Issues, Best Practices, and Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Unit Level Workload Revisions

October 26, 2015


Many academic units are engaged in revisions to their local workload policies. Such revisions are required periodically by the Workload Policy and Procedures for Faculty and Librarians (WLPP), the U of T workload policy that UTFA pushed for and secured in negotiations with the University administration in 2010. Beginning in 2008, UTFA pressed for a workload policy to address growing evidence from across the University that escalating teaching and service related workloads were becoming a source of work-life stress, undermining quality in teaching and research, and squeezing out time for research and professional initiatives. While the WLPP does establish procedures for creating local level workload norms and specifies issues that must be considered in those norms and in assigning individual workload, the primary emphasis of the WLPP is to guide the collegial development of workload norms that are appropriate to specific, local, academic units.

All academic units holding faculty and librarian appointments have established unit workload policies in compliance with the WLPP and many have revised those local policies already. Updating these local norms at least every three years is a requirement of the WLPP. The deadline for doing so has been twice extended to allow UTFA and the University administration to revise the WLPP in light of experience since 2010. We have now agreed on those revisions and the new deadline for revisions to unit workload policies is December 1 2015. This document is meant to help colleagues serving on local Unit Workload Committees and/or making submissions.


How has the WLPP for Faculty and Librarians Changed Since 2010?

  • The WLPP is subject to formal negotiation, along with salaries, benefits, and pensions as per the UTFA Memorandum of Agreement. In order for Unit Workload Committees to consider the new language and ensure local policies and processes are in compliance, the deadline for revisions has been extended to December 1 2015. Highlights of the changes include stressing the need for the promulgation of unit level workload norms in a collegial and inclusive manner, new language pertaining to Teaching Stream appointments, and new language pertaining to CLTA appointments.

What Does the WLPP Say About the Composition of the Unit Workload Committee?

  • The WLPP provides that the Unit Workload Committee should be established through a collegial process. The Unit Workload Committee itself should be reasonably reflective of the unit and where possible, should include members whose appointments reflect the range of appointments made in the unit. The Chair of the unit will usually chair the Unit Workload Committee. If you do not know who is serving on your Unit Workload Committee and/or you were not asked if you would like to make submissions to that committee, please contact your chair, Director, or Principal.

Can the Deliberations of Unit Workload Committees Result in Changes to Individual Workload?

  • The deliberations of unit workload committees can and should result in reductions and/or adjustments to norms appropriate to the unit. Those norms, in turn, are meant to form the basis of individual workload assignment in teaching and service.

What Counts As Teaching in Establishing Individual Workloads?

  • The WLPP reads “The assigned proportion of a faculty member's work will include teaching and preparation for teaching, and the necessary administrative tasks associated with the operation of a collegial environment.”
  • Article 4.2 of the WLPP includes a list of factors that may be considered in relation to the teaching component of normal workload. These factors include class size, number of students taught, the nature and setting of instruction and so forth. Based on some of the problems that arose in the initial round of WLPP implementation, UTFA advises Unit Workload Committees to carefully consider how graduate teaching and supervision (primary and secondary) will factor into teaching load norms and individual teaching assignments within the unit.

What Counts As Service in Establishing Individual Workloads?

  • Article 5.3 of the WLPP provides a non-exhaustive list of activities that are considered service. These include service of a routine administrative nature as well as service contributing to the academic goals and governance of the member’s unit and/or Faculty, UTFA and the University as a whole. Administrative responsibilities should be distributed equitably.

What Should Teaching Stream Faculty Be Aware Of?

  • The WLPP re-affirms the UTFA MoA in stating that “faculty will not be required to teach in all three terms, nor shall they be pressured to volunteer to do so”.
  • The agreed upon revisions to the WLPP clarify and strengthen recognition that Teaching Stream faculty at the U of T are NOT teaching faculty, but rather hold teaching intensive appointments that include provision for scholarly activities, broadly understood. This means that workload assignments for Teaching Stream faculty must also provide time for scholarly activities. The new revisions specifically include the following language:  “Teaching stream faculty are entitled to reasonable time for pedagogical/professional development in determining workload as set out in paragraph 30(x)(b) of the PPAA *
    • *e.g. discipline-based scholarship in relation to, or relevant to, the field in which the faculty member teaches; participation at, and contributions to, academic conferences where sessions on pedagogical research and technique are prominent; teaching-related activity by the faculty member outside of his or her classroom functions and responsibilities; professional work that allows the faculty member to maintain a mastery of his or her subject area in accordance with appropriate divisional guidelines.”

What Should Librarians Be Aware Of?

  • Librarians are covered by the WLPP. There is one Unit Workload Committee for librarians chaired by the Chief Librarian and comprised of a representative committee of librarians.
  • Librarian appointments and workload assignments must also reflect three discrete components: service, research, and professional practice.

What if the Dean or the Principal Essentially Tells Our Unit Workload Committee What Our Local Norms Should Be?

