On March 4, 2021, the Office of the Provost, the Division of Diversity and Engagement, and Teaching and Learning Innovation proudly welcomed a virtual visit from Dr. KerryAnn O’Meara, professor of higher education and immediate past president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), to campus.
Dr. O’Meara is internationally recognized for her expertise on diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education, and has extensive research experience on academic reward systems, faculty careers and professional growth, faculty retention and diversity issues, and faculty workload, among many related areas.
The Hallway Ask
Dr. O’Meara’s workshop drew upon her work with the Faculty Workload and Rewards Project, an NSF-funded assessment. It began with a discussion of the common problems that arise in large universities, a situation summed up nicely in her Op-Ed piece for Inside Higher Education, The Hallway Ask: Many decisions that have a profound effect on faculty workload are made in informal ways, in circumstances where “the ask” and its benefits or consequences are not clear.
The environment created by the “hallway ask” leads to inequitable workloads, particularly for women and Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) faculty. O’Meara herself has published on these issues, and provides a brief summary in her article for Inside Higher Education, Undoing the Can of Worms, and in a more in-depth research article, Asked More Often (O’Meara, Kuvaeva, Nyunt, Jackson, & Waugaman, 2017).
O’Meara’s webinar ushered participants through a series of options, closely aligned with the in-depth recommendations in her report to the American Council on Education, Equity-Minded Faculty Workloads: What We Can and Should Do Now (O’Meara, Culpepper, Misra, & Jaeger, 2021). These recommendations work toward conditions that foster equity:
Transparency: One recommendation focuses on helping departments make workload information available to their faculty members. In order to aid in transparency in decision-making, she recommends creating internally-shared methods—internal “dashboards”—to make this work visible. O’Meara discusses this recommendation at length in Faculty Work Activity Dashboards (O’Meara, Beise, Culpepper, Misra, & Jaeger).
Clarity: Expectations around service and teaching workloads are often opaque in ways that help some and hinder others. To increase clarity, the ACE Equity-Minded Faculty Workloads Worksheet Booklet (O’Meara et al. accessible via free ACE account) offers a sample way to draw up an unambiguous expectation rubric (Handout #3).
Credit: In addition to lack of clarity around expectations, lack of clarity on credit and rewards also leads to inequities. Unambiguous policies for compensation can help—and the ACE Equity-Minded Faculty Workloads Worksheet Booklet (accessible via free ACE account) offers a sample “standard performance” table that can be adapted for each department’s local concerns, and examples of credit systems to manage trade-offs from the prototypical standard performance (Handout #4).
Norms: O’Meara also recommends rotating time-intensive service roles, so that the duties that attend time-intensive roles do not result in excessive workload for individual faculty members, or invisible labor. For more recommendations on how to manage such rotations, the ACE Equity-Minded Faculty Workloads Worksheet Booklet (accessible via free ACE account) offers worksheets on service and teaching rotations (Handouts #7 and #8). Furthermore, as a matter of departmental culture, there are things that every faculty member can do to help (see Needed: Allies for Equitable Faculty Workloads, Jaeger, Culpepper, Misra, & O’Meara, 2019).
Context: Acknowledging differentiated workloads—that no one does exactly what a “standard performance” framework would expect—is an important step toward fair treatment for all. Many departments already use different workload models to account for the workload balance across their faculty, and the ACE Equity-Minded Faculty Workloads Worksheet Booklet (accessible via free ACE account) offers an example as well (Handout #9).
Accountability: To avoid “social loafing” in committee work, O’Meara recommends restructuring and reducing committees to a size where managing accountability becomes possible. The ACE Equity-Minded Faculty Workloads Worksheet Booklet (accessible via free ACE account) offers a flexible strategy for this process (Handout #11).
Beyond the Workshop
In addition to the public all-campus faculty/staff workshop, O’Meara also met with key leadership figures, including deans, department heads, and members of the chancellor’s cabinet, to make sure that the message on equity-minded reform also reached these offices. These leaders—and many others on campus—can use “discretionary spaces” to make decisions that shape equitable workloads (see Seizing Discretion to Advance Full Participation, O’Meara, 2021).
The Road Ahead
It is our hope that the road toward an even more equitable workload for all faculty will continue beyond this workshop. As our own campus leaders emphasize, diversity, equity, and inclusivity are everyone’s responsibility. This workshop represents one more step in a series that began with Dr. Christine Stanley’s visit in fall 2019, and will continue!