Developing Equitable and Effective Faculty Teaching, Advising, Service, and Research Workload Policy and Practices

Excerpt: The largest single expense at a university is faculty salaries. It is the responsibility of the administration to ensure that faculty human resources are managed well from fiscal, resource optimization, and faculty morale perspectives. To achieve this requires a clear definition, communication, and implementation of workload policies and management practices in teaching, advising, research and scholarship. By studying this article and its linked resources, and by using the associated shared files, you will be able to: • Describe the different components of faculty workload, workload effort distributions, and how they are used in the faculty evaluation processes. • Describe how faculty workload varies with appointment type, rank and may evolve with seniority. • Create a concise table that communicates clearly to the faculty, expected teaching, research, and scholarly workload by appointment type, rank, and administrative appointment. • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of faculty overloads and create an appropriate policy to manage it. • Explain how courses vary in type and the impact student enrollments and course caps have on workload. • Explain the impact of new course development, development for a new form of delivery, team teaching, and the number of unique course sections taught per semester have on faculty workload. • Develop an equitable policy to ensure faculty receive credit for all appropriate aspects of their teaching effort and ensures individual faculty workload is evenly distributed across different departments and colleges. • Explain the relative advantages and disadvantages of staff vs. faculty advisors, and good practices for placement and workload for professional staff. • Develop a policy for faculty advising workload and how it might be interchangeable with teaching workload. • Explain the various components and relative demands of faculty service, the impact of career stage on faculty participation, and how service expectations at the department, college, and university levels can be balanced. • Explain the role of scholarship within higher education, how productivity is measured, and how expectations can be clearly communicated. • Develop a policy that enables chairs to flexibly manage faculty workload so that assignments cater to the strengths of individual faculty but overall departmental productivity is maintained. • Develop a plan and implement a process to have faculty workload reviewed at an institution.


A big responsibility for a Provost/VPAA is to ensure that the institution is managing its faculty resources effectively and efficiently. There are two critical dimensions to this, making sure the workload expectations are fair to the faculty (work-life balance, etc.) and equitable across departments and colleges, and ensuring the institution is getting a fair return on its investment in its human resources. The second component is especially important when making decisions about the allocation of new and re-distribution of existing faculty lines across departments and colleges, as the administration must have confidence that existing faculty are being used optimally before faculty numbers are changed (see related article on Strategically Managing Allocation of Faculty Lines and Types Across Departments and Colleges). Are the faculty working smart as well as hard? Are the different types of faculty appointments being used effectively? Do the rules governing teaching overloads make sense? Are the faculty getting appropriate workload credit for all that they do? Are course enrollments capped appropriately so that learning outcomes are achievable given the faculty to student ratio? Does the institution incentivize team taught courses where they are needed? How many student advisees are appropriate for a faculty member? How do we manage service assignments? How might we be more flexible with workload assignment so that we take advantage of the strengths of our individual faculty? What process might we use to examine and propose changes to workload policy and practices?

Workload expectations are usually encoded in the Faculty Handbook, a union contract/MOA, or similar documents. While not all faculty work can be easily quantified, it is important that a fair and equitable set of expectations be established across the University. However, in the author’s experience there are often big holes in policy and a lack of clarity about these expectations which, if ignored, can create confusion and issues with faculty morale. “Defining faculty workload in academe raises many challenging issues because of the unique nature of academic work and the differing nature of disciplines”(1)Compensation and Workloads (2003) from On opening this can of worms the institution must be willing to face these challenging issues and may find that it must compensate faculty for workload that had previously gone unrecognized. Ultimately however, clarity and transparency will only improve the institution.

Defining Faculty Workload

Faculty jobs are often categorized into three components – teaching, research/scholarship, and service. Student advising, where it is expected of faculty, is commonly but nebulously included as part of teaching. However, having this defined separately would help with clarity and management of advising services.

Institutions usually define the relative proportion of effort that is expected of faculty in these teaching, research, and service. For example, a 60/20/20 workload distribution indicates that 60% of the faculty members’ effort should be expended on teaching, 20% on scholarship, and 20% on service. The line between these categories can be imprecise, especially between teaching and service. For example, working with students on research projects can be defined as teaching or service, depending on the institutional culture. These relative measures are very important, as they commonly play a role in the faculty evaluation process, especially in tenure and promotion decisions, in which faculty are expected to show productivity that is proportional to these distributions.


