Summary of Literature

Defining Workload Equity

Workload equity is an intentional benefit created by academic leaders, departments, and faculty members who take action to create better, fairer, and more equity-minded workloads. Policies and practices can be put in place to guide faculty and their institutions toward more equitable outcomes. In particular, women faculty members, faculty members from historically minoritized identity groups, and those at the intersections may perform disproportionately more “service” for the university—a work category that requires more careful unpacking. Indeed, many faculty engage in unseen diversity work, mentoring, teaching, and other service activities vital to the functioning of the university.

Workload equity is different from faculty workload—which reflects the total amount of work across diverse tasks that university faculty must complete. Workload equity also differs from pay equity. Workload, workload equity, and pay equity are important and interrelated, impacting faculty at all ranks and career stages to varying degrees. By increasing the visibility of how collective workload is distributed in departments and programs, we can better understand and value the amount of work being done (to address workload) and institute commensurate rewards in annual faculty merit reviews (to address pay equity). Consideration of transparency, clarity, credit, norms, context, and accountability is a vital starting point for producing departmental and program climates where faculty stay, feel valued for their contributions, and thrive.

Workload equity requires that academic leaders and faculties maintain a shared understanding of workload, and remain accountable for implementing fair divisions of labor in departments and programs. Furthermore, taking an “equity-minded approach” understands the social and historical context that has embedded exclusionary practices in academia, takes responsibility for these practices, and seeks more equitable outcomes through changes in practices, policies, and resource allocation (see the work of Estela Bensimon in creating this concept and an application to faculty evaluation by O’Meara & Templeton).

Progress toward workload equity requires a holistic perspective, continual iterative adjustments that take stock of faculty work, and particular attention to hidden forms of labor. According to DU’s Appointment, Promotion, and Tenure (APT) document (section on Professional Behavior and Responsibility, pp. 5–6), it requires, “collegial relationships built on trust and confidence.” Indeed, workload equity elevates our collective enterprises and aims to increase faculty desired productivity, satisfaction, and retention.

Why Now? Why Care?

According to the 2018 COACHE Faculty Satisfaction Survey and the 2020 “R1 Report” administrated by the Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs (VPFA) and Faculty Senate, in addition to concerns about about how teaching will be valued (and evaluated), faculty worry about their service workloads and those of their colleagues—especially in terms of teaching, mentoring, and student support. DU’s 2022 reclassification to R1 has the potential to exacerbate concerns articulated in the COACHE data, such as that the greatest areas of dissatisfaction among faculty are “teaching load” and “service load.” These results connect to our other COACHE identified areas for improvement: leadership, service, promotion, and departmental collegiality.

Faculty in the academic units and programs work hard to recruit, welcome, and retain new colleagues. The way we distribute collective work in departments and programs—from graduate student advising, to teaching capstone classes for undergraduates, to a host of departmental, unit, and university service activities—impacts whether individual faculty members feel valued, rewarded, and experience a sense of equitable distribution of work across the collective. Research shows that faculty leave institutions not because of salary but because of their departmental climate and whether they feel they belong. Inequitable workloads and perceptions of inequity can create unwelcoming, resentful, and even toxic departmental climates that compound other inequities related to salary and compensation. Finally, mismatches between the time faculty plan to spend on certain activities and the time they actually spend can generate resentment, especially if such mismatches hinder career advancement and/or benefit those making fewer or no contributions to serve the collective. O’Meara et al. (2019) refer to the latter practice as “social loafing.”

At DU, these issues are accentuated by the distinctiveness of our Teaching and Professional Faculty (TPF) lines, comprising faculty who are not on the tenure track yet are an essential part of the DU faculty. In particular, teaching faculty and adjunct faculty—who often have no research expectations—may face increasing workloads both in terms of teaching load and service, a lack of respect, and increased precarity. Support and programming aimed at valuing teaching, workload equity, attention to rank and series, and support for TPF and adjunct faculty is key to maintaining our distinctiveness, to the promise of the teacher-scholar model, and to achieving R1 “our way.” Many faculty come to DU because they see themselves as teacher-scholars. Maintaining and expanding the conditions for teacher-scholar-practitioners to grow in this institutional identity is vital to faculty satisfaction and talent retention. It will help sustain a diverse, productive faculty, committed to educating and mentoring the next generation of thinkers, scholars, and practitioners.

