Feb. 2019 Advocate: Let’s be honest about workload equity


Let’s be honest: District needs to face reality and negotiate a reasonable workload equity system

by Anne Stafford, AFT Co-Treasurer & rep. on Workload Committee with Teeka James, AFT Co-Treasurer

You know it, I know it, we all know it, but it’s not clear that the District knows it: faculty workload has been increasing steadily for many years. We are now heading into new contract negotiations and faculty have told AFT 1493, loudly and clearly, that workload issues are one of their top priorities.

A bit of history

AFT first surveyed faculty about their growing workload concerns. That survey was rejected by the District as being essentially useless.
Spring 2016: During contract negotiations, AFT made a good faith proposal for defining and measuring the non-teaching duties expected of full-time faculty. The District rejected this proposal out of hand.
April 2017: The District and AFT signed an MOU agreeing to establish a committee “to develop a mechanism for distributing those [non-teaching] duties, and when a faculty member ends up with too many, a mechanism for compensation and when a faculty member ends up with too few, a means to address that.”

Spring/Summer 2017:
A 10-member Workload Committee consisting of “3 members appointed by AFT, 1 member appointed by each the 3 Academic Senates, and 3 members appointed by District Administration” was formed. Representing the administration were Kathy Blackwood (Executive Vice Chancellor), David Feune (Director of Human Resources) and Charlene Frontiera (Dean, Math/Science, CSM.) Aaron McVean (currently Vice Chancellor, Educational Services & Planning; originally Dean of PRIE, Skyline) was included to help with the survey and data. Senate representatives were Leigh Anne Shaw (D.A.S. President; ESOL faculty, Skyline, Rosemary Nurre (Accounting faculty, CSM) and Michael Hoffman (Math faculty, Cañada.) The AFT was represented by Doniella Maher (English faculty, Cañada), Nina Floro (English faculty, Skyline) and Anne Stafford (English faculty, CSM.) One administrator and two faculty members eventually withdrew from the committee.

May 2017 – Dec 2018:
The Workload Committee met approximately 4 times per semester, for 2 – 2 ½ hours each time.
Fall 2017: Workload Committee surveyed full-time faculty about the non-teaching work they do.

The committee’s charge

1. Define what constitutes a “reasonable” workload.
2. Propose a mechanism for distributing faculty work more equitably.
3. Propose a means of compensating faculty who do more than what is considered reasonable.

What did the survey tell us?

A look at the numbers:

The survey attempted to answer two central questions:

1) Has faculty workload increased? Answer: “Yes.”
2) Is the work distributed fairly? Answer: “No.”

The survey showed that on average full-time faculty spend more than eight hours (8.1) per week during the regular semester on non-teaching work – in other words, 20% of a 40-hour work week. This calculation excludes the 13-16% of responses we considered outliers. Of course, the term “on average” is problematic. Some faculty, especially those who are the only full-time member in their departments, work a good deal more than that and some work less, and I should note those 8.1 hours do not include time spent on screening and interviewing for full-time faculty, adjunct faculty and administrative positions, or time spent attending, preparing for, and following up on department, division, and standing Senate committee meetings.

Out of the more than 50% of faculty who responded to the survey, 25% said that since they started working in the district, their workload had increased “moderately,” and 64% said it had increased “substantially.” Those who had been teaching in the district for 16 years or more were most likely to cite a substantial increase. Nearly three quarters of faculty indicated that they believe the work is not distributed fairly. Additionally, 69% of faculty worked between 1 and 39 hours on non-teaching activities during summer 2017, numbers that were also not captured in the survey.

A look at the written responses (all 28 single-spaced pages of them)

Four dominant themes arose in faculty’s written responses. While 72% of faculty indicated that they agreed with the statement, “a small number of full-time faculty bear a disproportionate amount of college and division/department /program workload,” faculty’s written responses reveal that the heart of the issue is fourfold: technology has increased our workload dramatically; our work days are filled with tasks that too often do not add direct value to our students; the work is not evenly distributed; and the total amount of work is unreasonable.


“CurricuNet in particular is a huge time commitment as it is extremely difficult to navigate.”

“The program review and equipment request forms . . . are hard to use and take an unnecessary amount of time.”

“Program review is done on SPOL, a platform that was intended for accreditation, NOT program review. It is, therefore, clunky and unhelpful; it is an OBSTACLE to the process of reviewing a program.”

“Electronic . . . communications have dramatically increased my workload. Aside from all the informational emails we receive, student and colleague emails are constant.”

Meaningless Work

Many faculty wrote that too much of their day is devoted to work devoid of meaningful impact on teaching and learning:

“Much of what I do while on campus does not involve working with students but checking . . . boxes and fulfilling non-teaching related tasks.”

