ohio State. Structured interviews and a survey gathered feedback from most of the 42 remaining cohort members, and phone interviews were used to connect with several of the eight members who have left the university.

“The information gathered provided insight not only into the work/life environment that these women experienced, but also the role of the cohort program in shaping that environment,” Ellingson said.

The cohort participants offered constructive feedback on cohort programming, including event attendance, timing and topic ideas, and felt the cohort fulfilled the goals and objectives that were established during its first year.

“Essentially, members believed that the cohort provided a supportive, non-threatening environment; offered them experiences that helped prepare them for the fourth-year review; and facilitated interactions with other faculty, both junior and senior, which served to inform and develop them in a valuable manner,” Ellingson said.

But the cohort also served to validate factors that can prove to be common barriers to the full inclusion of women on university faculties, both at Ohio State and elsewhere, said Deb Ballam, director of The Women’s Place. In fact, she said, the issues highlighted by the group reflect those raised by the Faculty Work/Life Survey conducted at Ohio State in 2003.

“One barrier can be summarized as what we long have referred to as work/life balance, which involves accommodating spouses’ professional job needs and providing adequate child care for all,” she said, adding that Ohio State is beginning to address both of these issues, particularly with respect to child care. “But much more needs to be done.”

Ballam said the need for a more supportive work/life environment to enhance retention was evident from the study — especially by those members who have left the university. In addition to spousal/partner accommodations and child care issues, most cited an inhibiting department culture and excessive workloads as pivotal to their decision to leave, she said.

Ellingson said many of the members spoke of viewing their chair as a primary source for information about the profession, the college and the university, and also as the custodian of workplace culture, serving as a role model for how other senior faculty should behave with respect to their junior colleagues.

“Department chairs are integral in shaping the experiences of assistant professors, giving them confidence through the probationary years and reducing feelings of uncertainty,” Ellingson said. “Essentially, if a member’s association with her department chair was positive, than that member had a positive view of OSU. If a member’s association with her department chair was negative, that lack of support appeared to cast a negative light on virtually all other aspects of that member’s work experience.”

The cohort members should complete their mandatory fourth-year reviews by this spring, Ellingson said, and The Women’s Place has received approval from the provost and the Office of Academic Affairs to continue the cohort project through year six, so those who continue on in the tenure process will further benefit from the support of the cohort. Ballam said The Women’s Place will use the feedback gathered from the study to enhance its programming and help guide culture and policy changes through the President’s Council on Women’s Issues.

To view the full text of the Descriptive Evaluation of the Faculty Cohort Project, visit http://womensplace.osu.edu.

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