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A Move to Merit Pay

April 5, 2013

Michigan’s public institutions scrambled to approve new faculty contracts before March 28, when the state’s right-to-work law goes into effect. In the rush to ratify a contract two years in the making, faculty members at Grand Rapids Community College have accepted a deal that freezes their pay for two years and grants raises based on their performance only.

The new contract, valid through the 2015-16 academic year, moves the college away from seniority raises and institutes merit pay. Faculty members have in previous years received an automatic annual increase that could raise their salaries by as much as 8 percent, which has led to instructors being “highly compensated for their teaching” without any incentives to fulfill any non-teaching requirements, said President Steven C. Ender.

Under the new system, faculty members make themselves eligible for raises based on their performance in five categories: teaching, college service, student service, professional development, and community service. At the onset of every new academic year, instructors complete a plan documenting the expectations for the upcoming year, and the document is reviewed toward the end of the spring semester to track progress.

“This new evaluation system gives faculty members a large menu of non-teaching -- but academic -- services they’ll need to perform on a daily basis for satisfactory employment,” Ender said, adding that he hoped faculty members would be motivated to expand how they approach the requirements of their jobs.

Merit pay has not roused the same level of opposition seen in other community colleges, but some faculty members have expressed “anxiety” about how they are expected to satisfy the terms of the new contract, said Frederick C. van Hartesveldt, president of the faculty union.

"Faculty will have to do a lot more record keeping," van Hartesveldt said. "Whether they teach differently or not, I don’t know if we’re going to get that result."

The move to merit pay means instructors will face more in-classroom evaluations. The contract requires all faculty members to undergo periodic observations and have students evaluate the classes they teach every semester.

“I really believe that this new contract is kind of a defining moment for the institution as we build a total academic culture,” Ender said. “We’re 100 years old next year, and this is laying the foundation for our tenured folks for the next 100 years.”

Ender requested a compensation study after joining the college in 2009, which he said found faculty members were being compensated higher than the market dictated. By freezing pay rates, Ender said he hoped the market will catch up with the college’s level of compensation.

The contract also normalizes how faculty members are compensated for teaching extra classes. Starting July 1, both new tenure-track faculty members and new adjuncts will be paid $937 per contact hour. That change does not affect current faculty, whose rate will remain $1,189.

While faculty members are relieved to see an end to the negotiations, van Hartesveldt said the new system faced internal opposition before being ratified.

“The pay components create a two-tier system where returning faculty are better off financially than newly hired faculty,” van Hartesveldt, a professor of English, said. “Personally, I can’t endorse that.”

A late addition to the new contract requires faculty members to pay union dues. That means the college will avoid the right-to-work law until the contract ends after the 2015-2016 academic year.

Both Ender and van Hartesveldt said the right-to-work law itself didn’t force the two sides to come together -- an agreement was reached in May 2012 -- although it nudged them back to the negotiating table to ratify the contract.

“I definitely do not want to give the impression that we have won and the faculty has lost,” Ender said, adding that the new merit pay system could be “a demonstration model of a best practice in education.”

Van Hartesveldt also stressed the good working relationship between the faculty and the administration. “You can’t go to the negotiating table and make the other side do what you want to do,” he said. “From a faculty viewpoint, it was the best agreement we could reach given the negotiations climate.”

 

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