“Many of the tasks I am asked to complete interfere with providing support to my students.”

“To my knowledge, SLOs have not been proven to improve teaching methods or student success.”

“SLO-oriented tasks are a total waste of time.”

“The work faculty put into collecting and entering SLOs does not enhance our teaching and detracts from time we could spend mentoring students.”

“Studies around the collection of SLO data have borne out that the task is at worst a manipulation of imperfect data and at best glorified data collection.”

“Assessment continues to feel empty.”

“Division meetings are excessively long and unproductive.”

“Division meetings are often informational, which means I sit and hear information that I could simply read about in an email.”

“Working at SMCCCD often feels like death-by-administration, and I’m often attending meetings rather than meeting with students, which seems like a terrible use of faculty time.”

Inequitable Distribution of Labor

“The same handful of faculty are tapped … to do the lion’s share of work semester after semester.”

“[Faculty in] departments with few full-time instructors inevitably do more work than colleagues in departments with many full-time instructors.”

“The number of full-time faculty in our department has been reduced by more than half. We have a disproportionately large number of part-time faculty. Two out of three full-time faculty members are not tenure-track and cannot share in the duties required of tenured faculty, which results in the only tenured faculty member doing ALL of the work. This was previously shared by three tenured faculty members. Had we had been able to replace faculty members upon their retirement we would not be in this situation.”

“Hire more full-time faculty to share the load. Make clear that carrying part of the load is not optional.”

“We need to find a mechanism for getting more full-time faculty involved in division and college responsibilities.”

“I would highly recommend moving to a department chair model.”

Too Much Work

The small number of faculty who, in the words of one administrator, “come to campus, teach their classes, and leave” are not the reason the rest of us are increasingly frustrated, disillusioned, and demoralized.

“The problem is NOT the distribution of the work but the total amount of work.”

“I think it would be helpful for administration to understand that the average college professor is working about sixty hours a week.”

“I feel drained as a full-time faculty member, and I’ve only been here four years.”

“The problem is that there is TOO MUCH work, TOO MANY students . . . and TOO FEW full-time faculty who are able to complete the work.”

“I’m burnt out, and I’m sure my writing reflects it.”

“If the goal is a high-quality education and amazing support for students in the community, the college needs to invest more in teachers and not keep piling on to our already unsustainable workloads.”

“My days just feel frenzied. . . . I am just so very tired almost all of the time.”

“It’s gotten to the point that I’m counting the semesters until I retire.”

“This is the most unsustainable job I have worked in my entire life.”

The Other Side of the Coin

A single respondent believed that our workload is just fine:

“Faculty members need to grow up. If you don’t want to do something just nicely say no. . . . Ownership of this issue is the faculty members’ problem. . . . If a dean is threatening an employee with consequences that are wrong or against the union, then charges/grievance[s] should be brought against [them]. . . . If you agree to do it, then stop complaining and do it. . . . We have amazing jobs that millions would like to have and we think we are overworked…really?”

An exercise in frustration

  • The District insisted we not survey faculty about the time they spent attending department, division, and committee meetings, claiming that it already had those data. Despite multiple requests, that information has not yet been provided to the committee.
  • Although the survey did ask faculty how much time they typically spend screening applications when serving on full-time hiring committees, the District insisted that we not include a survey question about the amount of time faculty spent on hiring activities, which are now not included in the 8.1 hours. Because I served on a hiring committee for a full-time English position during the survey period (calendar year 2017) I can add another 3+ hours per week to my workload for one semester.
  • The District refused to include adjunct faculty in the survey even though the MOU did not preclude doing so, persisting in the belief that adjunct faculty are paid for the non-teaching work they do. Faculty on the committee had to work hard to disabuse the administrators on the committee of this belief. The District administration representatives on the committee were genuinely surprised to learn that a significant number of adjuncts routinely complete non-teaching work without pay, and they stated explicitly that going forward, adjunct faculty must be paid for their non-teaching contributions (apparently, deans should be paying for this work out of their division budgets). However, despite some effort on the District’s part, the word has not gotten out to everyone, and many adjuncts continue to do work that is not directly tied to their classroom teaching without pay. Without a more complete and accurate picture of the non-teaching work performed by adjunct faculty, there is no way to know what the total faculty workload is.
  • Most faculty agree that unless our non-teaching workload is reduced, the best remedy to the current situation is hiring additional full-time faculty, a solution that the District made clear at the outset was never on the table. Every time a faculty member on the committee suggested hiring more full-time faculty, we were reminded that enrollment is down, an illogical response since enrollment is not especially relevant when considering non-teaching workload.Although the AFT representatives asked Kathy Blackwood to request a Board of Trustees study session on the workload issue, as far we know, nothing has been scheduled.
  • Faculty had to be surveyed twice, after initial requests for information were made prematurely by the District in September 2017 without the feedback or approval of faculty on the committee. Committee members then made multiple presentations at Division meetings to explain why a second survey was being sent.
  • Two of the District’s representatives wrote the first draft of the committee’s report, but the committee has still not received the final report and recommendations, despite assurances made at our last meeting in December 2018 that it would be completed by the end of December.

