Vote Results & Discussion: MoA Outstanding Performance Award (OPA) Changes

David Porreca, FAUW president

This week’s post features the results from the poll FAUW conducted at the beginning of the month to do with the proposed changes to the Memorandum of Agreement’s clauses relating to the OPAs.  Please see the previous post for more discussion.

The Results

The changes passed by an overwhelming majority:

Declined 4
No 47
Yes 283

Follow-up Issues

In the course of answering questions relating to the vote, a number of larger-scale issues and concerns have come up.

Firstly, the optics from the perspective of the average Ontario citizen of having professors who already receive merit pay increases award themselves yet further bonuses may not be the best thing for the university’s reputation in the current political climate.  That said, the results of the provincial election indicate that this fear may be overblown.  Moreover, since the OPAs are drawn from the merit pool itself, they do not represent extra bonuses, but rather an in-principle meritocratic redistribution of said increases.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly from a broader perspective, does the merit system of increases we have do the job it’s supposed to do?  Does the productivity that it’s supposed to encourage actually manifest?  Do the professional antagonisms, time consumed in the evaluation process itself, as well as in any appeals that result, represent a net positive for the university’s operations?

I would encourage each of you to think about these questions and contact FAUW with any thoughts or reactions.  We may even conduct a formal poll of our members to find out what they think about these questions.

Memorandum of Agreement – Article 13.3.3(e) Changes Explained + Q&A

UPDATED Q&A (30-May-14)

David Porreca, FAUW President

On Monday, the Faculty Association circulated an e-mail that lays out the changes in wording to the Memorandum of Agreement we have discussed both at the FAUW Board of Directors and at the Faculty Relations Committee over the past few months.  This blog post is intended to a) explain more fully the reasoning behind the changes, and b) to respond to some of the questions and feedback that we have received since the message went out.

Why the changes?

Concerns had been expressed to the Faculty Association that the Outstanding Performance Awards (OPAs) in some faculties were being given to reward individuals who hold higher-level administrative positions (e.g., chairs of large departments, associate deans) rather than for their originally intended purpose to reward outstanding researchers and teachers.

Since service is one of the components of our job as faculty members, it made sense to us that rewarding truly exceptional service should still happen, while avoiding the potential for a systemic over-rewarding of administrators who are already well-compensated for their job.  That is why the new wording of Article 13.3.3(e) carefully ascribes a maximum of 20% of the OPAs granted in any given faculty and year be granted for service.

Moreover, outstanding service in non-administrative capacities can now be adequately rewarded under this new wording, which was not possible before.

The choice of 20% corresponds to the usual proportion of our duties dedicated to service.

Q&A

Q. So how exactly will these stars be identified?

A. This is a question that is more properly directed to each individual Dean.  The MoA article specifies that “Members in each Faculty unit (department or school) whose annual performance rating for the current year is within the top twenty percent of ratings within the unit may be considered for a special permanent salary increase.”  Departmental merit evaluation committees are responsible for assigning merit ratings, and from there the process is in the Dean’s hands.  By specifying a maximum of 20% of awards going toward ‘Service’, we minimize the potential for a buddy-administrator reward system, and allocate the large majority of the OPA funds to their intended purpose: to reward excellent teaching and research.

Q. Will there be a clear distinction as to what type of award is being given (i.e., whether it’s teaching/research or whether it’s service)?

A. At the moment, there is no provision for specifying the reason for each award, but it is certainly something that we can quite reasonably request for the sake of transparency.

Q. Does anyone receive this award for outstanding teaching?

A. There is no provision for separating teaching from research in the determination of the OPAs, and the original intent was to reward those who do both outstandingly well.  The only specification we have now added is that up to 20% of the awards can now be for service.  It was never really clear in the past why each individual received an OPA.  By scanning the list of OPA recipients from 2013, you can form your own opinion as to the rationale behind those names chosen.  As was mentioned above, it will be important for the transparency of the process that those receiving an OPA in the future be identified as receiving it for outstanding service or research + teaching.

