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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

NSP: Eroding the Salary Scales, Undermining Faculty Governance

By Joe Kiskis

A previous post here provided a brief description of the proposed APM 668 Negotiated Salary Program (NSP) and comments from Professor Stan Glantz on the detrimental consequences of the similar Health Sciences Compensation Plan (HSCP), long used in the UC health system enterprises. In this post, I offer comments directly related to language of the proposed NSP policy for the general campuses.

The merit and promotion academic personnel system at the University of California is a great asset of the institution. It is a well-documented and carefully followed system that closely associates rank, step, and salary with accomplishment in teaching, scholarship, and service as evaluated by faculty peers.

For many years, UC salary scales have lagged those of comparable institutions. To partially compensate for this, there has been a growing use off scale salaries, which are set on an individual and ad hoc basis.

It is now widely recognized that this decoupling of salary from advancement in rank and step is undermining unique strengths of the UC academic personnel system, and there have been repeated calls to reform the salary scales so that the traditional value of the merit and promotion system is re-established. Unfortunately the proposed NSP would not be a reform but rather an additional administrative mechanism that circumvents the merit and the promotion system.

The proposed APM language delegates important decisions on how or even whether to implement the NSP policy to chancellors and permits fine grained rules with potentially wide variation between campuses and academic units.

Although it is often assumed, and it is the case in the examples accompanying the draft APM, that the money used to pay a faculty member a higher salary will be very closely associated with non-state funds generated by that faculty member, in fact, there is nothing in the draft APM that makes that association.

Since tuition is non-state money, it or other non-state UC general funds could be diverted to pay NSPs to individual faculty members at the discretion of administrators.

Since almost all faculty would be "in good standing," and thus, in principle, eligible for an NSP salary increase, essentially everyone would have an incentive to constantly petition their department chair and dean for an NSP. The new process for determining an NSP requires proposals and review with participation from the faculty members making requests, department chairs, and the EVC/Provost. Of course this is in addition to the administrative overhead of the existing personnel processes.

The policy is vague on the role of the Academic Senate in the process. In a fine grained implementation, this could vary by campus or even by college or school. Over time this is likely to further undermine the merit and promotion process and make salary increasingly unrelated to academic accomplishment as evaluated by faculty peers.

The policy creates additional incentives for the pursuit of external funding with the likely consequence that research directions will be further determined by funding entities rather than by faculty creativity and initiative.

The proposed APM includes a provision for a "contingency fund." This is mentioned but not described in the proposed policy language. Implementation of this fund is another item at the discretion of chancellors. From the material accompanying the proposed policy, one concludes that the purpose of the contingency fund is to serve as an insurance policy. In the examples in that accompanying material, there would be a tax on the state-funded, pre-NSP base salary of participating faculty members (3% in the examples). The combined money thus collected would make a campus contingency fund that would be used to continue the NSP for any faculty member for the duration of the NSP agreement even if the external fund source from which the NSP is drawn disappears. So state money is set aside to insure that the salary increases of NSP participants are continued even if the external funds are not available.

Thus the proposed APM 668/NSP goes in the precisely the opposite direction of reform to the processes of salary determination at UC. It would further undermine the merit and promotion system and institutionalize a "system" for determining salaries that is non-transparent, arbitrary, inequitable, open to abuse, and decoupled from peer evaluation of accomplishment in teaching, research, and service.


Anonymous said...

University of California Berkeley is the most expensive public university in the USA.

Anonymous said...

I am no fan of the proposed APM 668 - or in general of providing incentives for faculty to seek private sources for their salaries.

But the existing rank/step system is an unmitigated disaster. It creates a vast burden of paperwork for faculty, who are constantly evaluating each other, for the purpose of providing each other with microscopic salary increases. Meanwhile the real salary negotiations, the off-scale ones, go on directly with chairs and deans - as they do on most campuses in the US.

The step system might have served a purpose 50 years ago when the cost of living didn't vary so dramatically between campuses and when there was no national market for faculty. In the absence of those conditions, there is no way to design a system-wide salary scale that is either fair or effective, and certainly not both.

Our colleagues at most other universities have their salaries set by chairs and deans - with an appeal process built in for when they feel they are treated unfairly. We, on the other hand, have a gigantic, perverse bureaucracy that only exists to pursue fairness - and it utterly fails in that purpose.

The existing system is NOT an asset to the institution. It takes a huge amount of time away from teaching and research; it drives faculty away - and it does not even provide in return what it promises - nor can it in existing national circumstances.

I am perfectly happy with my salary and have no complaint about how I have been personally treated. But I think I would rather teach an extra class every year than spend my time serving on endless step review committees and generating reams of meaningless reports.

By all means attack the egregious behaviour of the central admin. But don't defend the existing system - it was a failure 20 years ago and it will become (if such a thing is possible) even more irrelevant in the next 20 years if it is not changed.

Anonymous said...

We spend relatively little time at merits and promotions, but I agree there is too much pointless paperwork within the administration on these actions---but I don't consider the faculty input to be meaningless or endless. If the paperwork burden seems vast, streamline it. Don't write letters restating what is already in the file. If the step increases are "microscopic", fix the salary scales so that they aren't so out of step with the national market. Then a step would mean something. But if the process is burdensome, handing complete discretion to administrators isn't a good solution.