We also recognize that there are complex aspects of workload inequity that relate to online teaching at DU, as units have developed unique arrangements to offer their curriculum, including partnerships with 2U. 

Sources of Workload Inequity: Workload Equity Issues That Affect Particular Groups of Faculty

Historically Marginalized Faculty

Women faculty, faculty of color, and especially women of color disproportionately perform more service for the university. These faculty members might say yes to service because they are pressured to do so, because there are hidden consequences to saying no, and because saying yes can bring important personal and institutional benefits. The service these faculty members contribute is often referred to as “invisible labor.” Invisible labor includes student and faculty mentoring; department work not formally recognized or adequately compensated; work on curricular innovation and interdisciplinary projects; and work toward diversity, equity, and inclusion. These are all vital to the relevance and advancement of the university, yet are often not considered merit or promotion worthy.

Women of color in particular face the additional challenge of navigating the devaluation of their efforts, as they receive little recognition from the university. Research productivity has increasingly become the most valued enterprise at many higher education institutions. While this brings economic, social, and cultural capital to those who focus primarily on scholarship, the primacy of research productivity eclipses other kinds of academic labor, such as the relational care work (including teaching), that so many women and faculty of color engage. Minoritized faculty who shoulder a larger share of relational care work may later be penalized in consequential reviews, perceived as academically unproductive. Yet, relational care work is central to the university as it supports students, making them feel like they belong. Such efforts directly impact recruitment, retention, persistence, and the overall university mission. Clear guidelines for what constitutes visible and invisible labor elude most faculty members. Service work consistently carries less weight in tenure and promotion processes. However, faculty often feel compelled to say yes to service requests, even though doing so may detract from other career-advancement goals.

Despite campus policies supporting diversity and inclusion, higher education grossly undervalues the type of invisible labor known as care work. This type of invisible labor derives from an unspoken pressure to serve others in ways that universities do not adequately measure. It is the relational “secret service” that is more feminized and less likely to be visible, valued, and quantifiable than the task-oriented labor such as serving as a faculty senator or chairing a university committee. These expectations develop in line with stereotypical social and cultural roles assigned to people—especially women and women of color more specifically. There are also specific burdens on LGBTQ+ faculty to support students (see chapter 4 of Moon Johnson & Javier, 2017), especially during the pandemic. The “hallway ask” also perpetuates invisible labor; these are the informal, unscripted requests that usually fall on the shoulders of women, occurring in the hallways, so to speak, where performances of bias occur unchecked and with little reflexivity. Such solicitations of invisible labor often occur in passing, making them even harder to record and track.

Associate Professors

While invisible labor presents challenges for all faculty, and especially for non-tenure track women of color, associate professors tend to experience it acutely, as evidenced by the 50.8% of associate professors who contemplate leaving their institution (compared to 45% of full professors and 48.6% of assistant professors). Assistant professors are generally more protected by colleagues and institutional norms, and less solicited for significant labor. By contrast, associate professors have less clarity around promotion expectations, a less-fixed timeline for promotion, and significantly less protection from service responsibilities—all while receiving less mentorship than assistant professors. Full professors, who are already promoted, experience fewer career advancement consequences (although equity issues also ensnare these faculty, who do service, relational care, and governance work that can be similarly “disappeared” in annual reviews). Associate professor dissatisfaction reflects important institutional inequities that cannot be remedied by just saying no; yet, the pressure to just say no—alongside the assumption that all tenured faculty share equal discretion in saying no—is pervasive at this rank.

Academic pressures are particularly gendered at the associate level. Seventy-five percent of women associates report serving in major service capacities, as compared to 50% of men associates. Women tend to serve in labor-intensive positions such as undergraduate advisor sooner than men, potentially further stalling their progress to full professor. Women associates spend two hours less per week on research and writing than men, and spend more time on grading and course preparation each week. They are less likely to be promoted, and their promotions take one to three and a half years longer than men’s, with the longer timeline at more research-intensive institutions. According to the American Association of University Professors, women comprise just 32.5% of full professors; most of these women (80%) are white.

