Faculty miffed about merit pay
System staff say restoration of salaries more important
The Nevada Legislature thought giving $7 million to higher education for pay increases would make faculty happy. They were wrong.
Legislators passed Assembly Bill 551 in June so that some faculty could receive merit pay starting next July. They thought that after about five years of cuts to higher education, it was time to give back to faculty to make Nevada’s education system competitive.
Their decision struck a nerve with UNLV faculty senate chair Paul Werth and Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, chair of the Ways and Means Committee.
While faculty have asked to get merit pay restored since it was suspended in 2009, they have championed getting salary restoration even more. In July 2011, faculty were subjected to a 2.5 percent salary cut. They also had to take six mandatory furlough days, equivalent to another 2.3 percent salary
Werth said getting merit pay back was less important than getting paid the salary they received prior to cuts.
“The first priority was to see the base salary restored which meant the elimination of both the salary cuts and the furloughs,” he said.
Instead the 2.5 percent salary cut and merit pay have been restored, while furloughs still remain. UNLV will be getting $2.9 million of the $7 million, the highest amount compared to all the other institutions.
While a pay increase may sound attractive, it will only apply to faculty whose performance is deemed exceptional. Had legislators eliminated furlough days instead, all faculty members would get almost 5 percent of their salary back, which includes the 2.5 percent salary cut.
“Clearly the simple solution … would have been to restore pay,” Werth said. “There will be certain people who will get nothing as a result of [reinstating merit pay] and still get pay reduction that is the furloughs.”
Carlton said that restoring merit pay before eliminating furlough days was pushed by Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education.
“I believe all state employees should be treated equally,” she said. “I’m a little concerned that people in certain groups are getting merit raises and others are not.”
Klaich denied Carlton’s claim, stating that restoring the salary cut, eliminating furlough days and bringing back merit pay were all equally important to the NSHE Board of Regents and him.
“All were priorities of the [Board of Regents], and yet we understood the Legislature had limited funds to meet this request,” Klaich said in an email response to Carlton’s claim.
Still, Klaich said lifting the suspension on merit pay could only be positive.
“I think [merit pay] is a critical factor in the recruitment and retention of faculty which is the heart of the university,” he said.
Assemblyman Andy Eisen said the Legislature felt that restoring merit pay would be more beneficial for faculty.
“The feeling was if we could give the money back in the pockets of faculty, they can do something with it,” he said. “At least with furloughs, you can get a day off.”
Eisen added that the Legislature only had funds available to bring back merit pay. He said eliminating furlough days would have been costly to the state.
“Ultimately, there’s only so many dollars and we are bound by law to balance the budget,” Eisen said.
Because of the funding limits, the state Legislature decided rewarding faculty who have performed exceptionally was the best choice.
“The people who have really taken those hits over the years and stuck with the institution and stayed there … deserved to be attended first,” Eisen said.
But Werth says restoring merit pay has put UNLV in a critical position. The university must come up with a process by January on how to decide who deserves merit pay.
“I think it makes the administration of those merit increases a little more complicated,” Werth said. “It will take more time doing that.”
Klaich said that although furlough days still remain, Nevada is heading in the right direction because no cuts were made to higher education in the past legislative session.
“I feel like we turned the corner,” Klaich said. “For a period of time we were almost in budgetary freefall. I think in the last session … we stopped the bleeding.”
Werth is less enthusiastic.
“Why [the legislature] would do it in that fashion, I can speculate but quite honestly I don’t know,” he said. “But it’s their act and we have to deal with the consequences now.”
Contact Julie Ann Formoso at [email protected]