April 2016 Advocate: Overworkload: A constant stress


Overworkload: A constant stress in our lives

By Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co-Vice President & Strategic Campaign Initiative (SCI) Organizer

Your union has documented it on surveys.  We’ve talked about it to one another until we’re blue in the face and felt it buzzing like a fat fly in our heads at 2 a.m. when we should be sleeping.  We can never quite keep up with it.  What’s happened to our profession?

Dubbed a “culture of overwork,” some feel we are part of the problem because we take on more work than we should, afraid to say no to our managers or compelled by the ever-growing needs of our programs or the demands of new initiatives ushered in by administration.  However, the problem is systemic and is encouraged by the vague language in our Contract.  This is why your union has made the Workload Equity Campaign our number one priority.

Non-teaching duties taking over our lives

One instructor responded to the union’s Spring 2013 workload survey with this comment:   “Teaching seems like a small portion of what I do. Much more time is spent working on SLOs, program-level issues, meetings, talking to students, department requests, community and industry relations, finding class resources, articulation with other colleges – the list doesn’t end. Though I was hired to teach, it’s what I spend the least amount of time actually doing.”

The hours and hours demanded for non-teaching duties are encroaching on the core of what we do as teachers.  Course preparation, research and in-depth reading of materials often take a back seat to program review, hiring committees and SLO-related tasks. Wrestling with TracDat eats away at time allotted for grading papers or meeting with students.  Answering district email, downloading and filling out paperwork and attending meetings absorb the space where we could be collaborating with colleagues on projects or providing extended office hours for students who need more time with us.  When teaching a class takes a backseat to answering email or filling out forms, we know something is way out of whack.

New hires tell us, quietly behind closed doors, they are being asked to serve on not one but two, three and, in one case, five committees during their first year of tenure review.  Several have been put on hiring committees during that first year that should be devoted to familiarizing themselves with the college and their department and focusing on their classes.  During the four-year process of tenure review, new hires are in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to taking on non-teaching duties.  The majority is afraid to push back, and they agree to everything their dean or manager asks them to do.  In this “culture of overwork”, some deans don’t ask; they put new hires on committees or into new projects without consulting with them, and deans have been known to assign new hires untenable teaching schedules without consulting with them first.

Part-time instructors feel a similar vulnerability, especially if they are hoping to get a full-time job in the district.  The practice of paying part-timers for non-teaching duties is inconsistent; when it happens, it’s great, but often there’s no compensation offered for working on a committee, a college-wide project or helping out with a department need.  Part-timers are on the front lines, teaching and developing materials to make their classes meaningful and often putting in extra time to help students be successful, but they are only paid for the hours they spend in the classroom and for office hours, a fairly recent improvement your union negotiated for and won.

Then there’s the issue of departments with only one full-time faculty member at the helm.  That one person does everything, often operating more like a dean or department chair, taking on program review, SLOs, peer review, hiring committees and more, as well as handling the time-consuming and difficult areas of personnel problems and staffing issues.  This is on top of teaching a full-time load and all that comes with it.  These folks tell us they’re burning out.  It’s too much.

Another comment from our workload survey:  “As a one person department, I am expected to do many of the duties which are shared in other departments and the work spread out. Instead I am expected to do Program Review, Assessments, IPSLO’s, Advisory Committees, and other non-related teaching duties on a regular basis. In my opinion, my teaching duties should be a higher percentage and my non-teaching duties should be a lower percentage!  What is wrong with this picture?”

We routinely perform duties not required of us

When we asked the following question on our workload survey: Do you believe you routinely perform duties that are not specifically required of you by your contract, this was the answer:  Yes: 66%, No: 34%.  And that was three years ago. Everyone agrees that workload creep has gotten worse. No one wants to be called a slacker.  We all care about our students and the smooth functioning of our colleges. But it’s gone too far. Some of our colleagues have left full-time tenure track positions in the District for this very reason. (See story on page 5.)

Between now and the end of the semester, you may be asked to fill out a “count-me-in” card or sign a petition to support your union’s Workload Equity campaign.  Your AFT Negotiating Team has developed a proposal that creates clearly stated and uniform guidelines for non-instructional duties in our contract and provides non-instructional opportunities with compensation for part-time faculty. (See story on page 1.)  We are taking on the culture of overwork, and it’s not easy because all of us are busy overworking.  Keep your eye out for email blasts and other communication from your union and join in and support this essential change in our working conditions.