Nature of the Problem at DU
Many of the problems identified in the literature have been identified by the DU community (see DU data in Appendices A–C). As one dean pointed out in a meeting with the WEC, there is an inherent tension in academic life between an independent contractor/individual entrepreneur model of faculty work and a collegial model that’s oriented to the welfare of the collective. There are also nuances specific to DU organizational structures. These issues have been further complicated in both promising and challenging ways as the DU professoriate has evolved (e.g., creation of a Teaching and Professional series). Clearly, low faculty morale, dysfunctional work environments, and workplace conditions that hinder productivity are problems; and many have attributed factors related to work equity as a challenge to faculty retention. Addressing them and moving toward solutions is critical.
This section provides a snapshot of concerns identified within the DU context to frame the problem of workload inequity at our institution. Topics are not exhaustive nor are they listed in order of importance; however, each item emerged consistently in informal conversations, structured information-gathering events, the Faculty Senate and Provost Reception (see Appendix C), and most recently, through survey data collected by the Faculty Senate (see Appendices B & C). Note that key university data are missing from this report (e.g., retention of faculty by demographic, exit survey data, etc.) and should be incorporated as they become available to future iterations of the WEC.
Lack of Accessible Data
It is unclear what data is gathered institutionally regarding faculty retention patterns, teaching loads across the institution, staffing levels that impact faculty workload, and other variables (e.g., information on series/rank of department chairs) that would allow full investigation of workload-equity issues as DU. Collection and dissemination of these data will be important moving forward, if we are to achieve full transparency around workload equity.
Information collected by the University does not appear to be available for public consumption. It is not clear if the data does not exist (see above) or if it is simply not made public. Regardless of the reason, the result is a lack of transparency on much of the information that the task force deemed necessary to fully understand the extent of the problem at DU. We hope the AY 22–23 workload equity committee will partner with IR and the Faculty Data Governance Committee to dive deeper into the existing data and consider new forms of data that will help us understand the nature of the problem at DU.
Lack of Clarity and Norms for Workload Equity
Teaching and Professional Faculty
For Teaching and Professional Faculty (TPF), a lack of consistency exists between and among these non-tenure-track positions. Some TPF do not have an obligation to do research, scholarship, and creative activity, while others do. For teaching faculty the balance between teaching, advising, mentoring, and service to the university can be a challenge. Teaching faculty are often viewed as individuals who can/should pick up extra classes or represent the department or unit on a committee due to the perception that they do not have expectations for research, scholarship, and creative activity. The WEC also encountered inconsistencies across units in procedures used to conduct annual and consequential reviews of Teaching and Professional Faculty, creating challenges for advancing equity in faculty workloads and rewards. The effects of these assumptions at DU are explored in greater detail in Dr. Laura Sponsler’s 2021 white paper: “Institutionalizing a Culture of Respect for Teaching and Professional Faculty.”
Varying Teaching Loads
Different teaching loads exist within and across units. For example, some units on campus require one TPF member (Clinical) to teach 24–27 credits, while another in the same college is required to teach 48. Teaching loads for tenure-track faculty range from 2–6 courses (12–24 credits) on nine-month contracts. This is further complicated by distinctions in loads related to online programs, even within the same unit. Consistency and transparency per credit or per course would help clarify what workload inequities exist and why they exist. The committee is aware of these issues, and will urge units to address them going forward, as well as charge the 2022–2023 WEC with pursuing these issues.
Inconsistent Workload Measurement Metrics
Different areas use different metrics for measuring workload. For example, there is no universal system for defining, tracking, and rewarding service commitments. While these responsibilities inevitably vary based on department and unit-level needs, the institution’s mechanism for accounting for this workload (Activity Insight/Watermark) is not sufficient to capture the amount of time put into a service activity, the level of significance of the work, and the outcome or product of the work.
Overall, faculty recognize and report a lack of consistency and need for institutional and division-level policies to establish expectations for the ways workload responsibilities are discussed and tracked (see Appendix B).
Lack of Accountability for Inequities
Inequities in Faculty Retention
It has become increasingly important to understand which faculty are leaving the University and why. Current data mechanisms at DU do not allow for such information to be widely communicated. Absent this information, the committee must depend on qualitative data gathered over the last year, which suggests concerns about significant pay disparities (exacerbated by the increasing cost of living, particularly housing, in the Denver area—named fifth most expensive city in the U.S.); increasing teaching expectations, including skyrocketing student socio-emotional issues; challenges with excessive service load; and general faculty burnout. Finally, research, teaching, and service workloads are often unclear between faculty lines. Consistent with the literature detailed above, DU faculty noted the gravity of these issues as they relate to women and faculty of color. It seems clear that we are currently asking too much of some and not enough of others. The COACHE faculty retention and exit-survey results will be shared in Fall 2022, and may be informative for why people leave. Likewise, keeping a dashboard of faculty retention would further clarify who is leaving. In both instances, clear, accessible data on faculty retention will clarify workload equity issues that hurt faculty retention.
