Measuring Faculty Workload: an addition to the debate

Posted on 12/07/2011


In a recent article, the Chronicle of Higher Education is jumping in the hot debate in the US on measuring the workload of academics (Efforts to Measure Faculty Workload Don’t Add Up:

The general public (taxpayers) and local authorities want to understand better what they get for the money.

In an era of tight governmental budgets, it seems to be a genuine request. And in a time where more and more employees are subject to very detailed KPIs, why it could not be the same for US academics?

I will share with you roughly the system which is used in several Bschools in France (and certainly elsewhere in different forms) and which made everybody happy. Metrics and rubrics can be different from one school to another.

We consider that a year consists of…365 days. We would then remove 104 days for the week-ends, the 11 public holidays, and the 35 days of paid leave. We are left with 205 days, each day consisting of 7.5 hours. It makes a total of 1537.5 hours of work in a year.

At the start of every academic year, a tentative workload is agreed between the academic and the head of department using all kinds of metrics covering the spectrum of activities:

. one hour of lecture (larger groups) would be counted as 2.5 hours as you need lots of preparation.

. one hour of workshop (smaller groups) is valued at 1.5 hours as you need less preparation.

. An academic teaches a new course prepared from scratch, 5 days are given.

. the supervision of a MBA student dissertation is valued at 2 days.

. etc…

Some specific cases:

. Regular meetings (the monthly department meetings, the yearly strategic day…) were also counted roughly.

. Research was counted depending on the target: 1 day was given for a presentation in a conference, 15 days for a publication in A journal (10 days would be taken on the first year and the remaining upon publication for example),…

. Any academic responsibility (Head of Department, Head of Program,…) would be also obviously mentioned.

. Your Dean wants you to work on a special project (or you suggest one): it is then decided together how many days would be reported for this project on your workload.

. A new project comes after the definition of the workload: very easy also, a revised version is done in the middle of the academic year.



At the end of the year, the academic would meet with the Dean and discuss the achievements.

If more than scheduled was done (if the final workload is above 205 days), the academic has the choice to either be paid as extra time or to deduct these extra days to the next year workload. If less was achieved, the days would be added to the next academic year.

Once everybody agrees on the metrics and KPIs for each item, it is a very easy system to manage.

This system presents many advantages:

. It is very clear, shared and agreed by all the stakeholders

. It avoids the usual jealous comments from peers (e.g. “because X has been in our school for 15 years, he is paid doing not much”), from the administrative staff (“these academics are never in their offices, they never work).

. It is an actionable tool for Deans. More publications in journals and less presentations in conference are needed? Full-time academics should focus more on doctoral students and less on undergrads? Change the respective number of days attributed. Of course, the criteria and days cannot be changed too often as academics would feel confused but it is a rather fast technique to modify incentives and goals.

. It works also very well to modify the behaviour of “Look like busy” people. Academics won’t show up uninvited in a meeting, on a project… and cannot drag on forever on their own projects.

. It is also a great way to manage different profiles. Professionally qualified professors will teach more while academically qualified ones will do more research, again in a totally transparent way.

Obviously, for this tool to work, a clear consensus is needed, which is not an issue if the academics have a strong sense of belonging to their institution.