The primary metric of workload, especially at teaching focused institutions, is the hours of teaching that are expected of faculty in an academic year. At community colleges, where scholarship expectations are low, there is generally an expectation of five three credit hour courses per semester, or 15 credit hours, which over a 9-month appointment sums to 30 credit hours. This is often expressed as a 5/5 load. At comprehensive four-year institutions it is common to have between a nine and twelve credit hour load per semester, depending on the level of scholarship expected (a 4/4 or 3/3 load), whereas at research intensive institutions this teaching load can be significantly lower. These numbers assume no buyouts (funding provided from grants to hire a replacement instructor for a course) or release time for administrative or other duties.

Within an institution the teaching workload can vary by faculty appointment type and is often reduced if the faculty member is given an administrative appointment such as chair or dean. An additional layer of complexity is added with calendar year (12-month) appointments, which are common for faculty with administrative appointments and in some disciplines like the health sciences, where instruction is delivered year-round. Teaching loads for the summer term(s) require an additional credit hour specification, commonly documented as 4/4/2, for example, indicating that a two-course load is expected in the summer.

There is a fundamental flaw inherent in the workload distribution and teaching load expectations to which a blind eye is often turned. The Carnegie credit hour standard states that for each hour of class time a faculty member will spend an additional two work hours preparation, grading, writing exams, meeting with students during formal and informal office hours, advising students on degree requirements, etc. Faculty with twelve credits of classes therefore spend 36 hours a week at this endeavor. A common workload distribution for full time faculty at a comprehensive four-year institution is 60/20/20. This means that the 36 hours spent teaching represents 60% of their expected effort, and thus a basic work week is 60 hours long. As an administrator it is therefore wise to assume that all faculty are working hard, and that additional work that we ask of them is done on top of an already very busy week.

With all the complexity of workloads it is important to clearly communicate expectations to prospective and current faculty. Developing a table for faculty appointment guidelines such as shown in Table 1 can involve some eye-opening and extensive discussion by the Academic Council but is well worth the effort.


Faculty may take on additional courses beyond their contracted teaching load for additional compensation. The motivation for taking on this work is either to increase income or help the department and students out during a time of need. This activity needs to be carefully managed, as each additional overload course dilutes the faculty members time/effort per course. In the authors experience two overloads per semester is reasonable, but faculty have been known to have six – that’s 18 additional credit hours on top of a full load. Can one faculty member reasonably teach such a load effectively? Developing policy on allowable workload is a political minefield, as faculty may have been teaching overloads for so long that it has essentially, from their perspective, become a part of their base salary, and they have made financial commitments based on this. Additionally, especially in areas where qualified adjuncts are in short supply, the department may not have options other than high overloads to deal with unmanned courses, so any policy needs to have built-in flexibility. A copy of such an overload policy is available in the file sharing library. In the long term, these problems should be addressed by full-time hiring.

Course Credit Hours, Student Contact Hours, and Faculty Workload Hours

Courses are defined by three different hour-based measures. Credit hours indicate the relative amount of work expected of a student and are the unit of tuition cost. Contact hours represent the number of hours that the student and instructor will spend together, whereas workload hours indicate the number of hours that will be credited to the faculty members workload expectation for the course. For the majority, but not all courses, these three numbers are the same. A one credit hour lab, for example, commonly requires that the student and faculty spent three contact hours together for which, depending on the institutional policy, the faculty may receive 1.5 workload hours. This is because in a lab situation the students spend much of the time working on their own or with other students, and the instructor is not required to actively teach for the entire class period. However, with lab setup and the long contact hours required, the workload is greater than the number of credit hours would indicate.

A Course is a Course is a Course

Courses, and the amount of work required to teach them, can vary significantly. This can be based on several factors, examples of which are shown in the following list:

  • Instructional type
    1. Regularly scheduled academic courses with designated credits.
    2. Laboratory Courses. Those courses that require a student to spend part of the time in a laboratory and where typically the contact hours exceed the credit hours.
    3. Experiential Courses. This category includes such experiences as practicums, internships, student teaching, field experiences, and other irregular courses not fitting in the category #1 above.
    4. Appointment Courses (non-research). This category includes courses for individuals – reading, independent study, music lessons, etc. – with the primary criteria for determination being a one-to-one relationship between professor and student.
    5. Individual research courses that usually meet on an appointment basis. This category includes thesis and dissertations at the graduate level.
    6. Activity Courses. Courses which meet to develop a performance criterion or skill through continued practice (i.e. band, chorus, P.E. activity courses, theatre participation, debate participation, ROTC leadership training and varsity sports).
  • Graduate vs undergraduate courses (course level).
  • Online vs face-to-face.
  • Writing/math intensive.
  • Courses with high numbers of non-native English-speaking students.

