Merit pay not all bad, says professor

Greg Kane

Faculty union members claimed victory when merit pay was excluded from their recent tentative contract agreement, but some Sacramento State professors say they?re sorry to see the extra incentive go.

California Faculty Association members and other professors have lobbied against the Faculty Merit Increase system since it was introduced by the Chancellor?s Office in 1998. FMI are pay raises based on faculty performance evaluations that include classroom performance as well as other scholastic activities, including published work and research.

The tentative agreement reached last month between the union and the California State University excluded FMI until 2003, where its reinstatement would hinge on a 3.5 percent salary increase.

Many professors were happy be rid of it, but others like Astronomy and Physics Professor Donald Hall think the competition it encouraged was positive for faculty.

“I don?t think competition should be seen as a bad thing,” Hall said. “If anything, I think it should be seen as a reward for accomplishment.”

CFA Sacramento chapter President Jeff Lustig said the number of faculty who preferred eliminating FMI far outweighs those who wanted to keep the increases. He said professors who typically support the pay system fall into two categories: Senior professors who are no longer eligible for pay scale increases, and young professors who are unfamiliar with the system.

By requiring faculty to compose self-evaluations to be submitted to department chairs ? and ultimately President Donald Gerth ? to decide rewards, Lustig claimed the FMI system took power from the faculty and put it in the hands of the administration.

“For faculty to wish they had merit pay is to wish that the faculty as a whole has lesser power,” Lustig said.

Hall disagreed, however, saying the process was “largely in the hands of the faculty,” with the only administrative input coming from the president. He also thinks the union?s claims that FMI promoted unnecessary competition among professors are unfounded.

“Philosophically, I think it should be in place, and whether it?s me or someone else (receiving the award), that kind of evaluation should be made,” Hall said.

Preserving FMI was an important goal for the Chancellor?s Office when negotiating the new contract with the union, said CSU Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Sam Strafachi, who headed the CSU?s negotiating team. In the end, they settled for a compromise: If the faculty receives a salary increase of 3.5 percent or more in 2003, one-quarter of that money will go toward FMI, he said.

“We think it?s important to link people?s wages to their performance,” Strafachi said. “Those people that have done something outstanding in any given year should be rewarded.” Lustig said the union does not oppose merit pay, but rather the FMI system that puts decision-making power in the hands of administrators. Should another system be implemented, the union might support it, he said.

“We?ve never actually opposed a notion of merit pay that would be awarded by peers as an occasional observance of excellence,” Lustig said.

Still, even the FMI system had its supporters on the Sac State campus, Hall said. Those professors just haven?t been as open in their support as dissenters of the merit pay system were, he said.

“There always have been some of us,” Hall said. “But we were not as vocal as the others.”