What Do Faculty Think Of Merit?

Recently the Faculty Association communicated a series of e-mails about the merit-based part of our salary system.   This multi-part communication generated a lot of faculty responses. We want to summarize and share with you some of these responses which express views both in favour and against the concept of merit pay.

The Pros and Cons of Merit

Some members hold the view that the merit system acts to motivate members and reward those who make exceptional contributions.   Members devote a considerable amount of time to research and believe that these contributions should be rewarded through merit.   Other members believe that the merit system creates extra work and does not increase productivity. They are not convinced by the argument that performance-based compensation leads to increased in productivity.   We have also had members tell us they are in favour of abolishing merit compensation entirely because it generates bitterness, rivalry, jealousy, and hard feelings among peers – the very same people they interact with on a daily basis.   They argue that adding more money to the pot does not solve the problem, it just makes the incentive to fight more intense!

Some members have told us that they support the increase in funds available for the award of merit because it provides the opportunity to reward more members for a greater range of activities.

Merit Should Recognize Teaching and Service Not Just Research

Many members expressed concern that the award of merit favours research over other equally valuable contributions.   They argue that duties assigned to members other than research go unrecognized regardless of performance and the contribution these activities make to the University and member's careers.

Excellent performance in teaching, outreach and engagement, administration, and service to the community though purportedly important to the University go unrewarded.   The emphasis on research performance means that members are not recognized for other equally important work.   Rewarding only those who are successful at “pumping out" publications is counter-productive when there is an increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and outreach and engagement.

Members with clinical responsibilities have argued that it is also difficult for them to receive merit because of their additional responsibilities.   Because of the wide range of clinical duties these members are engaged in, including clinical teaching and public lectures, there are limited opportunities for them to develop an extensive research program and receive merit.

In their comments members raised a number of important questions.   For example, what makes someone an outstanding teacher? Are we evaluating faculty who are simply popular with their students rather than faculty who have been recognized by their peers?   How do we recognize innovative teaching?   Many faculty recognize that if we are to reward teaching equally with research then the challenge will be how to develop appropriate standards and evaluation criteria.   The same type of questions were raised with regards to the reward of outreach and engagement, public service, and administration.   We heard loudly that administrative work is given very little if any value and excellence in this area is not acknowledged.   Many individuals exhibit social responsibilities to their unit and the University but are never acknowledged or rewarded for that service.

Merit and the College Review Committee

We received many comments about what members believe College Review Committees tend to recognize when awarding merit.   Members expressed concern that the main criteria used by CRCs is new research, grants, or peer reviewed publications.   It is not clear why success in obtaining funds from Tri-Council agencies is often rewarded far more than funding from other sources.   Members also commented on the fact that when reviewing publications the CRC unduly focuses on impact factors.   Yet it is widely admitted that those journals with average or low impact factors contain many excellent and important works.   Relying on citation patterns or impact factors alone is too simplistic.

Merit Should be an Open and Transparent Process

We heard from members that they welcome changes in the new Collective Agreement that provide for a more transparent process.   A common issue with the previous merit system was its secretiveness.   There were complaints that Heads and Deans produced rankings that were never reported back faculty members.   These rankings were then re-shuffled by the CRCs without accountability or even feedback to the departments.   As a result, members were not clear as to who was being rewarded and what performance was considered meritorious.   With the new Collective Agreement the merit system will be more transparent.   Departments and members will receive feedback on who receives merit, and what is considered meritorious will be identified.

Changes to the Merit System and New Responsibilities

Changes to the Collective Agreement that come into effect in 2011-2012 are aimed at improving both the process and the reasons for the award of special increases.

Departments and Colleges are required to develop standards for the award of special increases based on criteria in the Collective Agreement, including two new ones.

Salary Review Committees are mandatory. Previously, Departments and Colleges had the ability to annually choose whether to have a salary committee or have the Department Head or Dean make recommendations to the College Review Committee. There is no longer a choice.

Salary committees must report rankings, decisions and reasons. Department and College Salary Committees provide information to faculty members and College Review Committees provide information to both individual members and to salary committees in the College.

One-half of funds available for the award of special increases is at the unit level to allow Department and College Salary Committees to make awards across the entire range of faculty duties. College Review Committees and the President's Review Committee have the same amounts at their disposal as in the past.

Another Collectively Speaking is in the works. It will further explain how the new provisions to Salary Review Procedures in Article 17 address member concerns, and offer much needed information as academic units prepare their merit standards for 2010-2011.

The USFA continues to be interested in hearing from you regarding Salary Review Procedures. We invite you to share your thoughts with us. Send us an email (usfa@usaskfaculty.ca), call the USFA Office (966-5609) to arrange to meet with a member of the USFA Executive, or speak to your Faculty Association Representative.