Women and minoritized faculty are often directed to ask senior colleagues for advice on how to manage their service loads. But senior colleagues who are more likely to be white and male often have little direct experience with the kinds of institutional pressures to perform more service women face. For women of color associates, the lack of mentorship from white senior colleagues is often compounded by microaggressions from superiors, colleagues, and students.

What is the alternative to just saying no? We must design new systems that serve as institutional guardrails on unequal workloads across faculty ranks and make chairs, directors, deans, and other academic leaders aware of and accountable for equity-minded workloads annually. Guardrails in the form of policies, guidelines, bylaws, and processes generated through shared governance can promote consistent action and implementation, regardless of the personality or discretionary authority of the decision maker. These guardrails can foster more robust and equitable faculty participation and engagement, and greater consistency and transparency across leaders. We believe that rendering invisible labor visible and valuable, and better valuing the more visible forms of faculty labor that add value to the academic enterprise, are critical to addressing issues of workload inequity.

Pandemic Work and the Changing Nature of Faculty Workload

Neoliberal forces have intensified faculty workloads and increased demands for invisible labor. Market competition and shrinking public spending on education have challenged faculty to bring in more grant money, teach more courses, and increase service loads to sustain and advance higher educational institutions—thus augmenting institutional prestige in an increasingly competitive landscape. Service work remains central to the market presence of the university, as it ensures that students have relationships with faculty and that the university can adapt. However, there is often little agreement about what the category of “service” should contain. Service has become a bottomless bucket into which all manner of faculty work is dumped—from garden variety committee work to work that’s more properly seen as administrative in nature, to student advising and mentoring work that can reasonably be seen as teaching. Despite their centrality to university functioning, however, university reward systems undervalue service and care-oriented labor, and overvalue research productivity in line with competitive individualism, or the effort to define and redefine oneself as a value to the university and in contrast to one’s colleagues (e.g., market competition).

As we well know by now, the pandemic has increased faculty workloads, raised stress levels, and compounded inequities already magnified by neoliberalism. It caused faculty to withdraw into their own bubbles or leave the university altogether,  a phenomenon described as The Great Disengagement or The Big Quit. Universities across the nation are working to address faculty burnout, pandemic-related challenges, and disparate impacts. The pandemic is expected to amplify preexisting inequities in faculty promotion and tenure processes (Malish et al., 2020). Existing inequities include gender and racial bias across key areas of faculty experience, including grant funding (Ginther et al., 2011), peer review (Tamblyn et al., 2018), student evaluations of teaching (Chavez & Mitchell, 2020), teaching and service loads (Tierney & Bensimon, 1996), and the tenure evaluation processes (Weisshaar, 2017). Additionally, certain types of faculty work have intensified, especially due to the twin pandemics of COVID and racial injustice. For example, student-care activities rose significantly both for coursework and for advising (academic and other), and this work intensified for faculty of color in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. Faculty also find themselves with additional teaching responsibilities: serving as a replacement instructor for a colleague; increasing their workload to compensate for colleagues who can’t teach on campus; and supporting colleagues in their transition to online teaching. Nine-month contract faculty can be put into situations that require them to perform summertime work if the university initiatives they care about are to be advanced. While faculty service and leadership demands have mushroomed, we have yet to fully capture and find ways to recognize and reward this often invisible labor. These burdens fall on all faculty, but they can fall disproportionately on women and faculty of color. As we move forward, we need to consider both how to make adjustments for the current pandemic context, and also how to be more proactive and less reactive, for example, by designing for the post-virus” professor and professoriate.

The argument for creating tools for workload equity, such as dashboards, is that the pandemic offers a unique opportunity to reconfigure the future of academic work in the academy. However, we must be intentional. Otherwise, we only exacerbate or ignore existing inequalities. In the area of workload, this means harming women, especially women of color, and other minoritized faculty. (For one of many examples, see Misra et al., 2021). Addressing workload equity systemically may require more upfront work but decreases workload on the backend by lowering conflict and resentment, as well as faculty departures and grievances.

As part of the WEC work and report, we created a Research Guide for Faculty Workload Equity Resources. Managed by the DU Library, this guide serves as a quick reference for those wanting to get started on addressing workload equity or looking to learn more. The Guide includes resources on workload equity, literature, DU events with national experts, best practices, and contacts at DU for workload equity, and will evolve as the next iteration of the WEC continues and expands this work.