“Strategic” Introduction of Merit Pay?

Written by Mary Oxner, this article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of The Beacon.

The University’s strategic planning process has produced a strategic plan for the next five years (2017-2022). The release of a strategic plan for the University is a momentous occasion, as it is the first such plan issued in the last two decades or even longer.  The strategic plan (circulated via e-mail on July 25, 2016) opens with the words “The Way University is Meant to Be” and continues by identifying five distinct pillars that are each accompanied by various goals and related objectives.

On review, the finalized strategic plan in July contained several surprises. Under the pillar “Sustainability & Stewardship” (see p. 26), one of the objectives under Goal 1 (“Develop the capacity for transparent, evidenced-based decision making to inform all areas of University operations”) states that the University will “Develop a merit system for departments or individuals who exceed targets or lead in the University.” The inclusion of merit pay as an objective embedded in the strategic plan raises various questions, including:

1)     Is merit pay being considered for StFXAUT members as member compensation is negotiated in the context of a collective agreement? The issue of merit pay is inherently problematic and is fraught with potential inequities (see the article on the subject written by Brad Long in Volume No. 6, Issue No. 2 of the Beacon).

2)    Would the application of merit pay require formal evaluation? It is difficult not to regard any request which leads to formal evaluations linked to merit pay with a great degree of suspicion if not cynicism. Arguably, such formal evaluation is the gateway to post-tenure review.

3)    Given the lack of consultation with the Association, we wonder: is it the case that merit pay is only being considered for senior administrators? The prior administrative regime (under Dr. Sean Riley) had a system of merit pay through annual bonuses, which ineffectively rewarded administrators. The response to questioning by a reporter from the Chronicle Herald (February 1, 2013) and by our members was to roll such bonuses into individuals’ base salaries. The disconnect between high tuition and bonuses paid to University administrators as voiced by the public persists, which must cause us to further question the use of merit pay in a public institution like a University.

4)    Why was the objective of merit pay not disclosed in any previously circulated communication of the strategic plan process nor in the presentation by President MacDonald to faculty and staff? Having read all the circulated material, participated in all of the opportunities to contribute to the process, and having attended the strategic planning presentation in July 2016, merit pay, a sensitive topic, was not disclosed nor discussed.