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.

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