Union sets out principles for workload talks

DCU academic reps have had two preliminary meetings with John Doyle, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), concerning the definition and monitoring of academic work. The union has outlined a number of principles and initial specific issues relating to the Faculty’s pilot workload framework, seen as a precursor for similar schemes around the University.

The union’s position remains that members of staff are not obliged to comply with the pilot framework process, because it has been introduced in advance of negotiation required by the DCU-SIPTU Agreement and already has been rejected by staff.

Full text of the principles and initial specific concerns:

Terms of reference for discussions on HSS workload framework, as drawn up by the Section Committee for ongoing discussion with Dean of HSS Faculty, John Doyle and HR : Next Meeting –  Wednesday 22nd January 2014

General principles regarding workload (see also SIPTU-DCU Policy and Guidelines outlined in document of July 2010)

  1. Any document aiming to capture the workload of an academic can only be an indicative account, given the nature of academic work.
  2. All academics are employed to teach, to carry out administrative duties and to engage in research. The workload framework must be a mechanism for ensuring that the three work areas are being carried out by every academic member of staff.
  3. The object of any workload document should be the equitable share of teaching, administrative duties and research across all academics in any one school. For this to be made possible, the contents of each academic’s workload document should be made available to all the other academic staff in the school. All activities at all grades should be fully accounted for and sweeping global calculations should not be included.
  4. Academics in DCU are made up of five different grades: Professor, Associate Professor, Senior Lecturer, Lecturer above the bar, Lecturer below the bar. Teaching Assistants are not required to carry out research. These are the only recognised titles and grades for lecturers in DCU. The salary differential ranges from approximately €136,000 p.a. to €41,000 p.a (or to €32,000 p.a. for Teaching Assistants). Given this disparity of income, we take for granted that those at the top have heavier duties than those at the bottom and that some posts of responsibility can only be taken at Senior Lecturer level or above.  We also insist that, given the large difference in pay, the grade of the academic should figure on the work load form so that workloads can also be assessed in terms of income earned. This is acknowledged in the DCU Principles of Workload Allocation
  5. The break- down of duties of an academic as represented on any workload sheet should be what we are contracted to do – ie Teaching, Administration  and Research.

Specifics concerning the three areas:

  1. Teaching varies enormously in terms of contact hours, numbers of students and level. Description of teaching should reflect this and have extra weighting for class size, assessment schedules, number of contact hours and if the teaching takes place in the evening or on Saturdays. Teaching is, in our opinion,  undervalued in the pilot workload allocation as the weighting awarded is too low. (By the pilot framework reckoning, an academic without access to funded research or Scopus outlets could be required to teach 15 modules a year, which is absurd).
  2. Administrative duties .The workload of programme chairs is crucial in terms of student recruitment and retention but, again, is also undervalued in the pilot workload allocation. This duty should be confined to Lecturers above the bar and above.
  3. Research, in terms of work intensity, is extremely difficult to capture.

However a number of considerations must be taken into account:

a)    Scopus journals should not be arbitrarily favoured above publication in other journals. HSS and its schools have a complex variety of disciplines. Some of these fit easily within the Scopus range of publication. For others, Scopus offers very little publishing opportunity. Furthermore, there are many prestigious journals outside of Scopus, which operate on the basis of double blind peer reviewing. For certain research areas, either a very small number of journals are listed on Scopus. As much work goes into writing an article for a non-Scopus journal as for a Scopus journal, yet inclusion on Scopus, on the pilot document, has become a key factor for our research.

b)      Securing income for research is not automatically part of every academic’s role, especially in the humanities.

c)       Research cannot be assessed mechanistically in terms of outputs. Some journal articles may be based on months or years of empirical research while, at the other extreme, others may be little more than individual analyses. If more points are to be allocated per Scopus journal article, lecturers will be strategic and concentrate on quantity rather than quality. Under this regime, there will be little incentive to spend months or years researching  a topic for publication, and academics will  be pressurised into writing shorter, less substantial pieces which are read only by a select few.

d)      Conference attendance and participation should be considered a vital part of an academic’s career development and prioritised accordingly. Conference attendance is not just about giving a paper; colleagues can learn a lot, and have the opportunity to network. We understand that fewer colleagues are applying for conference funding because they see no point in doing so under the pilot workload allocation. Academics may be discouraged from putting work on Doras because they want to publish it in a journal. If academics reduce the number of conferences that they attend, DCU’s profile overall will suffer, as will an individual academic’s. Academics will miss opportunities for research projects and publishing and collaborative projects. The university should reinstate the unconditional, non-competitive travel allowance which previously was made available to academics.

e)      Research is very often a collaborative affair and colleagues should not have to be in competition with other colleagues. The system as presently constituted by the pilot scheme, is anti-collegiate and divisive. There is no/insufficient provision for co-authored articles.

f)       Full account should be taken of the diversity and stage of development of an academic’s research career. Given that DCU has a commitment to staff development the workload framework should include enabling academics to further their publication records. Younger colleagues and staff with practice or industry backgrounds, of which there are many in HSS, need guidance on how best to get started.

Section Committee DCU SIPTU
Marnie Holborow, Paul McNamara, John O Sullivan, Mary Phelan, Ronnie Munck (Academic Reps)

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