The amount of work within courses is also directly proportional to the number of students enrolled. This can be used as a leveling mechanism to try and even out the workload for various course types and expectations. For example, while a lecture course might have a course cap of 30, a writing intensive course requiring that the students submit several complex papers, might have its enrollment caped at 15. Adjusting course caps for every course circumstance would make course and workload assignments unmanageable. However, an institution could designate course caps for a reasonable number (10 or less) of course types. Another common mechanism to address these workload differences is to assign student teaching assistants (TAs) to aid the faculty member with grading, course administration and even content delivery. At large research institutions where graduate students are plentiful, high enrollment courses can have an army of TAs assigned to them. Of course, the faculty member now has the additional responsibility of supervising the TAs.

When faculty teach a course for the first time (a new course prep) it takes significantly more time than teaching a course that they have delivered multiple times. Generally, this is considered as part of normal teaching load, but the number of new course preps are usually limited to a reasonable proportion of the faculty member’s load within any given semester. In addition, it requires more work to teach four different courses than four sections of the same course.

Team Teaching and Workload

Interdisciplinary courses often require multiple faculty to work together to deliver a course. Other courses can also benefit from team teaching. For example, merging a three-credit accounting and a three-credit management course into a single six credit integrated course, can help students understand how budgets can affect management decisions. In these circumstances, additional time and effort is required of the faculty in both the planning and delivery of the course. To incentivize faculty to participate in this effort, institutions can create workload policy that rewards that additional effort. For example, if the two faculty members teaching the accounting and management classes would normally receive three workload credits each for teaching the courses separately, they might receive four workload credits each for teaching the six credit integrated course. Funding for the additional workload credit might come from a special institutional fund set up to encourage these pedagogical approaches. They should also require justification of the need through some form of proposal and approval process to limit the financial impact. Generally, this funding should go to the department budget so that it can pay for overloads or hire adjuncts to cover the additional workload credits.

Determining What Should Get Credit Toward Teaching

There are many activities that are expected of our faculty that are just assumed to be part of their jobs, and for which they get no formal workload credit. In some cases, the discrete events are very variable in time and effort or are too hard to track to be worth the effort. Often, the faculty member will mention these in the service section of their productivity reports or promotion/tenure portfolios. These may include activities such as the following:

  • Supervising independent studies – often an alternate mechanism for very small numbers of students to get credit for taking a course that is too small to run.
  • Supervising internships/clinicals (either directly or supervision the program management).
  • Thesis/dissertation supervision.
  • Supervising and/or teaching of students in experiential learning, service learning projects, short-term study abroad activities, other engaged learning activities, and/or domestic travel experiences (if this falls outside of normal duties of the course that are accounted for in the load assignment).
  • Writing and grading graduate comprehensive examinations.
  • Innovative Teaching: Activities include, but are not limited to, team teaching, group-based instruction, engagement, and other nontraditional approaches to instruction where extra preparation time or a higher than normal rate of student contact hours is required (an explanation of why these activities are not accounted for in course targets should be made, with actionable plans to move the course targets to appropriate levels for the pedagogical requirements).
  • Program coordination (managing a particular degree track).
  • Supervising undergraduate research experiences.
  • Developing course material for new courses.
  • Redeveloping courses that have not been taught for several years as determined by the department.
  • Assessing student portfolios for prior learning credit.

In some cases, faculty may be paid a fee for some of these activities which are then considered to be outside workload. For example, faculty at Fort Hays State University are paid to review student portfolios for prior learning credit and are also paid to develop new or significantly revamp current online courses. Some of these activities, especially if the institution wants to encourage them, could be tracked and summed over time, and accumulate credit toward a course release or overload pay. For example, at FHSU policy was created and funding budgeted to enable faculty to track undergraduate research activities for up to two years and receive course release time on the summated work.

