'A herculean task': Faculty face significant workload increase due to the pandemic

A new survey shows that as faculty have adapted to online learning environments, many have also faced a significant increase in their workloads.

In the wake of COVID-19, the university surveyed 2,323 tenure-track faculty members to identify how the pandemic has affected their overall ability to do their work, including teaching, research, service and caregiving. The survey ran from June 19 and July 10 and respondents came from all 11 faculties.

According to the survey, respondents reported a significant increase in teaching, service and caregiving workloads, and decreases in research output and their overall ability to work.

72 per cent of faculty reported a decrease in research outputs due to the additional time required for on-line teaching and their home environment for remote work, among others. As well, faculty who taught in winter term and/or summer term one reported an average increase to about 145 per cent of their usual load.

Many also expressed concerns about interacting with and supporting students and the need for additional time and resources for teaching and research.

The pandemic has interrupted work-life balance for faculty like Dr. Juliet O'Brien, who told The Ubyssey that “people have been doing a lot of extra work out of goodwill.” Between creating a worthwhile educational experience and the stress of transitioning to online teaching, redesigning courses as part of remote education has been difficult for O’Brien, a lecturer in the department of French, Hispanic & Italian studies.

In a light week, I’m probably doing what would be about 30 per cent overtime, if this were a 40 hour week, then the overtime would be 100 per cent,” she said. “The university would go bankrupt if they were to try to pay faculty and staff for the overtime they’ve done,” she said.

Remote teaching has added stress to faculty members and has made them feel overwhelmed throughout the pandemic, according to O’Brien.

“I’m in a reasonably comfortable position in terms of teaching load, and I’m working overtime. We have colleagues who are sessional lecturers, who are teaching way more classes than me, who are really suffering,” she said.

The President of the Faculty Association and philosophy professor Alan Richardson has experienced an increase in his workload and said he is rethinking how to do things that he used to take for granted, including having conversations with students knowing that everybody is paying attention.

“I know how to hold a conversation in philosophy classroom. I know less about how to hold a conversation that I know everybody’s paying attention to, in a Zoom room where all I’m seeing is their name floating in boxes,” said Richardson.

O’Brien states that the UBC administration could do more to support faculty during COVID-19 and to look into “working conditions” and “reducing class sizes and reducing teaching load.”

Provost and Vice President Academic Andrew Szeri acknowledged the work that UBC faculty have done to transition to online in a statement to The Ubyssey.

“UBC faculty members and staff have accomplished a herculean task. The work undertaken by our faculty to shift more than 3,000 courses online in 2020W1 alone cannot be overstated,” he wrote.

But the transition to primarily online instruction at UBC has left faculty members putting in hours of extra work, outside of their regularly scheduled work hours, with no compensation adjustment.

In response to these concerns, Szeri wrote, “While we understand there are some faculty members who are advocating for compensation adjustments to reflect this work, the university is not in a position to provide those increases at this time.”

Szeri did note that the university has invested $17 million in remote teaching and learning supports, $5 million in new learning infrastructure investments and $5 million in additional central funding to faculties to support the redesigning of the courses.

Both O’Brien and Richardson said that over the past six months that their workload has increased significantly and that their jobs have changed.

“If we’ve already got people burning out now, what’s it going to be like when we get to midterms, midterm marking, and then final exams?” O’Brien said.