An exercise in futility

Did we define “reasonable” workload? No.

The committee was not able to agree on what constitutes a reasonable workload. When faculty on the committee suggested 37.5 hours, the same number already used in our contract for librarians, counselors and nurses, we were told that faculty are salaried professionals who don’t punch time clocks. Even when we proposed higher numbers, the response remained the same, suggesting that the District never intended to agree on a number.

Did we recommend a mechanism for distributing the work more equitably? No.

Many faculty noted in the survey that the non-teaching work is not distributed equitably. Faculty in departments and programs with very small numbers of full-time faculty carry a particularly heavy non-teaching load. Some faculty are workhorses and take on even more than they are asked to do. And some faculty, for whatever reasons, do not participate regularly in department, division, college, or district-wide tasks, committees, or initiatives. When the committee discussed means of holding all faculty accountable for sharing in the non-teaching responsibilities, the District’s representatives suggested that faculty would ultimately have to hold one another accountable through the existing evaluation process. There seemed to be no appetite among the District representatives – or the faculty – for giving this responsibility to the Deans.

Did we recommend a means of compensating full-time faculty for excessive work? Not really.

The committee members agreed unanimously that faculty who do work beyond what is “reasonable” should be compensated in some way, whether in the form of overload pay or reassigned time, possibly to be granted during the semester they do the additional work or paid as future banked units. The full committee has not, however, seen the final report and recommendations.
For the duration of the Committee’s work, District representative Kathy Blackwood seemed unusually fixated on those faculty who do nothing more than teach their classes, yet at our final meeting last December, she acknowledged that the “slackers” (my choice of words, not hers) constituted a very small percentage of the full-time faculty ranks.

Continuing increases in workload

AB 705 and the recent hiring of numerous full-time temporary faculty have piled even more work on faculty without additional compensation. Full-time faculty in English, ESL, and Math have spent countless hours figuring out how best to respond to the state’s mandate that all students be given the opportunity to place directly into transfer-level courses. And the District’s position (based on the state’s Ed Code) that initial evaluations of full-time temporary faculty must be conducted by a full committee has meant that some faculty are conducting two, three, or even four evaluations per semester.

Let’s recap

The district is willing to consider compensating full-time faculty for non-teaching work deemed to be “unreasonable” and agrees that adjunct faculty should be getting paid for the non-teaching work they do. However, there must also be a mechanism (likely our existing evaluation process) to ensure that all full-time faculty perform at least a minimum “reasonable” workload. And somehow the collective “we” must still agree on what constitutes “reasonable.”

A hidden assumption in all of this seems to be that in some ways, large or small, the District expects faculty–full-time and part-time–to do more than “an honest-day’s work.” Though again and again faculty wrote in their survey responses that we need more full-time faculty, when determining the colleges’ staffing needs, the District is not willing to look at the full universe of work that faculty must perform; class offerings, student headcounts, and accreditation requirements remain the sole determiners of how many faculty are needed. That fact alone guarantees an overworked staff. And, ironically, the District’s apparent unwillingness to quantify what non-teaching work is expected of faculty, to codify what “reasonable” means, renders non-teaching work invisible, and therefore uncountable. All the non-teaching work–a collective noun so amorphous that we can barely name it–in the end becomes what we called in the women’s movement “reproductive labor”–the invisible work that “just has to get done” but that remains unpaid and unaccounted for: washing the dishes, doing the laundry, preparing dinner, vacuuming the house; it’s not glamorous and no one particularly wants to do it. And it never ends.

What’s next?

Clearly, faculty workloads are untenable and unsustainable. AFT will soon enter negotiations with both the quantitative and qualitative evidence of what faculty have known for a long time, that over the years, the nature of our jobs has changed in ways that increasingly emphasize administrative tasks at the expense of teaching-related work and time to reflect on best practices. It is now up to the District to finally acknowledge what we all already know and negotiate in good faith for a way to attain a healthier work-life balance for faculty and give faculty more time to fulfill our primary responsibility to our students.

AFT & District about to start bargaining on a new three-year contract

The current contract between AFT and the District will expire on June 30, 2019. At the December 12, 2018 Board meeting, the District formally presented their initial negotiating statement in response to AFT’s proposals for a new three-year contract, but no specific proposals were made. Union and District bargaining teams are planning to begin negotiations meetings soon.