The academic's second shift

Faculty and researchers aren't equipped to handle many administrative tasks

Faculty are increasingly devoting their time to administrative tasks that take time away from their academic priorities, Colleen Flaherty reports for Inside Higher Ed

One university aims to curb this onslaught of "shadow work" so that faculty members can invest more time in academic pursuits.

Shadow work, or administrative tasks such as handling travel arrangements or requesting reimbursements, has historically been performed by paid staff responsible for handling such responsibilities. But budgets have tightened during the recession, forcing administrations to cut back on staff—and forcing others to take on the tasks.

But some say this takes a toll on faculty and researchers, diverting their attention from tasks more relevant to their work and those they are better suited to carry out. So Cornell University sought to do something about it.

A group of arts and sciences faculty formed a committee to get to the heart of the problem. The committee's 2015 report found that shadow work has "grown explosively" at Cornell and pose a "major impediment to the successful functioning of the university."

The committee advised clearly defining centralized staff and those in academic units and looking into new policies and procedures for saving time and money. It also proposed a five-point plan with recommendations including:

  • Recommitting to Cornell's emphasis on research and teaching;
  • Limiting or reversing staff centralization efforts; and
  • Appointing a leader to oversee and streamline initiatives. 

Measuring and reporting on faculty workload

Members of the committee, as well as other faculty and administrators, have created a working group to further reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies, including shadow work.

"The time faculty and academic staff spend on tasks not directly related to the academic mission has grown as compliance requirements and the use of technology have increased, and the hidden costs of this shadow work have become a critical issue throughout higher education," Cornell's interim president Hunter Rawlings said in a statement. "Faculty and academic staff time should be prioritized toward our primary goal of excellence in scholarship—learning, discovery and engagement" (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 11/8). 

The uncomfortable truth about faculty release time


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