Other Factors to be Considered in Teaching Work Load

Some institutions have additional campuses or teaching sites that are at a distance from the primary campus. Faculty teaching at multiple sites are commonly paid for travel expenses but may not be compensated for the travel time involved. Teaching at international sites adds a further set of workload considerations.

Student Advising

Good advising is critical to student success and it must therefore be managed well – see CAS Standards and Guidelines. At higher education institutions, the degree to which this responsibility formally falls on the faculty varies between none (all advising done by professional staff advisors), and all. The recommended number of student advisees assigned to a full time professional advisor is approximately 300. A full-time instructor with no research responsibilities commonly is assigned 15 credit hours of teaching per semester. It is therefore reasonable to extrapolate that advising 20 students per semester (300/15) is equivalent to a one credit hour of teaching load. This could provide the basis for interchanging advising workload for other duties.

Student advising is generally assigned only to the full-time faculty, as adjuncts do not know the programs well, although long-term adjuncts have been hired to provide advising services for additional pay and required to develop this knowledge. The number of advisees assigned to a faculty member can easily be calculated by dividing the total number of students in the department’s programs by the number of full-time faculty. This assumes that pre-major (gen ed) advising is done by other staff, if not then these students would also have to be assigned to faculty. One of the great work load inequities across departments is that departments can have a high degree of variance in the ratio of students to full-time faculty within its programs. Faculty in small programs such as History therefore have much fewer students to advise than Education programs, for example.

Departments making use of a high proportion of adjuncts also increase the advising load on the full-time faculty. One way to address this inequity is to hire professional staff advisors within colleges to take some of this load off the faculty. Being embedded within the college/department ensures that the professional advisors are well informed about program design, expectations, and career opportunities. Addressing low advising loads might be possible if advising is consolidated among a few faculty and other duties, perhaps additional teaching, are assigned to the remaining faculty. The Workload Taskforce at FHSU recommended that 30 advisees be a reasonable in-load assignment for a FT faculty member. Based on the calculation above, this would be equivalent to 1.5 teaching credit hours. It also recommended that faculty with more than this number be given work release in other areas or receive additional compensation.


Faculty are expected to provide service to their departments, colleges, and the university. They may also serve their profession and the community. The most time-consuming committees at the department level are promotion, tenure, curriculum, admissions, and assessment, some of which have mirror committees at the college and university level. Small departments must put greater demand on their faculty members to cover the required committees, whereas larger departments can spread this load. Tenure-track faculty are usually advised to focus on their teaching and scholarship in their initial years. Ideally, as a faculty member grows in seniority, their in-house service grows from the department level up through the university level, and they progress from committee membership to leadership positions.

Faculty should be involved in the governance of the institution. The more willing an institution is to support shared governance the more committees and taskforces are needed. This may pull faculty away from department to college or to university committees which can cause some natural tension, even when intentions are well meant. It is therefore important to have faculty involved in setting the governance structure itself, and as administrators, to judge whether service reluctance is due to stretching the faculty too thin, a resistance to change, or other factors. Sometimes faculty are victims of their own governance policy and judicious questioning or process examination (process flow diagrams are great for this) may reveal this! For example, are separate promotion and tenure committees needed? Do faculty seeking tenure need to be reviewed so frequently? Does every change to an existing course need to be reviewed by the curriculum committee, or could these reviews be reserved for courses that make a substantial change in learning outcomes?

Faculty in departments are at a variety of career stages, department sizes have a big impact on availability for service, and some programs require more departmental committees than others (internship management in education for example). In addition, at certain times faculty may be consumed by internal department needs, such as program accreditation, that makes it practically impossible for its member to provide service at the college or university level.

Not all service assignments are created equal. Chairing a committee takes significantly more work than being a member. Some committees are extremely time consuming, such as promotion and tenure, whereas others may meet only a few times a semester. It is therefore probably best to allow department chairs to manage the service expectations of their faculty and determine what is fair and equitable in their respective departments.

However, once a faculty member has been assigned to a service activity, it is only fair that they show up and actively participate, otherwise the voice of the department or college is not being heard, or information is not flowing back to it. Too often committee chairs ignore absentee members. Policy should be enacted and enforced that requires chairs to replace a member with too many unexcused absences. In addition, sometimes committee assignments are made before a faculty member’s teaching schedule has been finalized or vice versa, and there is a conflict. In these cases, the faculty member should consider resigning and a replacement should be sought.

