Best Practices

Evidence-Based Conditions and Tools for Equitable Workloads

The WEC suggests several conceptual and concrete tools to begin to address the issues detailed above. For more detail and related worksheets to make progress in these areas, see appendices and “Take Action Now” resources.


Visible information about faculty work activities.

Faculty Work Activity Dashboard: Identifies the kinds of work required to maintain an academic unit. Dispels myths and misconceptions among faculty about colleague workloads. Informs historically marginalized faculty of norms, so they know when to refrain from volunteering. Reveals unintended inequities in assigned service and teaching that compound over the trajectory of a faculty member’s tenure in a department.

Requirements: Faculty service audit; faculty work activity dashboard


Identified, defined, and understood benchmarks of faculty work activities.

Explicit Policies: Faculty expectations guidelines, identifying the exact amount of teaching, research, and service expected for faculty at different ranks and different employment categories (tenure-eligible, instructional, and clinical). Clarity about conditions under which compensation is associated with taking on a role, compensation range, type of compensation, and how faculty may indicate interest in a role.

Requirements: Faculty collaboratively create guidelines that balance university, departmental, and faculty needs given employment categories


Departments recognize and reward faculty expending more efforts in specific areas.

Extra Effort Workload Bank: Faculty members can bank extra work in one area and do less in another.

Teaching Credit Swap Systems: Units define teaching workload for all faculty and provide opportunities for faculty to meet teaching obligations through different pathways.


Departmental culture includes the expectation and commitment that workloads are equitable.

Opt-out System: Addresses disparity for less desirable/career-enhancing work. Faculty make the argument for why they alone should not have to do the work versus approaching it with a “why would I agree to do that work?” mentality.

Planned Rotations: Service and teaching assignments are rotated among all department members to address social loafing.


A reward system and load assignment that recognizes different strengths and interests to achieve shared departmental goals.

Personalized Employment Arrangements: Policies that include negotiated deviations from traditional work expectations. These arrangements are used to evaluate faculty members at the end of the year.

Individualized/Modified Appointments: Agreements for faculty members hired to do interdisciplinary scholarship or faculty work that is difficult to evaluate by traditional standards.


Mechanisms track fulfillment of work obligations, award credit for fulfilled responsibilities, and address social loafing.

Restructure and Reduce Committees: Review all committees to determine the number of members, the role of each member, committee purpose, and meeting frequency to determine redundancy and degree of effort.

Statements of Mutual Expectations: Outlines obligations faculty members have to the community, ideally with reference to the professional responsibilities stipulated in the APT document (pp. 5–6). This might also include agreed-upon behaviors that foster completion of departmental work (attending committee meetings). Statements may be used in annual reviews.

Developing an Equity Plan

Use data about faculty workload to assess and address equity issues.

This will inform actions needed (policy or practice) to rebalance workload. This should be tied to concrete outcomes and be evaluated regularly. The Department Equity Action Planning (DEAP) teams which are part of the R1 Our Way will pilot this process in 2022­–2023.

American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Guidelines

AAUP policy recommendations cover the entire spectrum of faculty activities and have served as the gold standard for the academic profession for over a century. AAUP has generated multiple policy statements regarding faculty workload and workload equity over the last 50 years, with updates that track the changing nature of faculty work. These policy statements are archived on DU Portfolio. They establish basic principles for achieving workload equity. Moreover, they align with the workload equity scholarship discussed in this report and with principles embedded in the specific workload policies of the institutions discussed in Appendix I. AAUP recommends, and WEC supports, the following basic principles
for promoting and achieving faculty workload equity:

  • Implementation of policy should be at the level of the academic unit most familiar with the research, teaching, advising, mentoring, administrative, service, and invisible labor demands placed on faculty.
  • Faculty should participate fully in the determination of workload and workload equity policy.
  • Department chairs, program directors, and other responsible parties should have a significant measure of latitude in making workload adjustments consistent with basic principles of shared governance.
  • In determining and distributing workload, care should be taken to consider the totality of an individual’s contributions to the academic unit, college/school, and institution.
  • Workload distribution should be mindful of factors that have historically produced inequity, including variations in course load, number of different course preparations, course scope and difficulty, class size, instructional modality, out-of-class student supervision (e.g., independent studies), extra-curricular educational activities, and other variables. To these factors, our committee adds the “hallway ask” and other conditions of the academic workplace that can differentially burden faculty, especially women and faculty of color.
  • Adjustments to workload are manifestly in order when the institution draws heavily and/or regularly on an individual for university committee work, academic program development and administration, community or government service, and any other activity that risks impairing a faculty member’s effectiveness as a teacher and scholar. We highlight existing DU Policies and Procedures for Faculty Development and specifically job responsibility discussions, which are available to all DU appointed faculty.
  • Transparency and regular faculty reappraisals of workload are critical.

