Merit-Based Raises

Over the course of the 2011-12 school year, select University of California faculty members will receive merit-based salary increases. UC President Mark Yudof announced this in his public statement as a way to attract more workers to the UC system and to reward those who have done great work. Those eligible to receive the salary increase include all non-represented UC staff and faculty who earn less than $200,000 per year. The recipients have been chosen by peer evaluations, an evaluation policy that fails to acknowledge the input of those who actually sit and observe these educators for hours on end: the students.

With $500 million in budget cuts proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown this year, it is encouraging to see that the UC system is prioritizing educators as an important investment. In Yudof’s official statement regarding these merit increases, he insists that university quality cannot be compromised, a quality that rests on excellent professors and researchers. $140 million has been allotted to fund the program, with more than half set aside to reward non-academic staff. While the cost sounds steep, this amount is only half a percent of the 2011-12 California higher education budget, and because the UC system employs over 150,000 faculty and staff members, merit-based salary increases will be very selective. The budget is comprised of 18 percent state general funds, about 20 percent is coming from student fees and other UC general funds with the remaining two thirds coming from other funds, including medical center revenues and contract and grant funds, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein. These pay increases are important because educators are the core of this university system, and if California wants to keep the best professors around, the state must have competitive salaries.

Additionally, these raises cannot apply to anyone already earning at least $200,000 annually, which excludes all of senior management, including the advocate of the policy, Yudof. This is important, especially after the uproar over a $100,000 salary increase for San Diego State’s new president earlier this year.

According to Yudof, the merit pool will receive a 3-percent increase to their overall pay in order to both reward and retain staff. The selection process began on Oct. 1, and recipients who received the highest peer evaluations now receive fatter checks in the mail. As of now, there is no indication of when the next wave of raises will be rewarded — staffers have no rewards system to work towards if they don’t recieve a pay raise this time around. This year, UCSD lost three top scientists and researchers to Rice University due to competitive salaries. If these merit-based raises do not occur at least once or twice a decade, the UC system is bound to continue losing top educators to competitive wages.

The basis of these peer evaluations, as described by Yudof, focuses on a professor’s quality of teaching, research and overall service to the school. These are undoubtedly important criterion, but students arguably have more insight to a professor’s quality of teaching than a faculty peer. Not only do students constantly interact with the professors, but they are the consumers who are paying for the education — their feedback should hold high attention. Thus, surveys like CAPE should be considered when choosing recipients. To ensure that all students give input about their professors, students should be required to fill out evaluations in class, which is already a strategy implemented by the Making of the Modern World program. A wider spectrum of specific questions are asked in MMW sections to best determine how well their TAs are performing in different areas, and also encourages students to explain their reasoning behind their responses.

The UC system is known first and foremost for its impeccable education, with more academic departments ranked in the top 10 nationally than any other public or private university. The UC system has 57 Nobel laureates on staff, as well as professors who are not only talented in their area of research, but who are also able to effectively transfer that knowledge to hundreds of students. Therefore, great importance should be placed on the way professors conduct themselves in a lecture hall. No matter the reason why a student chooses a professor, students know when they’ve got an impressive professor whose legacy is based on their ability to command a room and love of teaching.

Faculty peers, on the other hand, may lack the insight to assess the majority of their peers in a lecture setting. This may lead to favoritism of professors who do great research — a quality that can be judged purely on paper. Meanwhile, great lecturers may go unnoticed due to the unattractive time commitment that goes into observing a professor in action. Without a student component in professor evaluations, a well-rounded perspective is impossible to achieve.  

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