Lack of Recognition for Inequities
Associate Level Faculty as Department Chairs
As a smaller university, DU often finds itself in the position of needing to employ associate professors in positions of leadership—most commonly as department chairs but sometimes as deans and associate deans. This occurrence puts faculty members in a tough position, as they try to lead a unit while making progress towards promotion to full professor. In many cases, success at both tasks is unattainable. Data clarifying the number of faculty who have stalled at the associate level for more than 10 years—especially among faculty who have served as department chair or in another significant administrative position—is needed to better understand the extent of this issue at DU, as well as any demographic inequities. The VPFA is working on a project to create such a dashboard, but uneven data has slowed the process. If it is determined to be a problem, one possible solution is to modify expectations of what is required to be promoted to Full Professor. Another is to maintain current expectations but adopt a more liberal approach to assigning workload equivalencies that would give Associate Professors the time and opportunity they need to meet expectations and attain promotion.
Considering Late Career-Stage Faculty
Many workload equity policies recommended in the literature and implemented at other institutions identify career stage as a relevant variable in determining and adjusting workload via various equivalencies. DU provides multiple career supports and development opportunities for assistant and associate professors in both the tenure-line and TPF series. While the sacrifice might be all too rare, some senior, late-career stage faculty at the associate and full professor levels take seriously an obligation to engage in heavy-lift service work as a consequence of their longevity and experience. This includes departmental housekeeping duties that benefit from having an informed, experienced hand at the wheel (e.g., chairing tenure, promotion, and mid-tenure review committees, taking the first cut at drafting department policy documents, writing new position proposals and job descriptions, etc.), as well as more high-profile work (e.g., curriculum reform, strategic planning activities, special studies) commissioned by the Faculty Senate and other university agencies. The desire to do these things well alongside the recognition that “institutional memory” is critical for guiding departmental and university decision-making produces good results; however, it can also lead to resentment and burnout, if workload adjustments are not made in other areas.
Inequities in Faculty Promotion
For tenure-track faculty, productivity in research, scholarship, and creative work will continue to be an essential metric. Raising the importance of other areas must start at the top: provost, dean, chair. In many departments, new tenure-track faculty are shielded from non-research/teaching activities to allow them to perform better in research. Should this change? The question requires robust discussion. Concerns around how teaching is valued exist, as some faculty believe that strong research should compensate for mediocre teaching. This mindset must change to see real improvement in workload equity. Annual reports and merit reviews need to weigh teaching and service areas more heavily. APT policies might also need revision to reflect the importance/value of relational care, service, and governance work, and to clarify the status of mentoring.
Challenging Work Environments
Faculty have been greatly affected by challenging work environments which are often created by the workload inequities and invisible labor cited above. Some have even defined and described these environments as dysfunctional or toxic. Among the conditions that produce toxicity are suspicion of differential or unequal treatment; perceptions of favoritism; failures to adhere to established by-laws and policies; and resentments stemming from the fact that necessary work is done by some because others refuse to do it. It is also important to note the effects that these and similar conditions have on university staff, which inevitably contributes to challenges (and extra work) for faculty as well.
Inequitable Advising and Mentorship
- As mentioned above, there is confusion about how the essential responsibility of advising and mentoring students should be counted and credited as an aspect of faculty work. While some units consider this work service, others define it as part of teaching. If one unit considers advising and mentoring service while another considers it teaching, disparities in individual service and teaching loads may result. Faculty who have the reputation of being a good advisor or mentor are often approached by students (and maybe even other faculty) for additional support beyond what they are receiving from an assigned advisor. This seemingly small request to answer a question, sign a form, or acquire career advice may overburden individual faculty members. These small tasks are rarely recognized by formal systems of quantifying faculty work.
- Faculty of color and women faculty tend to be especially overburdened in this regard. So too are faculty who teach first-year/introductory classes, as they are often better known to students.
- Finally, academic program directors who typically receive no workload equivalencies or course credit for their administrative work (e.g., directors of interdisciplinary minors) conduct advising and mentoring for both their program and for students in their home departments, thereby creating additional inequities in this area of faculty work.
Increased Inequity in Workloads due to Reduction in Staff Support
- Staff reductions have resulted in increased workloads for faculty, and anecdotal evidence indicates that increased workloads have been unequal. These differences can be seen across faculty line, gender, and race. An example of this includes event planning for the unit.
- Faculty and staff seek clarity around what tasks should by handled by staff versus faculty. The fact that these workload issues are different in different units adds to the lack of clarity. Moreover, it remains unclear whether staff reductions are permanent or temporary.
In summary, concerns faculty raised about inequities at DU reflect the absence of O’Meara’s conditions for workload equity (discussed below in Best Practices) indicating confusion about and dissatisfaction with workload equity that comes from a lack of clarity, consistency, norms, accountability, transparency, and reward.
Clearly, not every issue can be addressed as a part of a workload-equity policy. For example, it is clear that “work equity” and “working too much” are not the same conversation, although they are often conflated. And any attempts to address workload equity may not remedy working too much. As we ensure safeguards that create more equitable work environments, we are not able to make individual work more manageable. However, faculty workload management will become more attainable as policies and procedures are evaluated and refined.