Sociology professor Michael Katovich has a special saying for his students.
“If I drop dead in the class, you all get an A,” he says.
He writes a topic on the board, discusses it, writes another, discusses it, and considers this teaching style nearly “dinosaur.” He knows this technology-free approach may not stimulate the Internet and cell phone generation for much longer.
Katovich is 62 years old and, having taught at TCU for 31 years, he is one of the University’s longest-tenured faculty.
“It’s hard to leave an environment like this,” he said.
That environment, the environment of a TCU employee, is exemplary. For three years in a row, The Chronicle of Higher Education has ranked TCU as a great place to work. But not only has it ranked TCU, it has shown TCU excelling in many categories.
The annual online survey began six years ago, and TCU has participated in the past three. The Chronicle randomly selects some hundreds of employees of the university to complete the survey and compiles numbers from that anonymous pool.
In 2011, TCU was recognized in five out of 12 categories, then eleven in 2012 and eight in 2013. These scores place TCU near the top of the approximately 100 schools recognized each year. It also places TCU on the Honor Roll, reserved for schools recognized in at least four categories.
TCU consistently receives high ranks in categories such as facilities, respect and appreciation, job satisfaction and confidence in senior leadership, according to the results.
Shari Barnes, director of employee relations at TCU, helps coordinate the survey and relay the findings.
“It has value in helping us understand what we do well, but once we find out what we do well, it also has value helping us find a place where we could do better,” she said.
One of those areas is diversity. All three years, TCU has not been recognized in the category of diversity, which the survey defines as, “the college makes a concerted effort to create a welcoming and fair environment for all employees. Employees agree with statements like ‘This institution has clear and effective procedures for dealing with discrimination.’”
The survey cited these schools as having a president with “an open-door policy” or a president’s office that “issues annual awards to faculty members and groups who help advance the university’s diversity initiatives.”
The survey did not give reasons why TCU did not earn diversity rankings. It did, however, cite TCU’s outstanding features of “equal vacation time to exempt and nonexempt staff; employees can support co-workers by donating sick leave to a bank set up for those with serious illnesses; a Center for Connection featuring speakers who discuss the value of building connections among students, faculty, and staff.”
Katovich said he does think TCU could do a better job at diversity, though he’s not “totally uncomfortable” with the current state.
“I’m from an upper-middle class suburb of Chicago, so I’m generally teaching people who are like me, though much younger. They’re from sort of the same place; that’s kind of comfortable for me,” he said. “Despite my comfort, I do think that we could do a little bit better attracting a more diverse crowd. The university is a place where you’re supposed to change and be challenged.”
Mona Nahrain, in her sixth year as associate professor of English, had a similar view of the state of diversity.
“I do think the university is very open to diversity,” she said. “But what I’m hoping to see is that TCU has much more focused programs in all spirits of the word. It’s a very hard thing to do. Unless there’s a university-sponsored program that puts money into it, it’s not something that’s going to be achievable.”
Chancellor Victor Boschini also agreed that TCU should not be included in the diversity category at this time.
“I think we’re making great progress, but it’s one of those ‘world peace’ goals that we have a long way to go on,” he said. “We’re always working on it.”
While diversity remains a constant topic for both employee and student numbers, other categories TCU dropped from in 2012 to 2013 were tenure clarity and process, work/life balance, and supervisor or department-chair relationship.
Provost Nowell Donovan said he was irritated to see TCU dropped in the tenure category this year.
“That was the first thing that struck me,” he said. “Tenure is all at the department level. They are the professionals. They have to set the bar, and they have to make sure the bar is clearly visible for everybody. It varies by each department; you don’t want to walk in and dictate a universal standard.”
On the tenure topic, Katovich said TCU has greatly improved during his 31 years, but it will always be a “sticky” issue.
“Because it is such an emotional decision, you’re talking about a person’s career, basically either firing or hiring a person for the rest of their life, there’s kind of a life and death quality to that,” Katovich said. “I don’t know if there’s ever going to be any university that’s perfect with that because of the emotional weight.”
In describing improvements made, Katovich said when he began working at TCU, the tenure rule was “all you need is one,” along the lines of the Beatles’ song “All You Need Is Love.” Tenure-track professors were expected to publish one piece in the given time frame. But it was unclear how that was measured. Would one article, or how many, equal the publishing of one book?
Today, Katovich thinks the process is much more clear.
“We’ve stabilized the target,” he said.
On the topic of work/life balance, staff member Amanda Howard, assistant director of the Institute for Childhood Development, said she thought TCU should have been recognized in that category.
“They’re very sensitive to families,” she said. “They do a pretty good job making the family feel welcome.” She continued, explaining that she and her husband met for dinner at Dutch’s with their two young children before watching the 2013 homecoming parade and attending Fall Fest last month.
Howard earned her doctorate from TCU in 2009, then taught as an adjunct professor during the time she was having her two children. She turned down tenure-track positions to then return full-time at TCU.
“I just like the work that the [the Institute of Childhood Development] does and being on campus and interacting with the students,” she said. “I’m a Horned Frog through and through.”
As another human resources perspective, Susan Oakley who has worked at TCU for 25 years and is in charge of manager training, said she can understand that work/life balance is becoming a greater challenge because of the increasingly technological society. With emails coming to her cell phone, she said it is harder to divide work and non-work life.
In explaining TCU’s impressive results on this survey, Oakley said TCU doesn’t specifically target the survey’s categories in order to score better. Rather, she said, the university strives to be a great place to work overall. She attributes a lot of the high rankings to the chancellor.
“The chancellor is very transparent in terms of what’s going on at the university,” she said. “He just portrays such an open and caring administration that it makes people happy to work here. He does hope to be recognized every year, but he wants to know how we’re doing.”
Boschini did not take credit for TCU scoring well, but he said it is one of the best recognitions TCU receives because it comes from the employees.
“The way we treat our employees is the way that employee will treat the next student they encounter,” he said. “I’m a big believer that the culture spreads like that. I want everybody who works here to feel valued, like they have a say.”
Boschini said he agreed with Oakley in that TCU doesn’t set out to improve its scores in the specific categories.
“I don’t like to target any of the categories because I think you’re just chasing numbers,” he said. “We should do what’s right, or what we think is right, in every different area. And if we’re doing what’s right, the numbers will follow.”