Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

The Provost’s Conference Spring Luncheon Speaker Series on the “Post-Pandemic Professoriate” is in full swing. The campus welcomed KerryAnn O’Meara on 4/15 (view recording) and is looking forward to Joya Misra and her UMASS colleagues on 5/3, and the team from TEval on 5/18. Register here

Each of these luncheon speakers follows scaffolded engagements with governance (Workload Equity, Covid Accommodations, and Teaching Excellence), faculty leadership (deans, associate deans, and chairs and directors), and faculty (Think & Drink open sessions). At the individual level, it has been an opportunity to reflect on faculty workload and set intentions for the next stage of one’s career, while at the levels of department, unit, and university leadership, it has offered a chance to think strategically and intentionally. These campus-wide conversations on workload clarified how important this issue is to DU faculty and to broader goals of institutional inclusion and equity, but also identified some challenges that change-agents at all levels will need to overcome. 

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, but only if we are 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). It also requires more upfront work, but decreases workload on the backend by lowering conflict and resentment, as well as faculty departures and grievances. 

An earlier blog post offers ideas for starting authentic conversations in your unit or department. One suggestion that has resonated at various levels is to start with “small wins” rather than trying to capture every possible element of workload from the start. The Athena Swan Project also offers a range of resources for campuses to use. Given the range of practices across different colleges, units, and departments at DU, equity may look like context-specific solutions which reflect uniformity, but not conformity, across campus.  

In her keynote and other talks, O’Meara offered a five-step plan for implementing dashboards; see this recording for full details. Ideally, a group at the department, program, or college level would convene to: 

  1. Identify priorities, values, and “pain index” for meaningful service (Fall, Year 1)
  2. Collect data from existing sources on workload (Fall, Year 1)
  3. Share and process data through an equity lens (Spring, Year 1)
  4. Use data to propose workload policies (Spring, Year 1) 
  5. Implement (pilot) of workload policies (Fall, Year 2) 

Here are some additional ideas or questions to consider at various levels:

Individual:

  • How do you write about your service workload in your narratives or Activity Insight? Is the importance or complexity of your work accounted for? What about significant accomplishments or outcomes? Can you tie your service work to department values, strategic imperatives, or DU’s mission? What is invisible, and how can it be made (more) visible? 
  • How are you mentoring early-career faculty around service? Consider not only “saying no,” but when to say yes and why. And then close the loop by making sure that this service “counts” in annual reviews. 
  • How do you respond to “social loafing” among colleagues? If you find yourself saying, “oh, that’s just how so-and-so is…,” or “he’s never going to say yes,” or engaging in the “hallway ask,” take some time to reflect on the implications of these practices. 

Faculty Leadership: 

  • If you are a department chair or program director, consider the service assignments under your control and how this service is assigned. Are alternatives, like rotation or service-banking, possible? Revisit the ACE Engage report and worksheets for some concrete ideas.  
  • How much do you know about the service load in your department for committee service, mentoring, contributions to campus programming, or high-impact practices? How could you learn more? 
  • Workload conversations are often avoided because of potential conflict. How have you developed skills in productively engaging in conflict? The VPFA has partnered to offer several trainings and resources from Academic Impressions.
  • KerryAnn O’Meara argued that “dashboards” (or tables) can be a powerful tool for equity. What would make the exercise of creating a dashboard meaningful? Could you partner with a student researcher or delegate the task to alleviate your own workload burden? See sample dashboards in the Equity Minded Faculty Workload Worksheets from ACE Engage.  
  • If you are a dean, what do you know about “social loafing” or unequal workload burdens in your college? And what do you do about it? What about policies related to workload: do they exist, and are there consequences for violating them? 

University Administration:

  • How can we facilitate development of policies and practices which are “consistent but not uniform?” The goal is to provide space for departments to engage in the assessment of workload that is meaningful and attuned to local needs and epistemologies but also to ensure that “guardrails” exist to protect faculty who may have less capacity to self-advocate because of power hierarchies. 
  • Designing for equity is about making the default choice the more equitable one, rather than accepting the status quo. What changes at the University Level, such as policies, A&P, or even Activity Insight might facilitate this new default and dissipate the “foggy climate” that surrounds workload? (See Beddoes, Schimpf, & Pawley (2014) for a discussion of how bias dominates when there are unclear expectations.)  
  • Department-level change efforts are often the most effective but need support to scale. How can we support departments willing to pilot more equitable workload processes which take into account the varied size of departments and programs at DU, as well as :  
    • Transparency (e.g., benchmarks) 
    • Clarity (e.g., teaching rotations)
    • Credit (e.g., compensation guidelines)
    • Norms (e.g., teaching policies)
    • Context (e.g., service releases for exceptional work)
    • Accountability (e.g., smaller committee sizes)