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Primer on Workloads at the University of Ottawa

Tyler Chamberlin, Associate Professor, Telfer School of Management
Member of Collective Bargaining Committee (2011 & 2013), APUO


Faculty members at the University of Ottawa have long identified increasing teaching workloads as a significant challenge affecting their overall ability to meet their obligations and responsibilities as academics[1]. The Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) have made this a priority in several rounds of collective bargaining and the results of these agreements should improve the situation facing members going forward. This document attempts to briefly explain the background of this issue, the steps that have brought us to this situation, and the devices now available to faculty members who are feeling overburdened by their teaching workloads.


Since the 2002-2003 academic year, student enrolments at the University of Ottawa have increased by 51%, while the number of full-time professors has only increased by 42%. As a result, about 50% of all classes on campus are now being taught by part-time professors. This has put increased pressure on the full-time academics to provide various forms of student contact, including the preparation of recommendation letters, academic counselling etc. At the same time, graduate student enrolments have increased by 67%, which has been almost exclusively handled by full-time professors. Given these changes it is not surprising that academics at the University of Ottawa have identified workloads, and specifically teaching and supervisory workloads, as their most important workplace and labour relations issue.

Through the bargaining process associated for the 2004-2008 Collective Agreement, the APUO was able to get the employer to agree to conduct a joint review of teaching workloads going back to the 1992-1993 and 1993-1994 academic years. These specific years were chosen based on the availability of data from which to conduct said evaluation. The full benchmarking exercise took two years to complete and the results were not available until early 2010. The agreement of 2004-2008 also established that the normal teaching load for professors going forward would not be exceptionally different from the teaching loads experienced during the benchmark years of 1992 to 1994. The agreement also ensures that in departments or faculties where the current normal teaching load is lower than the benchmark years, teaching loads will not be increased as a result of the benchmarking process (see Article

During the negotiations for the 2011-2012 Collective Agreement, the APUO was able to have the data that was produced as a result of the benchmarking exercise, incorporated into the Collective Agreement as Appendix J. Further progress was achieved through the inclusion of new provisions that require the university to provide detailed information on both the benchmark workloads of 1992-1994 academic years and the expected workloads for each individual professor as set out in their annual workload assignments (see Article for a complete description of what information is to be included). The purpose of including both the benchmark and projected teaching workloads in professor’s annual workload assignment is to ensure that individual professors are aware of what they are being asked to teach and to ensure that they are not being required to undertake exceptional teaching loads in relation to the agreed upon benchmarks. The 2013-2014 academic year is the first year for which this new process will apply to the assigning of workloads.

Understanding Appendix J

Appendix J of the Collective Agreement 2011-2012 provides a summary of the most important results to come from the benchmarking exercise for the academic years 1992-1994. As per Section these results represent the normal teaching load per professor by faculty or department [2]. Each professor’s individual teaching for the year should therefore not be significantly different from that represented in Appendix J. While no exact definition is provided for ‘significantly’, the employer and the APUO have agreed that the numbers represented in Appendix J represent average teaching loads and therefore an individual professor’s workloads will be higher or lower than this amount. It is up to the individual professor to determine if she or he believes that their workload is significantly different from the normal teaching load, and if so, what remedy they would like to see to this situation. The types of remedies to be sought is to be determined by the professor, however a few options will be suggested shortly.

Now you will want to follow this document alongside Appendix J of the Collective Agreement (also attached to this message). The first step towards understanding Appendix J and what it may mean for individual professors is to locate the results for your specific faculty or department within Appendix J. Starting at the left-side of Appendix J, you will see that there are results for both years that were included in the benchmark study (1992-1993 and 1993-1994). It should be understood that the normal teaching load for the faculty/department in question is the average result for the two years in question. This will become important as we move to the right across the Appendix.

The meaningful results of the benchmark begin in the column to the right of the years covered, which pertains to the number of professors in the department/faculty for the specified year. So, in the Department of History in the Faculty of Arts, there were 23 Professors in the academic year 1992-1993 and 21 in 1993-1994. The next column presents the number of Full-Time Equivalents in the Department per year, reflecting adjustments due to academic (sabbatical) or other leaves, administrative or research related releases from teaching workload etc. This provides a more accurate picture of the teaching resources available in the year in question.

The next several columns relate to the number of members who were are a part of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Post-Doctoral Studies, the number of course releases provided per faculty member and the average number of overload teaching credits taught per faculty member. These results were important for determining the overall workload undertaken within departments and faculties per year but should not be of much concern for most academics considering their own workloads going forward.

The next two columns indicate the average number of course credits taught per faculty member at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The two years of the study now need to be averaged in order to determine how many undergraduate and graduate courses each professor should be teaching annually. For example, for a professor in the Department of History, we can see that the average number of course credits taught in 1992-1993 was: 13.8 undergraduate credits + 1.4 graduate credits for a total of 15.2 credits taught. Completing this calculation again for the 1993-1994 year (12.7 + 2.5 = 15.2) yields the same number of credits, 15.2. In this situation, the average is the same for both years but in most situations this will require a further calculation to determine the average number of credits taught.

The adjacent two columns in the table indicate the average student contact hours at the undergraduate and graduate level. This number is calculated by multiplying the sum of the total number of students taught in the year by 39 (which reflected three hours of class time multiplied by 13 weeks in the academic semester). Working backwards for the Department of History in the academic year 1992-1993 we see that the average professor taught a total of 182.8 undergraduate students (7129.8/39 = 182.8). To know how many undergraduate students a professor in the Department of History should teach today, we need to find the average between the years 1992-1993 and 1993-1994. For 1993-1994, the relevant average is 161.3 (6289.3/39 = 161.3). Therefore, the average number of students taught at the undergraduate level by a professor in the Department of History should be about 172.1 (182.8 + 161.3 = 344.1, 344.1/2  = 172.1). Completing the same calculations for graduate students, we get a result of 4.3 ([136.7/39 = 3.5] + [202/39 = 5.2] = 8.6, 8.6/2 = 4.3). This means that on average a professor in History will teach 4.3 students in taught graduate courses. Note that this does not reflect graduate supervisions but only graduate students taught in credit bearing courses.

