Faculty Workload Studies: Perspectives, Needs,
and Future Directions. ERIC Digest.
by Meyer, Katrina A.
As states continue to be pressured to provide increased services with
constrained resources, it should be helpful to those in higher education--and
in state legislatures and agencies--to understand the context within which
the interest in faculty workload developed and perhaps may be resolved.
WHAT CONDITIONS IN THE STATES CREATE INTEREST IN FACULTY WORKLOAD?
Several trends are impacting states. Many states expect the "baby boom
echo" to hit higher education; at the same time, more working adults need
increased training and retraining.
The late 1980s saw faltering state and regional economies and growing
unemployment. States were asked to fund growing prison populations, K-12
enrollments, and individuals needing social assistance. Rising taxes and
stagnant wages created an environment of growing public distrust of government,
and some taxpayers revolted.
Concurrently, the costs of higher education rose as growth in the HEPI
exceeded growth in the CPI. Rising costs are caused by several factors,
including increases in fringe benefits, new technology, more staff, and
certain internal processes (Massy and Zemsky 1992). To cover rising costs,
parents and students were asked to pay higher tuition. Because the personnel
budget often constitutes 80 to 90 percent of an institution's budget, state
legislatures became increasingly interested in ways to increase the productivity
of personnel. Studies of faculty workload were the result.
WHAT ROLE DO OPINIONS PLAY IN THE PUSH FOR GREATER FACULTY PRODUCTIVITY?
The business community has been a major critic of the quality and productivity
of modern universities. Many legislators view higher education as unproductive
and unaccountable. And the public is caught in a bind: Postsecondary education
is increasingly important for access to better jobs at the same time increases
in tuition are putting college out of reach. Both sets of concerns increase
the pressure to find ways to improve productivity in higher education.
WHAT DO STUDIES OF FACULTY WORKLOAD OR PRODUCTIVITY TELL US?
Over 15 states, several systems, and three national studies have collected
data on faculty workload. (These studies have definitional problems and
provide different answers, depending on the focus of the study.) While
the majority of studies indicate that faculty work long hours--over 40
to 50 hours per week--the time spent in the classroom is usually much less.
Time spent on teaching or teaching-related activities is larger, depending
on the number of activities included in the definition. Percent of time
spent on an activity provides another view of faculty's effort, and teaching
usually exceeds all other activities. The few instances of longitudinal
data or data from large-scale surveys indicate that time spent teaching
Studies of faculty productivity traditionally have looked at productivity
in research, but few efforts have looked at (or defined) productivity in
teaching and service. Many of these studies suffer from inconsistent or
nonexistent definitions and a lack of trust in the measures that do exist.
WHAT BELIEFS ARE BARRIERS TO FINDING SOLUTIONS TO THE
The focus on faculty workload is useful. It has not yet resulted in
any gains in productivity, which may be because several beliefs keep us
tied to increasingly questionable assumptions--that teaching equates with
lecturing and that the classroom is the only place where learning occurs,
for example. We also equate quality with inputs (e.g., full-time faculty,
library holdings), and one input, time, is often used as an approximation
of learning (although the belief that "seat time" and "credit hours" correlate
to achievement is finding more critics).
We also tend to hold faculty responsible for all of higher education's
problems and do not recognize growing competition from new educational
providers. Those in higher education tend to believe that its current problems
are not serious and that no major changes are needed. And this situation
is compounded by a perceived lack of leadership. But finger pointing, excuses,
and denials will not help higher education find an appropriate course into
an uncertain future.
WHAT SOLUTIONS WILL HELP HIGHER EDUCATION SUCCESSFULLY ENGAGE THE
If continuing to focus on faculty workload does not appear to solve
the productivity problem, then what might be more helpful? The first step
is to let go, to become open to the unknown (Guskin 1996), for "we can't
advance as long as we're holding tight to what no longer works" (p. 28).
While the end may not be known, it will likely require a renewed focus
on students' learning or encompass a shift from the old teaching paradigm
to a new learning paradigm. Placing "students and their learning needs
ahead of faculty preferences will have a profound impact on everything
we now do" (Plater 1995, p. 24), which would drive changes in faculty work,
institutional structures, and academic policies. Faculty will likely need
to "not simply work harder at teaching but work smarter" (Edgerton 1993,
The focus on students' learning will require defining our outputs--skills
and knowledge, competencies and level of proficiency expected--for courses
and the baccalaureate degree. At the same time, new technologies will allow
learning to occur at the time, place, and pace preferred by students rather
than the institution. Technology can help improve productivity as well
as make education available on every desktop.
To support these changes, institutions must adjust their missions to
align more closely with public expectations, and the reward structure for
faculty must be realigned to support teaching and a revised role for research.
The future is filled with dichotomies: increase quality and quantity
of services and cut costs, standardize services and individualize programs,
centralize and decentralize. But contradictions can create order by stirring
things up "until, finally, things become so jumbled that we reorganize
work at a new level of efficiency" (Wheatley 1992, p. 166).
Finding our way successfully to the future will require the minds, hearts,
and emotions of all institutional members. Assumptions must be rethought,
processes revised, behaviors relearned. We need to encourage creativity,
restructuring, and experimentation if we are to discover what will work.
And the entire community--as well as new leaders and fresh ideas--must
be involved. At the same time, we will need to retain old values, such
as service to others (Rice 1996).
Faculty must use their "smarts" to help devise the higher education
institution of the future. Faculty will likely need to change their work
to address students' learning, institutional priorities, and society's
needs. But we will need all of their smarts to address the states' need
for increased access, institutions' rising costs, and productivity.
Edgerton, Russell. July/August 1993. "The Tasks Faculty Perform." Change
Guskin, Alan E. September/October 1996. "Facing the Future: The Change
Process in Restructuring Universities."Change 28: 27-37.
Massy, William, and Robert Zemsky. 1992. Faculty Discretionary Time:
Departments and the Academic Ratchet. Philadelphia: Pew Higher Education
Plater, William M. May/June 1995. "Future Work: Faculty Time in the
21st Century." Change 27: 22-33.
Rice, R. Eugene. 1996. Making a Place for the New American Scholar.
Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education.
Wheatley, Margaret J. 1992. Leadership and the New Science. San Francisco: