What Faculty Unions Can Learn from Workload Policy in Ohio

By Mary Ellen Benedict and Louis Benedict

Faculty workloads have been a subject of ongoing discussion in this magazine and elsewhere. Many outside academia (and a few within) view faculty members as ivory-towered elitists, with too few obligations to students or their institutions. A 2012 op-ed by David Levy in the Washington Post reiterated this view, stating, “the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth.” The subsequent response to the piece by faculty members demonstrated just how strong attitudes are regarding the dismissive view of faculty productivity, with many reporting long work hours related to teaching, research, and service.

Faculty Workload

College and university professors have typically worked long hours. Using self-reported data from faculty members, the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF) of 1988 and 2004 indicates that the average full-time faculty member spent more time working during the week than did the average working individual in the United States. Full-time faculty members reported working an average of 53.3 hours per week in 1987; the average remained approximately the same in 2003. In comparison, the average workweek for the typical US full-time worker in 2010 was 37.5 hours.1 The NSOPF also indicates that between 1987 and 2003 fulltime faculty members devoted more time to teaching than to research and service. However, responses to the 2010 faculty survey of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, indicate that the percentage of their workweek that full-time faculty members spend on instruction has decreased in recent years. The drop may be related to the growing use of part-time faculty, with a consequent shift of full-time faculty to administrative and research work, and to larger class sizes that have led instructors to resort to lectures and multiple-choice tests and quizzes.

Despite the fact that professors report long workweeks, the widespread notion that they do not work hard enough has prompted some state legislatures to begin regulating faculty workloads. A 1996 AAUP report indicated that twenty-one states had laws related to faculty workload regulation. Ohio was one of these states. In 1993, the legislature enacted Section 3345.45 of the Ohio Revised Code, which required state universities to establish instructional workload policies and excluded those policies from collective bargaining.

This article examines how the Ohio rule has affected the instructional workload of unionized faculty members at public universities in the state, how changes in the instructional workload policy may affect research and service, and how decreasing state funding relates to a general movement to increase faculty workloads. The article also examines the recent issues that arose around a faculty workload policy at Bowling Green State University, where the collective bargaining agreement with the AAUP chapter is less than a year old, to illustrate how difficult the interpretation of the law is on campuses with newly established faculty unions.

Ohio Public University Policies

The size and nature of faculty workload is an amorphous concept at most institutions. It depends on a myriad of factors that vary for each college and department, and often for individual faculty members within a department. Faculty workload policies have developed from years of experience and adjustment. At many colleges and universities, even those whose primary mission involves teaching, research has played an increasingly large role. Attempting to set an objective and quantifiable faculty workload policy is difficult. Accordingly, institutions commonly resort to credit hours to define teaching workload, leaving research and service more nebulous.

In response to the mandate in the 1993 law, Ohio public universities developed formal workload policies. Many of them focus on credit hours as the unit of measurement and require a percentage distribution for the three primary components of a faculty member’s workload: teaching, research, and service. Most of the policies concentrate on the required teaching load. For example, Ohio University’s policy begins with a twelve-hour teaching load per semester for faculty but takes into account aspects of the work such as class size and teaching-related duties like advising. It also includes a percentage range of workload time that should be allocated to teaching. OU requires its colleges to set the workload policy. Cleveland State University also employs a credit-hour workload policy, set at an individual level, but uses a twenty-four-credit-hour annual workload to cover all three components of a faculty member’s time by creating credit-hour equivalents for research and service. Ohio University is currently making adjustments to its workload policy as it switches from quarters to semesters; Wright State University made a similar adjustment in 2010. All the universities permit a range of teaching workloads, often because expectations for the three principal workload components vary by college or department. And, although workload policy is not explicitly included in the collective bargaining agreements at unionized universities, those agreements include clauses that require discussion if workload is to be changed. At the two other four-year public universities without faculty unions, Miami University of Ohio and Ohio State University, faculty handbooks or faculty senate guidelines provide the workload policy.

In the past two years, several Ohio public universities faced serious financial problems. One reason was declining enrollment. A 2013 report from the Ohio Board of Regents indicated an overall 6 percent enrollment decline for Ohio four-year institutions between 2011 and 2012, with only Kent State University, Ohio University, and Northeast Ohio Medical University exhibiting growth. A change in the state funding formula also negatively affected a number of institutions. Based on 2012 recommendations from the Ohio Higher Education Funding Commission, the current funding formula for a four-year institution places greater emphasis on course completion and graduation rates and less emphasis on firstyear- student enrollment than the previous formula. Because the change in the formula was implemented quickly, some institutions were unable to make the internal policy adjustments necessary to maintain their funding levels.

