Music Faculty Work: Issues and Analogues

Living in the Age of Accountability: Its Impact on Music Units

Nothing in memory has affected the working life of the university faculty member more than the current national appetite for accountability in higher education. Faculty workloads are undergoing scrutiny as the public continues to question whether it is getting its money's worth and whether tenured university professors should be in the classroom more. Tenure has been a casualty in some extreme cases; well over half of the states have adopted some sort of post-tenure review process; others, such as Texas, Maryland, and Florida, have implemented rigorous systems for mandating and documenting faculty work assignments. As professionals who work hard and long within their various disciplines, this has been a discouraging time for faculty. Loss of public trust has come unexpectedly; the consequences have seemed unduly harsh.

The effects of accountability on music units have been mixed. The call for more hours in the classroom and an emphasis on individual study has brought greater appreciation of the large student/faculty contact typical of the music unit. The general acceptance that music faculty work exceedingly hard is often accompanied by uncertainty on how to "count" much of this work. This is reflected in the bizarre ways our data systems report private instruction and other forms of applied instruction. The more traditional disciplines within music, such as musicology and music theory, have comfortable analogues across campus. However, the applied instruction activities typically borrow their counting mechanisms from "labs" or "other" categories in the data systems -which may or may not have a close correlation to the effort involved. Student credit hours as a measure of the effort of applied teaching faculty generally falls short; while large general education course may inflate the unit's aggregate numbers to an acceptable level, the work of individual faculty members is still vulnerable on the basis of student credit hours alone.

It is demeaning and academically irrelevant to think of faculty work only in terms of numbers. Yet, those of us caught in the interface between our institutions and the public (which expresses its views powerfully through legislation) can not escape the numbers game; we must learn to play it well. For music units, one effective approach is to find a meaningful way to translate music faculty activity so that it can articulate accurately with faculty activity across the campus.

The Analogue Approach

Until recently, it did not matter much how the responsibilities of music faculty were catalogued; assignments were made according to recommendations of the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), and the business of the unit hummed along regardless of internal bookkeeping. Consider the common model of a "full" academic work assignment, used for years as a construct to determine amounts and proportions of faculty activity. The common denominator is the course, which is based on the denominator of time.

A full teaching assignment, with no other major responsibilities, would be four 3-unit courses. This model assumes one hour each of preparation, evaluation (grading), and classroom teaching for each course unit. The following table illustrates:

Course amount

Time equivalent

1-unit course

3 clock hours

3-unit course

9 clock hours

Four 3-unit courses

36 clock hours

In the familiar 40 hour work week, this 36 hours of instructional-related activity left 4 hours (10%) for committees, office hours and other responsibilities. From this four-course model, time could be subtracted for research/scholarly activity, so that a two-course work assignment per semester might be seen as a 50% teaching assignment, with 50% to be devoted to research.

Analogues for Music

NASM standards suggest a 3:2 ratio between applied instruction and classroom instruction. Using this ratio, the following table provides time analogues:

Classroom instruction

Music Analogue

2 hours in the classroom

3 hours of private lessons

One regular 3-unit class

4.5 hours of private lessons

Four 3-unit courses

18 hours of private lessons

Thus, eighteen hours of private instruction constitutes a full teaching assignment, with no additional major responsibilities.

Here are further analogues, comparing regular academic work to that of the music unit; again, music faculty working in academic disciplines such as musicology and theory more closely resemble the rest of the campus. These lists are illustrative only and far from inclusive:


Classroom instruction

Music Analogue

Includes reading materials; staying current in field

Practice (maintenance); learning new music

Preparing notes for lecture

Reviewing lesson repertoire; score study

Preparing in-class materials

Arranging musical parts

Preparing test materials

Preparing test materials


Classroom instruction

Music Analogue

Formal grading of tests

Juries: formal examination

Meeting with students individually to discuss class performance

Coaching outside lessons; attending and evaluating rehearsals

Feedback during class

Assessment woven into lessons

Assessment of student work outside of class

Appraising CDs and tapes

Research and Scholarly Activity

Research and scholarly activity take myriad forms throughout the institution. The analogue in music is often called creative activity. Again, the list below is far from inclusive.

Academic activity

Music Analogue

Writing journal articles and books

Writing journal articles and books; preparation of major literature

Intense exploration of works of the past

Intense exploration of works of the past

New Knowledge: developing new mathematical formulae; new discoveries in space; developing cures for diseases

Creation of original works; development of new styles or pedagogies

Presenting papers and lectures at national and international conferences

Presenting recitals and concerts in important national and international venues

Using the analogues above, let us examine the full work responsibilities of music faculty. The 1993 data from the U.S. Department of Education report an average of 6.8 classroom instructional hours per semester for all full-time instructional faculty at public research institutions. A 1996 study by Robert Middaugh reports an average semester assignment of 2.8 class sections (including lab) for music faculty. This is clearly a heavy teaching responsibility if the faculty member is expected to conduct major scholarly work and service activity, in addition to teaching.

If we apply the analogues above to the responsibilities of applied music faculty, the picture is even more compelling. Applied faculty commonly carry maximum teaching assignments: a full 18 hours of lessons or some combination of lessons and class/coaching instruction that totals a 100% instructional assignment. Still, many of these faculty are extremely active in their research/creative activity domains, producing major original works and giving important recitals or lectures. Analogues show that while carrying the equivalent of a four course teaching assignment, they may also produce the equivalent of a 50% research assignment.

These same faculty are often the most active in the service arena, particularly in outreach. At the University of Arizona, data for four consecutive semesters show that the average community outreach activity per full-time music faculty member was 45-48 hours per semester. This was the equivalent of more than a full week in the community per individual. For 50 faculty members, this added up to over 50 weeks; for the unit, this amounted to a year of work in the community each semester!

Anticipating the Future: Strategies for Success

It is clear that the public desire for more accountability in university faculty work will not go away soon. The need to understand music faculty work in equivalent terms with the work of other faculty is essential, especially in those institutions undergoing mandates for "increased productivity." Using the common denominators of courses and time, music administrators can demonstrate the extraordinary levels of productivity already present in their units; in most institutions, to ask more of these faculty would be unconscionable.

Higher education is undergoing enormous change and the public scrutiny of faculty work presents an opportunity for a heightened appreciation of music faculty achievement. To seize this opportunity we must be willing to look at our work in new ways, but the time will be well spent if it produces increased trust in our university systems.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 07/05/2013

Elizabeth Ervin retired in 2003 after more than 30 years of service to the University of Arizona in music and as Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.

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