Next Steps for the Workload Equity Committee

Jul 17, 2021

Dean Saitta, Director, Urban Studies; Professor, Anthropology, Committee Member 

The Faculty Workload Equity Committee update that was provided in the March 4th  VPFA Newsletter identified our goal of addressing immediate, campus-wide concerns relating to the participation of faculty in determining unit-level teaching and service workloads. There is little in DU’s university-level policy documents (e.g., APT, Employee Handbook) addressing workload equity. The Committee seeks to establish some basic workload equity principles or “guardrails” that can be used by academic units to create policies appropriate to their particular situations.  In March we reported the creation of three subcommittees dedicated to (1) Existing Research on equity practices, (2) Best Practices on a national level, and (3) University & Departmental Data. This update focuses on service workloads, with some reference to the implications of service equity for teaching loads.

The work of these subcommittees is informed by the nationally-known research of Kerry Ann O’Meara and colleagues. In April O’Meara’s team offered a series of virtual workshops about workload equity to the Committee, DU faculty, and administration. (Watch video here.) In parallel, the VPFA sponsored events such as weekly “Think and Drinks” for DU faculty to discuss issues and concerns. We heard much at these events about service being the “glue” that holds the campus and community together and that, by extension, protects fundamental commitments to academic freedom, shared governance, and due process. Yet, input from faculty indicated a clear need across campus to strengthen the main equity principles identified by O’Meara’s research team: Transparency, Clarity, Flexibility, and Accountability (for more, see their report, “Equity Minded Faculty Workloads” for the American Council on Education (ACE).) It is clear from these conversations that some DU faculty—especially women and faculty of color—perform much “invisible” or “unscripted” labor that is unrecognized and unrewarded. National research firmly establishes that women and faculty of color perform disproportionate service and student advising/mentoring work (see these two articles for more: “Gendered and Racialized Perceptions of Faculty Workload” and “​​Dancing Backwards in High Heels: Female Professors Experience More Work Demands and Special Favor Requests, Particularly from Academically Entitled Students.”) The situation is no different here at DU.

Other concerns shared by faculty in April’s events include (1) the need to highlight the substantive service contributions that are made by all faculty regardless of identity; (2) the need to call out “social loafers” who avoid service at all costs, as well as “free-riders” who do little to nothing once appointed into service roles; (3) the perception of overrepresentation of a select group of faculty in coveted service roles that are highly visible, compensated, or especially consequential for academic programming; (4) the need to provide opportunities for eager-to-serve faculty in such positions; (5) greater attention to “local” service that’s not as sexy as all-campus service but is necessary to run academic programs, and (6) the challenge of ensuring that Activity Insight captures the invisible or unscripted work performed by faculty, and accurately displays service data without regular updating. O’Meara and colleagues identify service inequities as among the top factors producing chilly or resentful climates in academic units, and that cause faculty to leave one institution for another. (See “Department Conditions and Practices Associated with Faculty Workload Satisfaction and Perceptions of Equity” to learn about why.) April’s virtual events also identified a number of arrangements employed by units to maximize equity. None of these are uncontroversial. They include “point” systems for weighting and crediting different kinds of service, planned rotation of service roles, and expectations of higher visibility forms of service (e.g., chair and directorships) as a precondition for tenure and promotion.

Minimally, the O’Meara workshops and parallel events indicated the need to better track who does what kind of service and to better account for the quality of their contributions. Also implicated is the need to deconstruct and better define the concept of “service” so that various equivalencies and accommodations (e.g., course release credit, stipends, research leaves) can be made for faculty who disproportionately contribute to this aspect of faculty work. There is good agreement that using equity “dashboards” to track service work in forms that fit an academic unit’s particular culture, goals, and needs has strategic and practical value. Dashboards are already being used or developed in a few academic units.  Another approach is to implement periodic audits of service activity. Yet another tool is to use the “committee of one” to integrate service-averse faculty into unit governance. Finally, there is good agreement that what O’Meara describes as “discretionary authority” allocated to faculty and their appointed representatives (e.g., department chairs and program directors) in a robust system of shared governance is critically important for the promotion of workplace equity. (See “Seizing Discretion to Advance Full Participation” to understand disciplinary authority in higher education).

As part of its work the Committee supported a “Landscape Scan” of faculty workload policies that exist at peer and selected non-peer institutions. The scan bridged sub-committee work on existing research and national best practices, and points the way to a reconciliation of the findings in each area.   Some of the more progressive, equity-minded principles embedded in existing policies at other universities that might serve as a useful set of institutional guardrails here at DU are these:

  • Faculty “service” is understood in appropriately nuanced ways; e.g., it is common to encounter in existing policies an explicit or implied distinction between governance work (committee membership) and administrative work (program directorships).
  • Equity is to be found in a calculus that considers faculty compositional diversity and the totality of a faculty member’s contributions to the academic unit, college/school, and institution.
  • Department and Program faculty, via Chairs and Directors, have primary discretionary authority in determining workloads, something that protects against service inequities becoming institutionalized.
  • Significant contributions to research, service, and instruction—including invisible or unscripted labor around advising, mentoring, and diversity work—earn workload equivalencies.  Given its greater responsibilities, program coordination/direction is often singled out as administrative work that is distinct from normal committee service.
  • Teaching adjustments, modifications, or re-assignments are warranted on the basis of considerations such as class size, instructional modality, out-of-class student supervision and mentoring, continuing maintenance of active research agendas, and other factors.
  • Existence of a robust grievance process if a faculty member has workload concerns that can’t be informally resolved in good faith at the academic unit level.

Some of the policies researched as part of the Landscape Scan usefully deconstruct traditional and increasingly anachronistic categories (teaching, research, service) for conceptualizing faculty work.  A few seem to incorporate the spirit if not the precise letter of the O’Meara team’s findings and recommendations.  Not all policies anticipate reasonable concerns that faculty might have about excessive surveillance, breaches of confidentiality, and the de-professionalization of faculty work.  On balance there is little to be found in existing policies at peer and non-peer institutions that establish explicitly DEI-sensitive ways of organizing, reporting, and rewarding the work that faculty do for their units and institutions. This is the primary challenge facing institutions nationally and especially the University of Denver.

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