In response to reduced enrollment and state funding, two universities proposed workload policy changes in spring 2013. The University of Akron administration sought to increase teaching workloads for one-fifth of the faculty who were deemed “not meeting capacity.” The university’s AAUP union protested because the collective bargaining agreement requires discussion of workload changes. In the end, the existing policy of workload determinations at the unit level prevailed. The administration of the University of Toledo unilaterally increased the teaching load for tenured and tenure-track faculty to twelve credit hours and for full-time non-tenure-track faculty to fifteen hours. The bargaining agreement states that these are the maximum teaching loads for full-time faculty members, and it also indicates that the full workload was to be determined at the individual level, with administration approval. The AAUP-UT chapter is currently filing grievances for individual cases involving workload changes, with some success.

Bowling Green’s Workload Policy

The Bowling Green State University faculty voted for an AAUP-affiliated union in 2010. The union signed its first collective bargaining agreement in May 2013. That summer, the administration sent a rough draft of a workload policy to department chairs and directors for comments. In August, the union, the BGSU Faculty Association (BGSU-FA), filed a public-records request in order to review the drafts as they were developed. After the administration incorporated comments from chairs and directors, a second draft made its way to academic units and faculty members through their departments and colleges and was later made public in an open meeting with the faculty.

A final draft provided details about the three components of the faculty’s workload. The policy included a base 10 percent load for each course and suggested percentage ranges for the teaching, research, and service components. The BGSU-FA issued a demand to bargain over the university-level workload policy, and after several meetings over two months, the administration backed off. Currently, faculty members work with their department chairs to develop individual workloads for the coming academic year, and final approval of such plans rests with the college deans and, ultimately, the provost.

Unilateral Action?

Drafting a first contract that quantifies faculty workload is a daunting task. Faculty experience and knowledge are vital. Administrators need to ensure that workload is fair and equitable, but they typically lack the intimate knowledge of and direct experience with each department to know the time and effort needed to teach students effectively in the discipline, perform high-quality research in a particular academic field, and contribute service to the department, university community, and profession. The BGSU faculty contract left it to the academic unit to evaluate the performance in each of these areas and provide an overall recommendation for renewal, tenure, and promotion.

The Bowling Green administration never clearly stated its rationale for attempting to set workloads for faculty in teaching, research, and service without negotiating these terms and conditions with the faculty union. In doing so, the administration appears to have violated Section 4117.08 (A) of the Ohio Revised Code, which deals with public employees’ collective bargaining. The code states that “all matters pertaining to wages, hours, or terms and other conditions of employment and the continuation, modification, or deletion of an existing provision of a collective bargaining agreement are subject to collective bargaining between the public employer and the exclusive representative.”

The administration did state in its August memorandum setting the workload policy guidelines that the collective bargaining agreement “requires that each faculty member ‘shall be advised by the Department Chair/School Director regarding specific assignment duties’ (Article 5.1.1 and 6.1.1).” However, these contract articles do not deal with workload policy. They appear in a section concerned with reviewing faculty performance, so their purpose seems to be to ensure that the faculty and the chair or school director have a common understanding of each faculty member’s assigned duties for evaluation purposes. They also do not grant any group specific authority to set faculty workloads.

The administration might have assumed that it could rely on the Ohio state statute for the proposition that administrations have the right to set faculty workloads unilaterally outside collective bargaining. Ohio Revised Code Section 3345.45, “Standards for instructional workloads for faculty—faculty workload policy,” covers only undergraduate teaching workloads. The statute requires “the Ohio Board of Regents jointly with all state universities” to “develop standards for instructional workloads for full-time and part-time faculty in keeping with the universities’ missions and with special emphasis on the undergraduate learning experience.” The law further requires that the “standards shall contain clear guidelines for institutions to determine a range of acceptable undergraduate teaching by faculty.” Because most faculty workloads include teaching, research, and service, giving the board of regents and university trustees unilateral control of the acceptable range of the undergraduate teaching workload does not preclude the union from negotiating workload provisions in other areas of faculty responsibility.

The BGSU collective bargaining agreement does not grant this unilateral authority over workloads to the administration. The contract (Article 30, Paragraph 1) states that the normally defined workload encompasses teaching, research, and service. It does not define the proportion of work to be carried out in these three categories nor does it provide any quantification of value to be given to each category. Article 32 of the agreement does state that “the University agrees that any discontinuance or modification of a practice, policy or benefit that is not set forth in this Agreement will be developed and implemented only after due consultation with and advice of appropriate faculty bodies. Should no agreement be reached on any discontinuance or modification proposed, the University may implement the same only after engaging in effects bargaining with the BGSU-FA.” The Ohio statute does not prohibit negotiating the effects of a change in the instructional workload policy on other duties or requirements or providing compensation if the change results in an increased workload.

