Addressing Job Balance for Tenure-Track Faculty with Administrative Responsibilities
As tenure-track faculty members in higher education, we always have the notion of “publish or perish” at the front of our minds. But for those of us serving in competing, multiple roles in which full-time responsibilities to teaching, service, and scholarship combine with full-time administrative duties, job balance is elusive and daunting.
In 2022, Gabriele Griffin coined the term “work-work balance” to describe how higher education professionals negotiate competing job demands. While work-work balance is an emerging concept, and its impact on the retention of junior or tenure-seeking faculty warrants empirical study (Griffin; Pope-Ruark, 2023), minimizing or eliminating cumbersome administrative responsibilities for those pursuing tenure could be a positive way to address it. The question higher education institutions need to answer is what kinds of support they are willing to offer tenure-seeking faculty who are inundated by the daily minutia of administrative tasks.
Not a new phenomenon
Faculty having to contend with administrative tasks while performing their jobs is not a novel development. What has changed is that in the past, tenure-seeking faculty were often shielded from excessive administrative tasks, such as serving as program coordinators or being the lead principal investigator on a grant; today, that is no longer the case. With the rise of faculty vacancies in departments already stretched to their limits, coupled with the loss of more traditional secretaries and administrative assistants, all faculty, including tenure-seeking faculty, find themselves needing to pick up the slack.
Traditionally, the most common time allotment model for assistant professors, who are typically tenure-seeking faculty, is a 40/40/20 split: 40 percent research, 40 percent teaching, and 20 percent service. But for many faculty with increased administrative duties, the split is more like 50/50: they spend 50 percent of their time on administrative duties and the other 50 percent between teaching, service, and scholarship. The problem facing faculty in these situations is one of simple mathematics: no matter how you add it up, there is not enough time in the day left over for scholarly productivity.
In higher education, scholarly productivity is synonymous with publications; thus, “to be a scholar is to be a researcher—and publication is the primary yardstick by which scholarly productivity is measured” (Boyer, 1990, p. 2). Competing workplace demands form the primary challenge to scholarly productivity: juggling increasing administrative duties and the responsibilities of obtaining tenure. If tenure-seeking faculty are to keep their jobs, they must find time to write and publish. Attempts to balance the demands of increased administrative duties and tenure responsibilities present an overwhelming challenge, particularly as not having time to write because of administrative duties will not be an acceptable defense for limited publications during tenure review. Thus, if these faculty are to attain tenure, institutions need to find ways to support them as they seek to manage their increased administrative responsibilities.
Tenure timeline adjustment
Securing tenure in the allotted six-year time frame is one of the biggest challenges for tenure-seeking faculty. Meeting tenure timelines and expectations is challenging for traditionally employed faculty; however, the challenge is almost impossible for faculty with significant administrative responsibilities. Universities can support these faculty by extending the tenure timeline to accommodate the extra administrative workload. Flexibility or adjustments to the tenure timeline can include increasing the number of years faculty are allotted to fulfill their tenure responsibilities as well as rotating administrative roles between multiple faculty within a department.
Mentors are another valuable resource universities can provide to early career faculty seeking to balance tenure expectations with equally critical administrative responsibilities. Tenure-seeking faculty could benefit significantly from mentors who have proven track records of supporting early career professionals and who offer guidance around the tenure process and discuss solutions to challenges associated with navigating multiple administrative demands. As early career faculty are typically stressed by teaching workloads, scholarship demands, and writing and managing grants (Sun & Simon-Roberts, 2020), mentors can provide encouragement as well as practical advice on how to best balance the two roles.
Reduced advising and course release
A reduction in the student advising workload and the addition of a course release to offset and attend to administrative duties are two other considerations universities could offer to these tenure-seeking faculty. With respect to student advising, it is not uncommon for tenure-seeking faculty to have as many advisees as some already tenured faculty, if not more. Thus, reducing the number of advisees would greatly support these faculty as they work toward tenure.
Additionally, a course release, or reduction in the number of courses a faculty member is required to teach each semester, is already typically offered to faculty serving in more traditional program coordinator roles to accommodate the increased administrative responsibilities. However, no such course reduction is offered to faculty who lack the formal title but still assume much of the administrative responsibility. Providing a course release to these faculty would be a huge step forward in allowing for a successful work-life balance.
Finally, a review of the service obligations of tenure-seeking faculty with increased administrative responsibilities could be another practical university support. Although service is typically allocated for 20 percent of the workload, new faculty, the majority of whom are tenure seeking, are sometimes inundated with service responsibilities and often have more service hours than are ultimately needed for their tenure requirements. The university could support these faculty by limiting the number of committee assignments and restricting committee assignments that do not directly support their tenure and promotion. Although engaging in service is important for faculty development, committee assignments should be minimized during the tenure-seeking years to allow faculty time and space to engage in scholarship and fulfill tenure obligations.
Being a tenure-seeking faculty member is a difficult enough task, but the task can seem insurmountable for faculty with multiple administrative duties. Higher education institutions must reexamine how the increased administrative workload impacts tenure requirements as the faculty job description expands beyond the traditional teaching, service, and scholarship model. To date, administrative duties are not counted in any significant way towards a faculty’s tenure consideration. The most meaningful way higher education institutions can support faculty in these roles is to review current tenure guidelines and revise them to include consideration for the amount of time these administrative tasks require of faculty members. Supports must be interwoven into tenure processes, especially for faculty with significant administrative obligations, to facilitate a successful tenure outcome and a healthy work-life balance.
Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton University Press.
Gonzalez, L. M., Wester, K. L., & Borders, L. D. A. (2019). Supports and barriers to new faculty researcher development. Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, 10(1), 21–34. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-D-18-00020
Griffin, G. (2022). The “work-work balance” in higher education: Between over-work, falling short and the pleasures of multiplicity. Studies in Higher Education, 47(11), 2190–2203. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2021.2020750
Moosa, I. A. (2018). Publish or perish: Perceived benefits versus unintended consequences. Edward Elgar Publishing.
Moturu, B. P., & Lent, R. W. (2023). Self-assertive efficacy and workplace advocacy behavior: A social cognitive analysis [Supplemental material]. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 70(1), 41–51. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000645.supp
Pope-Ruark, R. (2023, February 3). Exploring work-work balance and the academic department chair. Academic Leader. http://www.academic-leader.com/topics/leadership/exploring-work-work-balance-and-the-academic-department-chair
Sun, W., & Simon-Roberts, S. (2020). New faculty preparation, adaptation, and retention. Journal of Faculty Development, 34(2), 81–87.
Karlin Burks, EdD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership Studies, Adult Education, and School Administration and program coordinator for the master in school administration program at North Carolina A&T State University. Her research interests include principal preparation, inclusive leadership, and teacher leadership development. Email: Kjburks@ncat.edu
Kimberly Bunch-Crump, PhD, BCBA-D, is an assistant professor of special education in the Department of Educator Preparation and program coordinator for the special education program at North Carolina A&T State University. Her research interests include using behavioral science to inform the implementation of culturally responsive practices and special education teacher development. Email: email@example.com
Kellee D. Watkins, PhD, is an assistant professor of reading and literacy in the Department of Educator Preparation and elementary program coordinator and regional director of the new teacher support program at North Carolina A&T State University. Her research interests include English language arts and reading education, teacher professional development, and teacher coaching. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org