The next three columns present data on the number of student supervisions completed on average per year, including the number of undergraduate, graduate and mémoires completed respectively. For the Department of History, we see that in both years covered by the benchmark study there were no undergraduate supervisions undertaken on average per professor. At the graduate level, each member of the FGPS in the Department had an average of 2.45 (2 + 2.9 = 4.9, 4.9/2 = 2.45) thesis-based graduate students under their supervision. Mémoires are major research projects typically undertaken by undergraduate or graduate students in professional programs (such as in a Masters of Business Administration Program or in the Faculty of Education) in a year. In the Department of History, as with many departments and faculties on campus, there were very few mémoires completed in either of the years covered by the benchmark study and therefore these will typically not represent a major proportion of a professor’s total teaching activities in a year.

Using Appendix J and Relevant Workload Related Sections of the Collective Agreement

As was briefly mentioned earlier, the data contained in Appendix J and the relevant articles of the collective agreement (primarily within Section 22) are intended to ensure that faculty members teaching workloads do not unduly affect their abilities to complete their other job-related activities and responsibilities such as their scholarly or research-related activities. The changes made through the last several rounds of collective bargaining provide academics with the means of measuring their assigned teaching workloads and comparing this to a historical benchmark, thus ensuring that professors are able to continue to individually and appropriately balance the many demands on their talents and time. The historical benchmark is not perfect; for example it does not incorporate many of the changes that have taken place during the intervening 20 years that have added to academics teaching related workloads, such as the use of e-mail for student communications, the growth of graduate programs, etc. but it should be a useful tool once professors come to understand how to use it. There have also been new departments created since the baseline years of 1992-1994. The Collective Agreement is not explicit as to how Appendix J should be applied for members in these new departments; however, the APUO will be seeking a resolution for these individuals going forward.

The primary means by which it is envisioned that professors will use the information contained in Appendix J and the related provisions within the Collective Agreement is through their annual interactions with their department head or dean relating to the assignment of teaching workloads. First, professors may wish to reflect on the information contained in Appendix J when preparing their initial submissions on teaching workloads for the year, ensuring that the total number of undergraduate and graduate course and students taught is in line with the averages for their department or faculty. Then, when they receive their initial suggested workload, and/or their final assigned workloads, from their department head or dean they can compare what they are being asked to teach to the normal teaching load as defined in Appendix J. If they believe that their workload is significantly different from the normal teaching load, they should then note this anomaly and suggest a remedy in a written letter of disagreement on their assigned workload to their dean. It is important that they do so within 10 days of receiving their final assigned workload for the coming academic year.

The Collective Agreement does not define explicitly the ways in which anomalies between a member’s assigned teaching workload and the normal teaching load should be resolved. In part, this is because individual members may wish to see different types of remedies. For example, a member may wish to see his/her course load reduced as a result of teaching large sections of certain classes (i.e. adjust the number of credits taught in light of a significantly larger number of student contact hours). Alternatively, a member may wish to see the enrolments in one or more of the sections that he/she has been assigned reduced (i.e. in order to bring student contact hours in line with the normal teaching load in the department or faculty). It is up to the member to determine and suggest a potential remedy in the written notice of disagreement that he/she sends to his/her dean.

Upon receipt of the notice of disagreement from the member, the Dean is then required to provide a written analysis of the member’s teaching workload to the member, within 10 working days. If, after suggesting a potential remedy and receiving and reviewing the written analysis of workload from the dean, the member continues to believe that the teaching workload is not reasonable, the member can avail himself/herself of two additional avenues through which he/she can challenge the assigned workload. The first option for challenging the workload is via an expedited dispute resolution mechanism that was agreed to by the parties during the last round of collective bargaining. As per Article 22.2.6, the member can ask their Dean to refer his/her assigned teaching workload to the Faculty Workload Review Committee (FWRC). The FWRC is primarily composed of the existing members of the Faculty Teaching and Personnel Committee without the presence of the department head or dean. Within 10 working days of receiving the referral from the dean, the FWRC will meet to review the member’s file and to come to a recommendation to the dean regarding the assigned workload. Their recommendation will then be communicated to the dean within five days of coming to the determination. The dean will then communicate the final teaching workload assignment to the member in light of the recommendation of the FWRC within five days of receiving said recommendation. The dean will include the FWRC’s written communication in the final determination presented to the member.

If, after completing this process, the member has reason to believe that his/her assigned teaching workload is significantly different from the normal teaching load as defined by Article J of the Collective Agreement, the member will be able to formally grieve the assigned workload through the normal process as set out in Article 13 of the Collective Agreement.


The completion of the teaching workloads benchmark study, the inclusion of these results as Appendix J and the incorporation of the related provisions into the current version of the Collective Agreement are intended to address the most important and consistently raised issue by APUO members relating to their working environment – their teaching workloads. The new provisions require faculty members to become familiar with a new set of data and processes that are likely to take some time to understand. Members are encouraged to contact their representatives on the Board of Directors of the APUO or the APUO staff directly if they have any questions or concerns related to these provisions or any other provisions contained in the Collective Agreement.

[1] Feedback from faculty members collected during the lead-up to negotiations for at least the past two rounds of collective bargaining have clearly indicated the importance of this issue.

[2] It should be noted that data does not exist for the Faculty of Medicine given the unique way in which teaching assignments are allocated in this faculty.