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Equity-Minded Workload Practices

Columns on Campus

Barriers and Facilitators

What we have learned so far:

As we have worked with academic departments to create faculty activity dashboards and put equity-minded policies and practices in place, we have encountered both barriers and facilitators to reform that we share here:

Initial barriers to workload reform:

  1. Status Quo Thinking: Some faculty argued: “We do not need reform, everyone gets along well in the department, and everything is fine as is (e.g. why do we need to have a policy written down?).”
  2. Conflict Avoidance:Transparency in workload data (via dashboards) can make some people uncomfortable, and cause conflict.
  3. Zero Sum (scarcity) Thinking: Fear of being discounted, devalued, not included, or left behind in the new metrics (e.g. Some faculty worried: But what about me? If we value teaching and service more, will research then be valued less?).
  4. Discourse of Individual Choice: Some faculty felt that workload, at least among the tenured, is a matter of choice. Some individuals “choose” to do more diversity-related service as opposed to recognizing the identity taxation that may be taking place.
  5. Fear of Surveillance: Fear that this type of analysis may cause greater scrutiny, accountability or workload expected from above (e.g. college, university) or within (e.g. if we write this down it could be used against me); Worry that creating benchmarks will bring the average up (e.g. everyone will just have to do more).
  6. Distrust and Disconnection: Lack of social trust or engagement within the department membership, apathy/indifference; hierarchy preventing open discussion.
  7. Fear of consequences of changing the status quo: If we ask the star researchers to do more service, will they leave? If we relieve the faculty doing a greater share of service for the department, will any of that work get done?
  8. Reality and Perception of Rigidity in guidelines for workload from college, institution, or state.
  9. Low morale: Demoralization as a result of budget cuts becoming the new normal, high faculty turnover, the sense workload just keeps expanding.

Facilitators of Workload Equity Reform:

  1. Providing Structure and Resources: Data, tools, concrete policy examples, templates, and deadlines to slow down thinking and make workload decisionsmore intentional.
  2. Engaging a Dual Agenda: Using the process for other goals such as strategic planning, arguments up for resources, post-tenure review, junior faculty development and pre-tenure review.
  3. Encouraging a Proactive Approach: Using data to ground understanding of past practice, but not dwelling in past wrongs. Instead, focusing on proactively designing future department practices.
  4. Using Data to and collective leadership to reinforce a collective department commitment to fairness, efficiency, accuracy. It helps to emphasize that this is part of overall efforts to become a department that is supportive of everyone and their talents, and that is fair. Data helps show why reforms are necessary to make that happen.
  5. Giving Credit Where Credit is Due: A desire among many to give more credit to (previously) invisible work and to better align the data and reward system (e.g. performance management system).
  6. Building in flexibility: Identifying a workload issue to solve, and then considering many different options to remedy the issue rather than just one common or previously enacted solution (e.g., options enhance agency).
  7. Incrementalism: Identifying short and long term priorities by choosing small hanging fruit (e.g. codifying things good department chairs have done informally), and longer-term equity practices (e.g.merit pay, differentiated workload standards) to reform.
  8. Bottom up, consensus driven change. Participation in this project was encouraged, but not required from above, and departments chose the design of their own dashboards and determined policy reforms locally. Department chairs being receptive and willing to move the conversation forward was critical.
  9. Individualized plans within the context of accountability: Using workload reform as a way to customize and optimize what faculty do best; Creating more carrots and sticks to incentivize faculty to do what needs to be done for the good of the department.
  10. Strengthening the Core: Faculty and Leader Belief that this will help with retention, satisfaction and morale.