A new draft of a university-wide academic workload policy caused concern during the Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting Tuesday about the possible impacts on smaller departments on the University of Kansas campuses.
The policy draft is being discussed because the Kansas Board of Regents has expressed interest in implementing academic workload policies in the future.
Under the terms of the policy draft, the Lawrence and Edwards KU campuses must seek to maintain an average teaching workload over the next three years of a certain number of organized sections and a certain number of student credit hours per school year as a university - not individually. Those numbers are still being determined.
Some Fac-Ex members raised concerns regarding smaller academic units and their ability to contribute to this proposed average workload. University Senate President-Elect Ani Kokobobo said she wondered if an academic unit like anthropology would be able to keep up with the average of a bigger unit like the business school.
“If someone falls below or above it, it would create discontent and problems,” Kokobobo said. “I wonder if there’s a way to also spell out that this is an average for the whole, but we anticipate X, Y and Z areas falling above and below?”
Fac-Ex member Nate Brunsell also brought up similar concerns about how smaller departments on campus would have trouble keeping up with expectations surrounding the amount of student credit hours faculty need to teach since their class sizes are much smaller.
“Even if we add more sections, we aren’t going to get more student credit hours,” Brunsell said. “I’m more concerned about that student credit hour number because I don’t see that being achievable for a lot of majors.”
Vice Provost for Faculty Development, Chris Brown, said the goal of the policy is to provide the Kansas Board of Regents and taxpayers with a better sense of what faculty spends their time doing, not to set clear expectations for individual schools.
“We wanted to steer clear of anything in the policy that showed an expectation that all faculty members had to achieve a certain workload because we knew it was so different across the university,” Brown said.
Faculty Senate President Rémy Lequesne said the intention of setting a university-wide workload average is to give units the freedom to set their own workload averages without having to meet a specific number.
“The earlier drafts were much more explicit about there being an expectation for faculty or at least units,” Lequesne said. “We intentionally moved away from that with the expectation that some units will have lower student credit hours or lower section loads and others will be higher,” Lequesne said.
Brown said a policy like this would be less stringent than what KBOR has asked for in the past and would allow faculty to adjust to meet their own goals and fill in holes in the workload within their units.
“When I look back at what the board has asked for in the past - which is like a complete spreadsheet of every single faculty member and exactly what they taught and how many students they taught and what their salary is - I want to get out of that world as quickly as possible. If this policy helps us get there, I’ll be happy,” Brown said.
Brown also said if a unit fails to meet its specific goal or falls under the university average, it won’t be a big deal since the policy aims to adjust the average goal for the university over three years.
“The most concern people are going to have is what happens if a department falls below it,” Brown said. “In one year, it doesn’t matter because this is an average over three years, and the average gets reassessed. The idea here is that there’s also an ongoing conversation about it, and it’s not just something that’s fixed forever.
However, Brunsell had concerns that when a unit doesn’t meet its workload goal or falls under the overall average, the unit would be targeted by KBOR or the university in some way. Lequesne said this is a possibility.
“We intentionally moved to this much softer language of averages, but I can’t say that it won’t be used against a unit,” Lequesne said.
The use of averages and the lack of specific numbers detailing exactly what the university-wide goal is for organized sections and student credit hours concerned some members of Fac-Ex and made it more difficult for them to come to a consensus on the policy.
“I think a lot of this discussion is now theoretical because we don’t have concrete numbers. I think if we had concrete numbers, it would inform our feelings a little bit more,” Kokobobo said.
Lequesne said he and Brown reviewed a list of organized sections and student credit hours per faculty member for every unit on campus. The overall average seems to be 3.4 organized sections and 250 student credit hours per year based on data from the last five years. He said those numbers might be what the policy ends up being based on.
“Those were the numbers that we saw in the last draft two weeks ago - 3.4 and 250. We raised concerns about setting a standard that’s at our current average when the chancellor himself has the expectation that enrollment is going to go down over the next decade,” he said.
Due to concerns over setting the average workload at an unattainable rate, Lequesne said they are advocating for a workload policy that sets a university-wide average closer to 3 organized sections and 180 student credit hours.
Lequesne said the policy is something that KBOR really wants, even though he doesn’t see it as something that will create meaningful change. Therefore, he said their goal is to get a policy that would do the least harm possible, and he is not sure if they are there yet.
“I’m not optimistic that this policy is going to achieve anything positive,” Lequesne said.
Brown said the plan is to put together a consensus document on the matter to be reviewed by Faculty Senate. Lequesne said Brown wants to get a final draft of the policy by the end of October. Lequesne also said they should move quickly since KBOR has discussed the policy publicly and seems inclined to require it soon regardless of their input.
“We need to make a decision and the sooner we make that decision, the better,” he said.