Final Thoughts

Past litigation over the constitutionality of the Ohio statute has resulted in judicial guidance that supports the mandatory reduction of other workload duties when instructional workload is increased. In American Association of University Professors v. Central State University (1999), the Ohio Supreme Court ultimately found that Section 3345.45 was constitutional. However, in doing so, the court based its opinion on its finding that the goal of Section 3345.45 served the legitimate interest “to effect a change in the ratio between faculty activities in order to correct the imbalance between research and teaching at four-year undergraduate teaching institutions.” The court concluded that the legislative purpose of the statute was to limit faculty duties that detracted from teaching. Consequently, any increase in instructional workload must result in a corresponding decrease in research or other faculty duties. If universities were allowed to increase instructional workload without a corresponding decrease in other workload responsibilities, the result would contravene the express purpose of Section 3345.45.

Recently proposed legislation also supports this interpretation. In February 2013, Ohio governor John Kasich proposed legislation that would have given the administrations of public institutions authority to add one course per year to each fulltime faculty member’s teaching load. The legislature eventually rejected the proposal, but if universities could under Section 3345.45 simply increase the instructional load by one class for each faculty member, with no negotiation over changes in noninstructional workload or compensation, then the governor would have had no need to propose new legislation; he could have gone directly through the state’s board of regents (and university boards of trustees) to increase the instructional workloads. Thus, it would appear that the workload range was set by statute with the submission of standards in 1994, and it cannot be changed without legislative action. Further, the proposed legislation did not include a prohibition on reductions in other workload components. In fact, read together with the court rationale for Section 3345.45, the legislation appears to suggest that an increased teaching workload would have to be met with a corresponding decrease in other workload components.

Section 3345.45 might have some value if faculty workloads consisted only of teaching specific classes, but as written it is vague and confusing and appears to limit the flexibility of administrators and encourage establishment of institutional instructional workloads with so wide a range as to subvert the statute. It also provides no authority to change the instructional workloads after the initial range was established in 1994. It provides no guidance for determining the acceptable workload percentage attributed to undergraduate teaching for an individual faculty member. Consequently, each university administration and faculty union can negotiate the instructional workload (or the procedure for determining it) for each faculty member within the previously set range.

Quantifying the noninstructional workload components and determining the appropriate tradeoffs in the total workload are extremely difficult. Nevertheless, collective bargaining agreements should provide appropriate language in order to allow for arbitrator and court decision making. For example, in University of Toledo v. American Association of University Professors (2013), an Ohio state court of appeals upheld an arbitrator’s decision that the contract, when read as a whole, required consideration of the lecturer’s noncore duties in adjusting the lecturer’s workload. Likewise, in Vermont State College Faculty Federation v. Vermont State Colleges, a 1988 case, the Vermont Supreme Court found that, although the contract gave the college administration power to adjust workloads, it could do so only within the parameters of the contract. The court concluded that “when the college wishes to go beyond the agreement and change the workload rules, the duty to bargain is triggered.”

Although establishing a workload policy that can apply to every department and faculty member is extremely difficult, the contract should include language that limits unilateral administrative authority over faculty workloads, even where the state regulates such matters. This advice also applies to handbook provisions at private universities where the administration has some control over workloads, especially instructional workloads. Instructional workloads are easier to quantify, and it is easier to garner community support for administrative control over (and subsequent increases in) faculty teaching workloads. Nevertheless, faculty unions should draft language that does not relinquish control over all workload categories. An increase in workload in one category should result in a decrease in workload in another category. AAUP chapters new to collective bargaining should be especially careful about the contract language regarding workload policy. At Bowling Green we will likely review the lack of language in the next round of contract negotiations, but until then, the issue is still unresolved.


Mary Ellen Benedict is a distinguished teaching professor and chair of the economics department at Bowling Green State University. Her research includes the study of unionization in higher education, gender and race discrimination, self-employment, and teaching economics.

Louis Benedict is a lawyer and a scholar of higher education administration. He has taught extensively, including at Waynesburg University, Clarion State University, and Bowling Green State University, and he has legal experience with Bowling Green. His research focuses on a variety of higher education topics, including unionization and academic freedom.


1. The authors estimated the workweek by using the reported daily time spent working from the 2010 American Time Use Survey issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives /atus_06222011.pdf. Back to text