Chris Newfield said...

A core issue is that professions are defined by having a large measure of self-governance, and peer review for promotion is a crucial form of that, especially in institutions like research universities where other forms of self-governance have been lost. Giving promotion review over to administrators would be a huge step down the road of replacing self-governance of faculty activity through external audit, which is held in check by traditional prestige at the universities where it appears benign. In fact, friends who have chaired Ivy League departments have reported shock at salary inequities that they could not come close to justifying in terms of academic contribution, including persistent gender inequities. Switching to that kind of system is a recipe for further decline in faculty influence over their own institutions, for more time on the job market (also a blow to faculty productivity), and more penalization of loyalists who do the bulk of the work of the institution. Inequities and morale would get even worse. Faculty effort on promotion would be shifted to non-academic staff supporting deans etc, whose numbers would grow to deal with the workload, or would consume faculty time (as asst deans) at another level. We should streamline this crucial self-governance process instead of giving it away. Most campuses CAPs still make clear salary recommendations, and those campuses that have given that up should get it back.

dr_k said...

well said, chris... but instead, we'll get this:


Charles Schwartz said...

I have been quite amazed in recent years to see some general campus faculty seeking a richer reward system patterned after what happens in the Medical Schools. There is no sensible comparison!

Those medical Profs gain huge collective incomes from the clinical practice of medicine and that money is divided up among them through an internal negotiation with chairs and deans.

What is the comparable income source that general campus faculty see?( Research funds? Student Tuition?)

What is the system of internal negotiations that they want to have for apportioning the spoils?

It appears that some colleagues are pushing for a cannibalistic academe.How sad.

TB said...

The real conundrum in all of this is that *real* salary increases often result from matching outside offers, which is typically done by the administration at the dean and provost level. Granted, there is faculty input into this process in a form of a faculty vote for retention of a professor in question but from what I've seen, it stops there. Therefore, as long as the system values excellence as measured by various ratings that in turn depend on both reputation and extramural funding (however skewed and objectionable to some this may be), there *will be* a parallel path for salary advancement that is only marginally dependent on self-governance and peer reviews. As I have been told by a colleague a while ago, the fastest way to go up is by moving laterally. He said it half-jokingly, but there is a big chunk of truth in this observation. Whether you like it or not, the existence of a national market is a reality (and perhaps we should all try using it to leverage our standing with the administration, as you have yourself once suggested). And it's not just the national market: as far as I know, ETH Zuerich (the Swiss Institute of Technology has recently attracted several top UC faculty members, and I am sure they are not the only ones "poaching" out there.
As far as I can see, this leaves us with two basic options.
The first one is our current merit/promotion system. With the UC faculty wages consistently lagging behind those in the similar institutions (see e.g. http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/senate/committees/ucfw/faculty_salary_gap.pdf ), this system will result in a continuing bleeding of the system unless substantial funds are provided to "fix" the current scale. Where are these funds going to come from? Student tuition, naturally, where else; the state is not going to give us more money in order to increase the wages that are already perceived by the public at large as excessive. And I can see how thrilled are many contributors of this blog about milking the students in order to pay ourselves more. The second option is basically what is being discussed here: namely giving the administration more leeway in increasing the pay of those they consider valuable and at risk of leaving. The obvious upside is that this option is cheaper as it does not require inflating the entire scale. The obvious downsides have already been discussed here, and I agree with all of these objections so I would not repeat them. So where does this leave us? Two aforementioned unpleasant options + an option of doing nothing (or even introducing salary cuts, as some members of public have been suggesting) and bleeding the UC schools into mediocrity -- the process that is already underway if ratings are to be believed.
Any better ideas?

Bob Samuels said...

I have recently written about how this whole conversation misses the most important fact: most salaries are already being negotiated in a private way that circumvents the peer review process. In this system, there are many losers and very few winners: http://changinguniversities.blogspot.com/2011/10/yudofs-salary-plan-what-does-it-really.html

Anonymous said...

If the administration were to devise a set of useless tasks with which to occupy the faculty so that they had no time to actually govern the place, peer review would be it.

The idea that peer review = UNIVERSITY self-governance is just wrong. It means only departmental self-governance, which the admin is not interested in taking away anyway. Your Ivy League friends may suffer terribly from unjustifiable disparities (I doubt they are much worse than what we have here) but my sense is that they spend a lot more time with Deans and Provosts actually discussing how to run the place rather than being busied (as Chairs are in UC) with endless, useless paperwork.

The time spent on peer review is largely dead-weight loss. Decisions could be made by chairs and deans in a fraction of the time - this is just how it works at most universities throughout the world. The unfairness involved can be mitigated by a system of appeal -again, like every other university. Everyone I know feels underpaid, but I don't have a single friend at a private university (or a public one) demanding to spend more time reviewing their peers and adjudicating their salaries. Indeed, I know faculty who have specifically cited this kind of thing as a reason to leave (both UC and at U Minn which has a similar system).

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