Regarding merit pay for faculty, I’d like us to slow down and to think carefully about the following points.
First, I am not aware of compelling empirical data supporting the assumption that merit increases will serve as an incentive for faculty to be more productive.
Second, assuming that a percentage increase in base salary is an incentive, will an increase of any size, 2-4 percent for example, be sufficient or will the increase have to be somewhere in the vicinity of 10-20 percent? Also, given the limited funds available for salary increases, will a merit system result in lower across-the-board increases?
Third, we have tenure to maximize academic freedom. Merit pay could easily undermine the raison d’etre of tenure. Who will decide who gets a merit increase? Will it be principally the administration, one’s peers in the discipline, or faculty from other disciplines? Can this system be used by the administration to reward faculty who toe the line and penalize dissenters?
Fourth, if the merit increase is a percentage, the gap between the highest and lowest paid members of the faculty will increase. If we go to a merit system, it may be fairer to award a fixed amount.
Fifth, the bases on which a merit increase will be decided will vary and not be an easy task even within departments. For example, what counts for more, a textbook or an article in a refereed journal? In my discipline, typically the article counts for much more, but at La Verne, they may be equivalent or the textbook may count for more – thereby sending the wrong message to young scholars, as would a model that assigns the same or comparable percentage to service as it does research.
Sixth, disagreement on criteria may lead to distrust and hostility between colleagues, especially in instances where the contributions of individuals are similar, yet one receives a merit increase and the other does not. This system could replace collaboration with competition, community with the individual, and morale may be lowered as a consequence.
Seventh, we as a faculty, at least in the College of Arts and Sciences, have lamented the business model, versus an educational model, employed by the university. Shared governance has been one of its victims. Can we have it both ways, i.e., decry business models, yet support something as corporate as merit pay? I urge my colleagues to slow down.
Professor of Sociology