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Triennial salary reviews

For those not familiar with Grinnell’s salary process, Grinnell sufficiently embraces faculty governance that faculty, rather than administrators, recommend faculty raises. It used to be that the Faculty Salary Committee, consisting of the chair of the faculty and the chairs of the three divisions, would review a report from every tenured faculty member every year. That’s a lot of work for some of our more important faculty. A while ago, we moved to a triennial review system for tenured faculty. That is, rather than being reviewed every year, we are reviewed every three years.

The process was also supposed to have broader impact. For example, we are asked to reflect on our teaching, scholarly, and service goals for the next three years. If I recall correctly, one original plan was that we would describe which of those areas would get additional focus during the upcoming three-year period and our next review would take that into account. We didn’t quite end up with that, but there is now a bit of a slush factor that takes something similar into account.

In any case, every three years each tenured faculty member downloads a report from Sedona and then writes a few short essays. The report includes our service, publications, list of courses taught, and whatever else we’ve entered in the system. We write one or two paragraphs each on teaching, scholarship, and service. We add some notes about contributions to diversity [1] and about long-term needs [2]. We also annotate our service activities with short descriptions and approximate time commitments. This year, we also have a new section about contributions to student research opportunities. Oh, and there’s a section for anything else [3].

Our department chair or designated substitute then adds a paragraph or two in each of the three primary categories [4]. The chair forwards the updated report and a current curriculum vitae to the Dean’s office, which forwards it to the committee.

The committee [5] then uses a rubric [6] to assign a score between 0 and 5 to each of the three primary categories: teaching, scholarship, and service. They then multiply teaching by .45, scholarship by .25, service by .20, and the highest score by .10. They add the numbers together, round to the nearest 0.5, and voila!, we have a number that represents the faculty member.s value to the College [7].

The current rubric has been in place since 2013–14. When I was on the Faculty Salary Committee [8], a few things were different. We rounded to the nearest whole number, rather than half number. I think the more careful rounding is appropriate. Before I was on the committee, we did not have access to end-of-course evaluations. I helped lead a charge to give the committee access to limited information from those evaluations with the understanding that the information would be read in the context of appropriate comparative data [9]. I even ran statistical tests to see whether or not faculty could reasonably be considered positive or negative outliers. Given the data, I suggested that we use only a three-point scale for teaching, since the vast majority of EOCEs are not statistically different than the average. I lost that battle. I think we also introduced the extra multiplier for the highest score.

Whoops. I’m not sure we needed that historical digression, but I’m leaving it in anyway. Once all the numbers are gathered and the Faculty Salary Committee has heard from the College Budget Committee about the salary pool, the numbers are converted into raises. In some years, each point is worth some fixed amount [10,11]. In other years, it becomes a percentage raise [12]. Both kinds of raises are over and above some base raise, usually about cost of living.

At some point in the spring, we get a letter from the Dean’s office that summarizes the committee discussions and that gives us our score and raise.

The Faculty Handbook indicates that

The Dean invites each faculty member who has had a salary review, to meet and discuss review results as well as the faculty member’s professional goals and plans for the three-year period that will be evaluated in the next review. [Faculty Handbook, revision of 2017-04-18, p. 22]

When Dean Latham joined the College, he raised the question of whether meeting with fifty or so faculty members each year was a good use of his time. Executive Council agreed that his concern was reasonable. Hence, the current recommendations are that

After the review, faculty members who have been reviewed should consider what sort of meetings would be most helpful for their own faculty development. This might include working with the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, the Grants Office, Academic Technology Specialists, Librarians, or the Dean’s Office. The Dean is available to meet with any faculty member under review by request. [Guidelines for Faculty Salary Reviews, revision of 2017-07-19, p. 2]

I must admit that I consider it important for my supervisor to understand what my job is and what I have accomplished. Certainly, my post-review meetings with Jim Swartz and Paula Smith provided important feedback on my work.

What else should you know? Let’s see. There is a group of faculty that is concerned that the process does not appropriately take into account works that appear immediately after the review period [14]. There is a group of faculty (one that includes me) that believes that merit scores are a flawed concept. Grinnell has a strong faculty. A process that tells half of these strong faculty that they are below average (since they get a below average merit score) is not a good way to build faculty morale [15,16].

Congratulations. You now know more than you needed to about the salary review process at Grinnell. At least you have context for my musings about my own review.

[1] If we’ve entered things appropriately in Sedona, they appear here naturally. I’m never sure whether or not I’m supposed to add anything.

[2] At least I think we do. The needs statements are part of our annual Faculty Activities Reports (FARs) and get added to the end of the salary report. I generally condense them to a single one.

[3] Traditionally, I don’t put anything in this section. But this year I’m writing about my roles as campus curmudgeon and author of these musings. I’ll probably share somewhat edited versions of those.

[4] I suppose they could add comments elsewhere, but there aren’t explicit prompts.

[5] To be more precise, I should note that while the Faculty Salary Committee reviews most tenured faculty, the Faculty Personnel Committee assigns scores to faculty up for complete review or promotion. But they use the same rubric and process.

[6] Since the rubric is on GrinCo, it is likely available only to people at Grinnell.

[7] I admit that that last comment was a bit sarcastic. I actually think it’s basically the best process we can have, particularly given that there is an option to handle special circumstances differently.

[8] Yes, terrifyingly enough, I was elected Chair of the Science Division about a decade ago.

[9] If I recall correctly, we decided that there were about fifteen categories of comparative data: 100, 200, and 300 level courses for each of science, social studies, foreign language, arts/music, and other humanities. It’s clear that end-of-course evaluations are different in different kinds of courses and different levels of courses, so those numbers are important.

[10] A fixed-dollar value per merit point gives newer faculty higher-percentage raises and more-senior faculty lower-percentage raises. Too many years of this approach created some problems for full-professor salaries.

[11] One of the years I was on the Faculty Salary Committee, the calculation came out to about $365 per point. I liked the point that made of a merit point is worth $1/day, but others decided that that approach was inappropriate.

[12] A percentage value per merit point gives more-senior faculty more money per percentage point. Some question the fairness to the newer faculty.

[14] For example, Three more years is a long time to wait to see a benefit from the book you’ve just published.

[15] We’ve lost that battle.

[16] Most of the people I know on the no merit scores side are actually people with higher merit scores.

Version 1.0 of 2017-10-22.