Update from Provost Harbor – Faculty workload and supporting American Indian students (11/25/19)

Dear colleagues,

As part of a series of updates on some of key initiatives through the Office of the Provost, today’s message discusses two current priorities: clarifying expectations for faculty workload and supporting our American Indian students.

Expectations for faculty workload

As Provost and Chief Academic Officer, it is my responsibility to support UM’s faculty and provide an environment in which each person can do their best work. Faculty deserve to have clarity on their role within the institution and feel supported by their colleagues, chairs, and deans.

Clearly defined expectations about faculty workload are a critical component of this type of environment. I have asked the deans to work with their chairs and faculty members to develop workload policies for their schools and colleges, if they do not already have such a policy, and to review and update existing policies. Clear workload policies will help departments assess their instructional needs and capacity in relation to their Instructional Staffing Plans. Workload policies, posted and made accessible to everyone, establish terms and definitions that help us talk about expectations for faculty performance. These policies help us recognize the fact that faculty workload can change over the course of a faculty member’s career, as a professor’s scholarly interests and achievements evolve, as their teaching capacity changes, and as their service contributions ebb and flow.

Article 6.210 of the Collective Bargaining Agreements clearly describes the role of deans in assigning instructional workload, the roles of chairs and faculty, and my role in approving such workload. UM’s schools and colleges are quite diverse, which is why a single university-wide workload policy is not effective. School/college-specific workload policies are critical for us to ensure fairness and transparency for faculty within each unit for matters related not only to instruction, but also to scholarship and service.

I know the deans are hard at work on creating or updating existing policies, as needed, for my review. These policies will be posted on each academic unit’s website so they are available for all current and future faculty, can easily be applied to revised unit standards as appropriate, and might inform conversations with individual professors about performance expectations and goals. I view this as a positive move toward a culture where clearly stated expectations, appreciation for each other’s efforts and talents, and fairness and transparency are the norm.

Supporting our American Indian students

Last month, I hosted a listening session to learn directly from American Indian students about how they experience life at UM. As students described their experiences here, common threads emerged about administrative obstacles encountered, and the struggle to form a network of support and friendship far from home. In response, I will take some immediate strategic actions to help ensure American Indian students are broadly supported and welcome. I am committed to renewing our efforts to engage with American Indian students and their families, and to make sure they are supported in their efforts to achieve their goals. The immediate actions I plan to take include:

  • Updating and disseminating a handbook for American Indian students and their families about what to expect and plan for as students enroll at UM, available both online through the American Indian Gateway website and in hard copy,
  • Hosting orientation programs designed specifically for American Indian students,
  • Increasing staffing in American Indian Student Services to help American Indian students overcome any academic, administrative, or other barriers they face.

At the listening session, I also learned that one of the greatest challenges American Indian students face at UM is the experience of being the sole American Indian in their classes, and feeling as if others perceive that they somehow speak for all American Indians when they participate in class, or take part in extra-curricular activities, rather than for themselves. Our students asked me if UM could alleviate this burden for them by providing more robust opportunities for our faculty, staff, and other students to learn about American Indians and build a shared, campus understanding of their past and present. The Montana University System (MUS) American Indian Minority Achievement Advisory Council facilitated the development of Indian Education for All in Montana, which can be a good first step in building this shared understanding. I highly recommend that you consider attending a follow-up discussion on the course. The Office of Organizational Learning and Development will host discussion sessions early in the spring semester.

UM students from other underrepresented groups describe having this type of experience too. I welcome your suggestions about how to continue building our shared knowledge and understanding in support of American Indian students and, more broadly, in support of all our students.

My next update will include a status report on UM’s Communities of Excellence and efforts to increase collaboration among the UM affiliates, including expanded transfer programs between 2-year and 4-year affiliates.

As always, I am open to your input and feedback. Please join me at Coffee with the Provost from 9-10 a.m. Friday, December 20, schedule an appointment during my office hours, or email me at provost@umontana.edu.


Jon Harbor, Provost


This message was sent by the Office of the Provost to all University of Montana faculty, staff, administrators, and affiliates.