Examples of Work Underway at Other Institutions

Equity work happening at U.S. colleges and universities varies widely. A WEC subcommittee examined workload policies in faculty handbooks or administrative/governing documents across 28 universities. The sample includes 12 peers (per DU’s list of peers prior to R1 designation in 2021) and 16 non-peers. Of these, 10 institutions (36%) maintain R1 status. The subcommittee also examined recent Workload Equity Task Force reports from three institutions: one from peer-school Villanova University; one from the non-peer R1 University of California-San Diego; and one from “aspirational” peer and R1 institution Columbia University. A full description of policy highlights from each institution covered by our research appears in Appendix I of this report. Some common themes emerge from our comparative analysis:


Workloads and workload policies must be flexible. This is evident in the widespread acknowledgement (and in some cases requirement) that workloads and their policies must be established by academic units and their faculties. These unit and department-level policies acknowledge that workloads can fluctuate for a variety of reasons: career phase, personal circumstances, unique teaching and research opportunities, student research supervision, special projects, instructional modality, major university service, etc. Workloads change every year, and over the span of career phases. Equity Policies must acknowledge and allow for these fluctuations, while recognizing that faculty discretionary authority can also be used to decrease equity.


The traditional three workload buckets of (a) teaching/librarianship/practice, (b) research/scholarship, and (c) service are being parsed out more granularly. Some universities count advising and mentoring as two additional buckets that earn teaching equivalencies instead of counting both under service. Even more common is the distinction between administrative duties/appointments/responsibilities (e.g., academic program director or coordinator), and what is traditionally thought of as “service” (e.g., committee and other governance work). Essentially, some universities have six buckets of activities that count towards workload: (a) teaching/librarianship/practice, (b) research/scholarship/creative endeavor, (c) administrative duties, (d) committee-type service, (e) advising, and (f) mentoring. For institutions with a six-bucket approach, some acknowledge that certain colleges or programs may be required to utilize the traditional three buckets for accreditation or other reasons. In such cases, it is still clear that service includes a variety of roles—not just committee work—and that different service roles carry varying levels of responsibility and time commitment.

Faculty Sovereignty

Departments chairs and other unit-level leaders having most familiarity with the activities of their faculty have clear discretionary authority to determine appropriate workloads and make appropriate adjustments. This is typically done in consultation with deans, but it appears implicit that deans must have a compelling reason to veto workload decisions agreed upon by department chairs and faculty. Most university-level policies call for faculty involvement in the workload determination process—ranging from department faculty working as a collective, to individual faculty working one-on-one with department chairs. In some cases, university-level policy provides specific processes for reporting and adjusting inequitable or unreasonable workloads, but leaves the rest of the workload management to departments, chairs, and faculty.


Equivalencies are used to determine workloads and adjustments. Some institutions leave the definition of equivalencies broadly stated; others provide lengthy and detailed lists of what qualifies as an equivalency, as well as numeric ways of tallying workload units and their equivalencies. For teaching faculty, course buy-outs and releases are a common application of equivalencies.


Several policies stipulate the responsibility of deans or other upper-level administrators to assure that basic shared governance principles around establishing workload equity are observed in units, and that policies are reviewed and reappraised at regular intervals (e.g., every three years).

Standout Institutions

Of the 28 universities WEC reviewed, there are two that stand out: Saint Louis University and Northeastern University. Both institutions are considered DU peer institutions; and Northeastern is an R1. Both institutions require a comprehensive workload policy for each academic unit, and these policies are approved by the Provost, University Administration, and/or Faculty Senate. The policies for each unit are readily available on their websites.

Northeastern University Faculty Workload Policy

Northeastern University Faculty Workload Policies by Department

Saint Louis University Faculty Workload Policies

Saint Louis University (SLU) is the only institution we found to explicitly address equity in their workload policies. SLU revisited their workload policies from 2016, with a deliberate focus on improving workload equity for faculty of color, junior faculty, and faculty of additional underrepresented identities. The resulting 2021 university-wide Faculty Workload Policy is robust, while still allowing for flexibility and department sovereignty to develop their own workloads and policies.

Some strengths of the university-level policy at SLU include:

  • Explicit definitions of workload, workload units, and the areas that make up a faculty member’s workload. Examples are provided for (but not limited to) what qualifies as teaching, service, research/scholarship/creative endeavors, administration, and clinical work.
  • Service is split into various types: university, professional, and public service.
  • Workload balance among the types listed above vary yearly. A note is provided on SLU’s shift away from the traditional three-pronged approach (teaching, research, service) for all faculty in every year to one that allows for any distribution of effort in a given year, so long as the faculty member’s workload includes at least one of the areas (knowing that many faculty in most years will still work within the three-pronged approach, and that tenure track may require the three-prongs).
  • Uncontrollable and unforeseen circumstances may affect an individual’s or unit’s workload in any given year. Needed workload modifications can be made in conjunction with chairs and deans.
  • A cap and minimum on workload units per faculty member per academic term. An “overload” beyond this cap requires either additional compensation or a reduction/release in a near-future academic term. A required minimum of units per year are listed for 9, 10, 11, and 12-month faculty.
  • Guidelines for ensuring faculty from underrepresented identities, or junior faculty, are not burdened with inequitable service appointments. Identity must not be used to guide service appointments. Instead, these appointments should be driven by diversity of thought, professional goals, and levels of expertise.
  • Required components for unit-level workload policies.
  • Processes and schedules for determining the workload for each faculty member, and for reviewing and approving unit-level and university-level workload policies.