TITLE: The End Is Near AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 03, 2007 2:52 PM DESC: ----- BODY: The end of our academic year has begun. The first task I face this time of year is reviewing activity reports submitted by faculty to document their teaching, research, and service activities since last May. The proximate cause of my reading this reports is that I must complete a salary worksheet for the Dean. The worksheet shows each faculty member's current salary, plus contractually mandated raises for next year. My contribution is a single entry for each person: a "merit adjustment". I think that Eric Sink has expressed how I feel about this task as well as I could, and certainly more colorfully:
For most people, the touchiest and most sensitive topics are money and sex. I'm not expected to decide how often everybody gets laid. Why do I have to decide how much everybody gets paid?"
The academic world is a bit different than the ISV world in which Eric lives. Once a faculty member earns tenure at the time of promotion to associate professor, these annual reviews have little to do with whether or not a faculty member will have a job next year. At some universities, department heads and deans may have access to a larger pool of money for merit pay, but here faculty salary increases are driven more by across-the-board money than by merit. And in the end, I think salary is a relatively small part of why most faculty members are at a university, or even a particular university. So. My discretion has relatively little effect on faculty members' salaries, but I still feel funny exercising it. Allocation decisions are inherently subjective. Weighing contributions across the teaching, research, and service categories are difficult, and sometimes weighing contributions within the categories is no easier. I am a strong believer in recognizing differences, but that is easier said than done. The task is complicated by an interesting effect I've noticed over the last fifteen years. When the pool of money is small, it has little use as an incentive, even for folks who may be motivated in this way. But even then it has powerful possibilities as a demotivator. The effect of a $0 in that slot, or a token value that is emotionally equivalent to a $0, is remarkable -- and sad. So, while the absolute effect of my salary decisions are quite small, but their relative effect can be much larger. I don't have any great wisdom or insight into the process yet. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I can improve upon what I've done the last two years. Eric Sink's article does a nice job exploring the space and putting me into the right frame of mind for doing the task (with appropriate context-specific modifications to all the details, of course). If I remain head for much longer, this is one area that I would like to think harder about. -----