  • The WLPP revisions include new language stressing that “Proposed Unit Workload policies shall be developed and revised collegially at the unit level.  Members of the unit shall be invited to provide input on the contents of the proposed policy.”
  • Deans and Principals do have the opportunity to review and reject, with reasons, proposed local policies. UTFA encourages Unit Workload Committees to work independently of the Dean’s Office or Principal’s Office (as appropriate) in formulating proposed Unit Workload policies except to ask for issues of clarification. There is nothing unhealthy about a collegial difference of opinion between local units and Deans or Principals, but the policy envisions any rejection of locally proposed norms to be on the record.

What About Tri-Campus Issues?

  • The WLPP reiterates the principle that “there should not be significant discrepancies in workload between the same departmental/disciplinary areas across the three campuses.”
  • UTFA and the Administration also agreed that the Provost’s Office will clarify and explain existing policies regarding reimbursement for required travel between campuses.  

Best Practices & Common Pitfalls:

Best Practices:

  • In order to collegially establish a representative unit workload committee, UTFA urges chairs and other heads of units to send an email to all members of the unit inviting all interested members to put their names forward for inclusion on the unit workload committee.
  • The unit workload policy review should be used as an opportunity to carefully consider workload fairness and equity within units.
  • Remember and recognize that all faculty and librarian appointments have three components: teaching, research or scholarship and service. Every faculty member and librarian should be assigned a workload that creates the space and opportunity to engage in all three areas.
  • UTFA argued, unsuccessfully, for agreement that Teaching Stream faculty should be assigned teaching loads roughly equivalent to no more than 150 percent of the loads of their tenure stream colleagues in the same or cognate units. Our rationale for this is that time for scholarly activities needs to be recognized and protected in workload assignment (something that is reflected on the policy). Typical tenure stream appointments have a 40 percent/40 percent/20 percent distribution of workload across research, teaching and service (respectively), as is widely understood and reinforced by PTR weighting in annual evaluations. UTFA thus envisioned teaching loads occupying no more than 60 percent of the appointment for Teaching Stream faculty. While we did not secure agreement on these proposals, UTFA believes this is a good “rule of thumb” or best practice for Unit Workload Committees to use in establishing norms for the Teaching Stream.
  • UTFA argued, again unsuccessfully, that relative levels of TA support in comparable courses, all other things being equal (which they may not be), ought to be considered relevant in thinking about workload norms and equity in individual workload assignments. We know some units do take into consideration relative levels of TA support and may have generally known enrollment “triggers” that give rise to TA support (e.g., courses above 60 students are entitled to 70 hours, courses above 90 students are entitled to 105 hours, and so forth). We recommend Unit Workload Committees examine levels of TA support and how TA support is allocated.
  • Many units are experiencing workload related concerns as a result of rising and uneven graduate student supervisions within the unit as a consequence of escalating graduate student enrollments in recent years (as has been actively encouraged by the Administration). Some colleagues within units are supervising many students and serving on many committees, while other colleagues within the same unit may be supervising far fewer students and serving on far fewer supervisory committees. We cannot advise on the best way to deal with this issue, but it is a growing problem and a growing inequity in individual workloads. Remedies we have heard discussed in some units include: credit (some portion of an FCE) for supervisions and/or committee obligations above a specified threshold; re-allocation of course assignments to courses that are less labour intensive for those more heavily involved in graduate supervision; those with higher levels of graduate supervision could have this “counted” as part of their graduate teaching so that, for example, if the norm in the unit is to teach one graduate course per year, some colleagues might be obligated to teach the grad seminar every second year, with the in-between years featuring release from that portion of their teaching assignment; colleagues with higher supervisory loads might be offered full credit for co-taught courses if that is not the wider norm in the unit; and reductions in service obligations might be appropriate for those with higher supervisory loads. Some units may well just choose to cap graduate enrollment. There are no easy answers on this one. One potential problem to be aware of is that “incentives” to those with higher supervisory loads may translate into “penalties” imposed on those with lower supervisory loads even if supervisory loads are lower due to reasons beyond the individual faculty members’ control. UTFA is interested in hearing from units that come up with creative solutions, which, after all, is part of the point of this (hopefully) collegial process!

Common Pitfalls

  • Using a pre-existing committee to serve as the Unit Workload Committee such as the unit’s PTR or executive committee.  These pre-existing committees might not be representative of the Unit and might not reflect the types of appointments that members of the unit hold, as required by the WLPP. Moreover, all members of a unit should have the opportunity to provide input into the composition of the unit workload committee which is unlikely to happen if a pre-existing committee is deemed the unit workload committee.
  • Simply codifying the status quo rather than examining in a critical manner the practices in your unit. There is nothing inherently wrong with codifying the status quo, and in some units, that may be appropriate. But the purpose of the WLPP is to facilitate a bona fide, collegial review of workload norms at the local level.
  • Unit heads writing local Unit Workload Policies in the absence of collegial and representative input. This is does not reflect either the letter or the spirit of the WLPP.