Q. Aren’t OPAs based on overall performance?

A. No, they were originally intended to reward outstanding teaching and research, with no mention of service at all.  Over the years, however, it became clear that at least some of the recipients had been primarily involved in administrative tasks.  In order both restore the original intent of the OPAs and to create a mechanism whereby outstanding service can be recognized, the proposed changes are being put forward.

Q. How does this change to the MoA intersect with FAUW’s concerns over the document defining the standards for a 1.25 merit rating in the Faculty of Arts?

A. The two issues are only tangentially related, since the document defining the standards for 1.25 in service has as its intended audience individual departments’ merit evaluation committees, while the MoA article is meant to govern how deans handle the distribution of OPAs after the departmental evaluation committees have completed their work.

Q. If Deans have not followed the existing rules such that these changes to the MoA are needed (i.e., giving OPAs for service when they’ve not been meant for service at all), then what guarantee do we have that they will follow the rules limiting 20% of these awards for service? 

A. Alas, there is no perfect system, and there are no 100% guarantees. It’s our hope that the added transparency of having the reasons for each award published along with the recipients’ names will generate enough potential for opprobrium that abuse of the system will become rarer or, ideally, be eliminated altogether.

What is the Merit of Merit?

David Porreca, FAUW President
This post owes its origin to a discussion we had both at the last FAUW Board meeting and a subsequent e-mail conversation among Board members. Essentially, the question boils down to asking whether all of the effort expended on the annual assessment of merit for faculty members provides a net benefit of productivity for all the relevant stakeholders: individual faculty members, our university as an institution, and academia writ large? 
In other words, what purpose does our current scheme of merit evaluations serve?

Just a few years ago, FAUW and the university’s administration undertook a review of the faculty evaluation process, and decided to maintain the broad structure of our current scheme of performance evaluations while encouraging department chairs to use “the full dynamic range” of designations from 0 to 2, in 0.25 increments.  Data regarding the distribution of merit scores is provided in the appendices to the Work-Life Balance Report that was released earlier this year.  Salary increments based on merit are drawn from a different pool of money than the scale increase that FAUW negotiates on its members’ behalf. 
As we all know, this process of annual merit evaluations involves a substantial amount of effort from faculty members filling in forms and templates every January.  As anyone who has been department chair or who has contributed to a departmental evaluation committee knows all too well, those templates and CVs are only the beginning.  An unquantified number of very expensive hours gets invested annually in the evaluating, assessing, comparing and ranking of these materials once submitted, and the resulting evaluation rankings get yet another round of assessment and vetting at the various Deans’ offices across campus. 
As one might expect under circumstances where professionals are judged against each other, considerations of fairness on the one hand, and of inevitable professional jealousy on the other, create fertile ground for the questioning of the resulting evaluations.  A member must determine whether s/he has the wherewithal to challenge the chair’s decision, perhaps as far as an appeal to the Dean, and such an appeal would involve an investment of working hours for all concerned, faculty, academic administrators and staff. 
In addition to these resource-consuming mechanisms mandated by policy and the Memorandum of Agreement, there is also the human angle of productivity loss due to the mental anguish that fretting over this forest of procedures causes.
Considering all of the above, does the net difference between an evaluation score of 1.5 vs. 1.75 on a professor’s salary justify the investment of human capital into all the mechanisms described above?  In a nutshell, it would seem that never has so much time been invested for the sake of so small a net difference. 

ON THE OTHER HAND…

If one compounds that difference over a professor’s whole career, the differences do add up.  Annual performance evaluations are essential for a university with high aspirations.
They serve the role of both carrot and stick.
In principle, they reward those faculty members who, by virtue of having more talent or working harder, accomplish more as teachers, researchers and administrative colleagues. These people expect and deserve better raises in recognition of their accomplishments.
At the same time, evaluations serve as a reminder to the lazier side of our nature that we
should be making strong contributions as researchers, teachers and administrative colleagues.  Despite what we like to believe about ourselves, we are not solely driven from within to be good professors. We need help from knowing that some sort of annual accounting has to be provided.
No system of performance evaluation can be perfect.  Given our human nature, a perfect system for doing such business is not possible.  All that an institution can do is try its best, and continue to seek improvements towards fair outcomes.  But “fair” is a tough target to hit in this endeavor, and there is no getting around it.