It is worthwhile reiterating at this point that faculty are generally very busy people. As they prioritize their efforts, teaching and research, depending on institutional priorities, come first, and service is nearly always considered the lowest priority, and by some as just a necessary evil.


One of the primary jobs of a teacher is to generate enthusiasm for their subject matter in the students – a self-motivated student will learn the material on their own accord! Faculty scholarship is important, not only for the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge, but to keep the faculty engaged and on the cutting edge of their disciplines, so they can generate this enthusiasm.

Scholarship expectations are generally inversely related to teaching load. The more research intensive an institution is, the lower the teaching load. Research institutions also put a greater emphasis on the scholarship of discovery, whereas teaching focused institutions commonly adopt Boyer’s model of scholarship.

Research/scholarship workload is generally defined by the number of journal articles, books and other publications generated per year, and by presentations at scholarly conferences. Scholarship expectations may be imposed by accrediting bodies which may require a certain number of publications per year e.g. AACSB. The prestige of the institution is also usually related to the journal tier in which faculty are expected to publish. It is critically important that these expectations and standards be made abundantly clear to the faculty. Lack of clarity in this area has been the basis for overturning tenure and promotion decisions. A rubric documenting the number and tiers of different scholarly publications and presentations is most helpful.

Flexible Assignment of Workload

Each faculty member has unique strengths. Some are great teachers, some great at advising, some great at leadership and administration, and yet others are motivated by their research. Additionally, the expectations on our faculty may vary throughout their lifetime. For example, new tenure-track faculty may need additional time to get their research established and therefore downplay service activities in their initial years. Senior faculty may start winding down their research agenda and focus on teaching or service in their later years.

To be classified as a faculty member and qualify for rights and privileges of tenure, academic freedom, and shared governance, a faculty member must do some teaching and some scholarship. Ideally, once this minimum is met, the relative proportions of teaching, advising, scholarship, and service should cater to the individual strengths of the faculty member and the needs of the department. Forcing faculty to fit a predefined mold, as defined by workload distributions, can be counterproductive.

Workload is managed at the department level by the department chair who knows the strengths and weaknesses of their individual faculty. Once the minimal level of teaching and scholarship has been met for each faculty member, it makes sense that the chair be given the flexibility to adjust faculty workload distributions yearly. To enable this, some institutions allow fungibility in setting annual workload expectations. This should be agreed in advance between the faculty member and the department chair, to ensure that the overall responsibilities of the department are being met. For example, a faculty member who is a great teacher but not a good advisor might take on an additional course and transfer his advisees to a faculty member who receives a course reduction. The chair could ensure that the 60:20:20 workload is maintained as an average for the department, ensuring that the average number of credit hours of instruction across the department is kept at 12, for example. This process should be transparent to avoid concerns of favoritism, with individual workload distributions shared with all department members and perhaps discussed at a department meeting. The workload distributions should also be reflected by proportional productivity in annual reports and tenure/promotion portfolios to ensure that the faculty are meeting their expectations.

Reviewing Workload at an Institution

As mentioned in the introduction, examining and proposing changes to faculty workload is a big undertaking and there may be many elephants in the room. Department chairs deal with these management issues daily, and are therefore the best informed about the process and its challenges. A good approach is to constitute and charge a task force made up predominantly of department chairs as outlined in the Provostial White Paper available in the file library. A sample report from such a task force at Fort Hays State University is also available in the library.


1 Compensation and Workloads (2003) from

CC BY-NC 4.0 Developing Equitable and Effective Faculty Teaching, Advising, Service, and Research Workload Policy and Practices by Graham Glynn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

CC BY-NC 4.0 Developing Equitable and Effective Faculty Teaching, Advising, Service, and Research Workload Policy and Practices by Graham Glynn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Categories: Chief Academic Affairs Office Staff, Dean’s Office Staff (Deans, Executive Deans, Associate/Assistant Deans, etc.), Department Chair Office Staff (Chairs, Assistant Chairs, Program Directors, etc.), Featured, President’s Office Staff

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies


  1. New Article Published: Developing Equitable and Effective Faculty Teaching, Advising, Service and Research Workload Policy and Practices
  2. The Higher Education Leadership Learning Online Community - Peer-Reviewed Paper Published: Developing Equitable and Effective Faculty Teaching, Advising, Service, and Research Workload Policy and Practices

Let's keep the conversation going - Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.