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Advice on Faculty Workload

Atlas, it's time for your bath

The ProfHacker audience (so far) seems to be made up of people who want to be better, more efficient, more effective in their academic careers. One of the biggest issues that we faculty (new and seasoned, adjunct and long tenured) face is the question of managing our workload. If we care about what we’re doing (and if you’re on this site you must), then we can take on too much. Overloading can affect our ability to teach effectively, to publish, to make academic and institutional deadlines, and to have a (gasp) extra-academic life. [One way to manage the stress that results is to read George's post on managing stress during the semester.]

Along to address the question of academic workload directly is a recent post from Tenured Radical, aka Claire Potter, a professor of History and American Studies at Wesleyan University. The post, entitled “Just Say No (But Not To Me): Achieving Balance in Your Work,” is a meaty one that includes a significant critique of an academic system that allows advising, service, and administrative tasks to be distributed in profoundly unequal ways. It’s worth a careful read in its entirety.

However, of most direct interest to the ProfHacker ethos of trying to offer solutions to sticky academic problems is Tenured Radical’s specific list of how to say “No” in a couple of key areas that affect many faculty.

Teaching. Meet with your chair to establish a reasonable cap for your class that also bears some reasonable relationship to average enrollments in the department. If possible, ask if you can see last semester’s final enrollments with the names of colleagues removed. Then stick to your cap, no matter what.

Major Advising. Ask your department’s administrative assistant how many majors there are in the department, or in your field within the department, then divide by the number of faculty available to serve them that semester. If you are in a program as well, do the same thing. Add them together. Then call the registrar, find out how many upper-level students are registered in the college as a whole, and how many advisors are available; divide total number of students by total number of faculty. This is the critical number that you must not exceed by more than one or two students: trim your advising load in the department and/or program to meet this second sum by asking your chair to reassign students, or not taking on new advisees when the ones you have graduate.

Potter argues that competence at the core administrative aspects of being a faculty member is not a good enough reason to allow yourself to be overwhelmed with work:

So my advice is: you may need to say no, and you may need to figure out how to achieve an equitable work load by yourself, turning a deaf ear (and a deaf ego) to those who claim that only you can solve their problems, staff their committee, write their recommendations.

Again, check out the post for more advice (and more critique of the academic workload system). [I particularly like TR's idea in the second-to-last paragraph of offering new and newly tenured faculty direct lessons in how the academic administrative and faculty infrastructure works.]

Are there other ideas for managing/reducing/balancing workload? And what options might part-time, visiting, or tenure-track faculty have when they don’t have the leverage to take such a strong stance?

[Hat Tip to @academicdave]

Image by flickr user midnightcomm / CC licensed

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