Seven out of 10 employees at Eastern Iowa Community College District say it is a "great place to work," according to a new survey of employees, but they give the district far lower marks when it comes to how the institution is governed and its senior leadership.
The survey, which included the responses of more than 300 people, gave relatively low marks for the role that is afforded to faculty in shared governance and decisions related to education programs, as well as the input that faculty and staff get when it comes to institutional planning.
This is the third year the district has done the survey, and its marks were lower than the nearly 90 other two-year institutions whose workforces also took part.
Asked about the survey last week, the district chancellor, Don Doucette, said he sees a workforce that’s happy where they work, but the institution has faced a great deal of change, including funding challenges, turnover in leadership and new technology programs.
“This is a very complex institution,” Doucette said.
The Eastern Iowa district provided the survey results to the Quad-City Times as a result of an open records request under Iowa law. The request came on the heels of a wave of resignations from the district’s nursing program.
The people who quit that program complained last month that faculty was overworked and ignored and equipment was old and did not function properly. The college disputed the idea the program was in turmoil, saying 95 percent of its graduates passed national licensing examinations, and that a review of the program had taken place before the latest resignations.
Still, college officials acknowledge scores on the survey did not measure up to the other two-year colleges that took the survey.
“We’re low,” Doucette said. At the same time, he says the other two-year colleges are “aspirational,” and with three community colleges in its system, Eastern Iowa faces challenges that he doesn't believe are likely encountered by most of the other colleges in the survey.
The Eastern Iowa district made improving its culture a key goal in 2016, and employees have been taking the survey for three years.
This year’s marks are lower than last year’s, college officials say.
On the survey’s questions regarding collaborative governance, only 36 percent of Eastern Iowa respondents agreed with the idea that faculty, administration and staff are meaningfully involved in institution planning. For the other two-year colleges in the survey, that number hit 60 percent, 24 points higher.
Also, about 52 percent responded that faculty are appropriately involved in decisions related to education programming. That figure was 70 percent at the other two-year institutions.
Meanwhile, only about 37 percent agreed that senior leadership communicates openly about important matters. At other two-year colleges in the survey, it was 59 percent. Only 32 percent said workplace climate had improved from the previous year.
"Less top-down decision making," read one comment that was submitted as part of the survey, which was confidential. "Faculty are rarely brought to the table when major decisions are being made. Senior administrators fail to explain their decision-making processes and rely too much on marketing trends and 'best practices, which may or may not work within this organization and this community.'"
On the flip side, 85 percent said the institution actively contributes to the community and 87 percent said they understood how their job contributed to the institution's mission.
"We make a difference in the lives of our students," read one of the comments in the survey.
“Last year was a tough year for a lot of reasons,” Doucette said. He says it was the first year in 10 years that no raises were given, and there have been leadership changes and new technology implemented. He also says since the beginning of his tenure, nearly half of the college's full-time employees have turned over, mostly due to retirements, and that about 20 percent of the vacancies were not replaced.
College officials say one of the challenges is that community colleges have seen funding cuts.
The district also just opened a new $32 million Urban Campus in downtown Davenport.
Doucette said some on campus have mentioned they were not getting a raise, while pointing to the investment in the new campus, which held its grand opening in June. Doucette says the two are not related because they are financed differently.
The survey was opened for comments in February and results were received in April and distributed to the cabinet in May, according to college officials. Employees are scheduled to take part in an in-service day to discuss the survey's findings in late September. The board of trustees will then be consulted.
Bob Gallagher Sr., chairman of the Eastern Iowa board and a longtime member of the panel, says the college recognized culture as a priority in 2016 and this survey is a tool to help improve it.
“I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with the result, but it certainly gives us some issues to deal with and hopefully improve as time goes on,” he said.
Denise Hollonbeck, another board member, said, "my concern is that people feel frustrated."
However, she said she also saw positive results from the survey, such as a commitment to the community and institution. She said she intends to ask the district's administration a lot of questions about the survey when they meet.