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La Verne ponders merit pay

Mariela Patron
News Editor

Robert Penalber
Editor in Chief

A new policy is in the works to raise faculty wages based on their performances in teaching, research and professional service.

Under Provost Greg Dewey, two task forces researching workload and merit pay are working together to build a plan that could become policy. With such a policy, the University would reward faculty members who excel in their positions, instead of the current system of annual and longevity raises.

“This is new, exciting and uncharted territory,” said Sharon Davis, professor of sociology and co-chairwoman of the faculty salary committee. “This is not how we have run the University and the expectations of faculty historically.”

As part of the faculty salary committee, Davis is working with the merit pay task force in charge of analyzing merit pay models.

“There is a group called the compensation task force that was created by the president to look at how we decide pay levels,” Dewey said.

“We would look at other schools that do that (merit pay) because I do not know of any school that has fixed rates like we do, so we’re kind of the outlier right now. Marymount is a good example,” he said.

Currently at Loyola Mary­mount, faculty’s merit evaluation includes teaching and advising, scholarship and service – from most important to least important.

The department chairperson and dean are the principal people who evaluate faculty. Superior service in one area may also make up for less service in another area.

As of now, everybody at ULV is paid the same percentage increase every year, Dewey said. The committee was asked to look at this to help delineate strong performers from weaker performers.

It is still unclear as to how the merit pay, also called performance-based pay, would be measured. A viable model would be measuring merit as 60 percent teaching and academic advising, 30 percent research and 10 percent service to the University and community, Davis said.

The percentage of the merit pay raise is also still being considered and could change every year depending on the financial condition of the University, Dewey said. Tenure would not be affected.

The task forces are still unsure as to how this change would affect students, but Davis said it has potential to increase the amount of research opportunities for students because faculty would be encouraged to do more research.

Jody Bomba, chief human resources officer, has worked with non-profit organizations that have merit pay and feels it is time to update the school’s model of salary compensation.

“It’s not necessarily motivating or creative for individuals who want to excel or want to do better,” Bomba said of the current model.

“We have individuals who are really making a difference and it would be great to be able to reward those individuals for going above and beyond,” she said.

“It improves morale, and the reason is that people get frustrated if they feel that they’re doing extra and they get evaluated at the end of the year and are told ‘You’re doing an excellent job,’ and yet someone is not doing as well gets evaluated and they both get the same pay increase,” Dewey said. “So I think especially with the staff, it will be a big incentive.”

Currently, the types of compensations that exist for faculty are for cost of living, promotions and longevity.

“My own opinion is that longevity raises are not a good practice because essentially they reward seat time,” said Jonathan Reed, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Jason Neidleman, professor of political science and president of the faculty senate, said there is currently no evaluation of faculty after they have received tenure.

“People will perform better when they have an incentive to perform better,” Neidleman said.

Some faculty believe, however, that performance-based pay would not necessarily inspire excellence.

“I don’t think I would like a system where faculty would be motivated by money,” Hector Delgado, associate professor of sociology, said. “People don’t become scholars for money.”

Delgado said, for example, that faculty may avoid publishing on controversial topics with fear of upsetting administration and not receiving compensation.

“The basic tenet in academia is academic freedom and that gives you the freedom to do research on whatever you want to, so any evaluation system would have to affirm that academic freedom,” Dewey said. “It’s really the quality of the research that would be involved in the evaluation scheme.”

With performance-based pay, the University will become more business-like, which is the opposite of what most faculty members want it to be, Delgado said.

Yet there are still major issues that need to be settled before these changes could be implemented.

“I think what can happen in merit pay is that, over time, there can be a big gap between the highest paid person and the lowest paid person, and that may look like an inequity. Some people are uncomfortable about that,” Dewey said. “And in a small place where you have a small number of people in evaluation, there’s always a fear of favoritism. So you have to make sure that you have a pretty strong evaluation system.”

“If I were to vote right now, I would oppose it,” Delgado said.

Bomba said the University is focused on higher education, but it is imperative for it to follow certain business models.

“We are also a business in that we have obligations and we need to run the University in a fair and equitable way,” Bomba said.

As of now, the University will continue researching different merit pay models. Once a final model is created, the board will have the final vote.

“It still has not gotten to the point where we made some decisions that we can then share with the faculty,” Davis said.

Mariela Patron can be reached at mariela.patron@laverne.edu.

Robert Penalber can be reached at robert.penalber@laverne.edu.

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