Shifting the Burden of Unfair Service Loads
My clients from historically marginalized groups frequently express frustration at carrying heavier service and advising loads than their white and/or male counterparts. Research validates that there is an inequitable distribution of tasks that don’t “count” for promotion. For too long, the majority of strategies I had to offer left the burden of managing the problem on those who were already negatively impacted.
Therefore, I was heartened to learn about the solutions being promoted by KerryAnn O’Meara and her colleagues Dawn Culpepper, Joya Misra, and Audrey Jaeger as part of the NSF ADVANCE funded Faculty Workload and Rewards Project.
The investigators worked with departments at major research universities to create and implement structural solutions to address unfair service loads. In an article in Inside Higher Education and in this report, O’Meara and colleagues offer ideas that employ the concept of choice architecture to shape how work is divided. Recommendations include:
- Measure the load. Conduct an audit of current service loads and create dashboards of faculty activities. Sharing this information publicly may prompt personal reflection and will encourage more in-depth conversations about the fair distribution of work. Dashboards might include:
- Service as a member or chair of a committee
- Advising loads
- Teaching loads including class size and the support of teaching assistants
- University/College wide service
- Clarity of expectations. Add clarity to service expectations that have been vague. O’Meara advises that departmental teams work together to specify the minimum amount of advising and service expected of every member of the department. Assign high, medium, and low intensity scores for different types of activities. For example, chairing a committee would receive more credit than serving on a committee.
- Transparency of benefits. Rather than individually negotiating for reduced workloads or compensation for intensive service, create a transparent process that makes clear which roles come with a course release or extra salary, and offer a method for all faculty members to express their interest in those roles.
- Share the load. Instead of asking people to “opt in” to service, follow a rotation in which everyone is expected to take a turn at labor intensive but low-profile service, with the onus on individuals who want an exception to make a case for why they alone should be able to “opt out” of service that everyone else takes a turn at.
Although some people will always attempt to game the system and do less than their share, these structural solutions take some of the burden off of those most hurt by the status quo. If you’d like to implement any of these ideas, more details including sample dashboards can be found on the Faculty Workload and Rewards Project website. And if you or your institution have successfully implemented other solutions, I’d love to hear from you!
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