Guidelines for Teaching Assignments

March 10, 2018


The Teaching and Academic Policy Committee (TAPC) within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) was charged in September 2015 by Associate Dean Kelly Millenbah to evaluate how teaching assignments (i.e., percent of faculty time) match with teaching demands in practice and to make recommendations following the evaluation. The genesis of this request was that there was a perception that percent time allocated to teaching assignments was not consistently applied between and within departments resulting in discrepancies between assignments and actual time demands. In a survey of department chairs within CANR, we found that the way that teaching assignments are apportioned across faculty and across units does in fact vary substantially. Moreover, much of this variation has evolved over time or is predicated on unwritten guidelines. As such, the current practices in CANR do not meet the goals of Transparency, Clarity, Objectivity and Consistency that are commonly applied to personnel actions. Therefore, the TAPC offers the guidelines described in this document as a means to move this process closer to achieving these goals.


The TAPC surveyed department chairs in November-December 2015 regarding practices currently in use. We also queried, through Dr. Kelly Millenbah, current practices at a number of other nationally equivalent institutions. We received input from all departments within CANR, and roughly 45 other institutions associated with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU). Rather than report and summarize these qualitative data, we used this information to synthetically develop the guidelines below, recognizing a number of considerations including:

  • The guidelines developed do not have to be simply an average of current practices; the committee considered if the current practices are fair and equitable.
  • The committee felt that consistency across units is desirable, but also weighed the need to allow department chairs flexibility in assignments that retain departmental norms for teaching as well as pragmatic realities limiting the ability for teaching assignments to change (e.g., the total amount of teaching FTE assigned to a department cannot change dramatically in the short term, departments face constraints on funding lines that limit the amount of teaching that some faculty can do). Thus, we added Flexibility as an additional goal that allows department chairs leeway to make informed and synthetic judgments for complex situations such as this.
  • Potential differences between AN versus AY appointments raised some concerns among the committee, but given that other components of faculty expectations (e.g., number of publications produced per year) generally do not differ across appointments, we suggest the recommendations below be applied uniformly across AN/AY appointments.


As an overview, the committee discussed what constitutes a “baseline” or typical course that can be used as a basis for comparison. Broadly speaking, we view a 3-credit undergraduate course with 150 - 180 minutes of in-class contact time, without a TA to be a typical course. Moreover, such a course constitutes 15% of a faculty’s assignment. From this baseline, we offer the following suggestions for adjustments to course time assignments based on quantitative measures.

  • Time assignments should be proportionally adjusted for courses with a different number of credits.
  • Class size should be taken into consideration and given due credit, at the chair’s discretion.
  • Additional in-class instructional contact hours (e.g., due to multiple sections of same class, or due to class model, such as a 3-credit 2-2 lecture-lab class) should be credited to the course time demand. The committee notes that each additional 50 minutes per week of in-class contact time roughly equates to ~1% additional time demand, but the actual adjustment will likely be situationally dependent.
  • The time assignment for a course could be adjusted depending on the number of Teaching Assistant(s) assigned to the class.

We also recommend that other factors can and should be considered consistently in department chairs’ assessment of what constitutes a reasonable time assignment. Examples of such considerations include the evaluation model used in the class, whether it is a lab class, on-line class, or Tier II writing course. In concert with these qualitative considerations, we recommend that factors entering into this assessment be documented. This documentation is important for clarity and transparency, but is critical for “institutional memory” as departmental leadership changes over time. We recognize that the time demands any single course places on a faculty member integrate across multiple dimensions, and as such, these guidelines are not intended to be prescriptive, but rather as items for explicit consideration. In any case, the Transparency and Clarity qualities identified above would both benefit from having documented connections between time demands ascribed to a course and the characteristics of a course.

Course title and number:                     
Number of course credits:  
Typical range of number of students:  
Additional in-class instructional contact hours (e.g., due to multiple sections of the same class, or due to class model, such as a 3-credit 2-2 lecture-lab class):  
Other factors contributing to course total (e.g., lab class, online class, Tier II writing course, specialized mode of evaluation, teaching assistant or grader provider):  
Percentage teaching assignment:  

In addition to the above guidelines, the TAPC also recommends that courses should be carefully evaluated when the total time demand for a class, summed across all sections taught by a single faculty member, exceeds 25%. This highlights the need for faculty to recognize the value in efficiency of class delivery, given the limited number of teaching FTEs in the College. 

In addition to regularly scheduled classroom instruction, a number of other activities can be legitimately counted toward a faculty member’s total teaching assignment. Examples of such activities and potential guidelines follow:

  • Serving as a student’s mentor for an undergraduate independent study (beyond formal independent study credits or assignment), or as an internship coordinator, or as an undergraduate professional advisor, or similar very time consuming activities should be recognized.
  • Serving as a major professor for a MSU graduate student, or serving on a graduate student’s committee are important activities, but our survey shows these activities are presently counted very differently across units. We recommend that departmental norms be preserved, but that the time counted toward teaching, research, or service be more explicitly described until a better evaluation across units for consistency can be determined.

When a faculty member’s teaching assignment is substantially at odds with the total time demands as determined above, several courses of action, which can be used singly or in concert, should be considered. These include:

  • The faculty member’s teaching assignment may be changed so that it is in closer alignment with actual teaching demands.
  • The time demands of a course may be altered by changing the structure of the class, such as through the evaluation method used, or by using enrollment limits or other approaches.
  • Teaching demands may be lessened by providing a teaching assistant or grader for the class, or spread to other faculty through co-instruction of a class.
  • If a faculty’s time demands are persistently above his or her assignment, the faculty member may be rewarded with exceeds or exceptional ratings in their annual review, based on the quantity of teaching effort they provide, assuming the quality of their instruction meets or exceeds expectations.
  • We encourage the use of the above table in the annual review process as a means of documenting time assignments and time demands for individual faculty.

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