Concerns raised on MU proposal

Some faculty fear incentive-compensation guidelines may affect educational mission
Tuesday, February 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:06 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

With MU’s development of guidelines for incentive compensation, some faculty fear individuals will be enticed to increase their pay by fee-for-service activities — resulting in less emphasis on their educational mission.

“This is changing the way we do business here,” said Faculty Council member Eddie Adelstein, associate professor of pathology.

These proposed incentive guidelines are in the hands of MU administrators, said Gordon Christensen, chairman of the Faculty Council. Although administrators are seeking input from the council, Christensen said, the administration has the power to do what it wants and can implement the changes at any time.

Incentive compensation concerns the division of revenues made from fee-for-service activities between the faculty involved in the service and the university, which provides some of the resources used.

The establishment of guidelines for compensating faculty members for their work might motivate other professors across campus to seek ways to conduct fee-for-service activities to generate more money, said Adelstein, who opposes incentive compensation. For example, he said, the pathology department could open private labs in town, entering a corporate setting, to produce sizable bonuses through the incentives.

The guidelines were produced in response to faculty concerns of unfairness in the incentive-compensation arrangement between the university and faculty members involved in the Research Animal Diagnostic Laboratory, commonly referred to as RADIL, said Charles Sampson, chairman of the Faculty Council’s fiscal affairs committee.

Housed in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, RADIL contracts with organizations in the government and private sector to test laboratory animals so they are prepared for research, such as pharmaceutical studies. Six MU researchers received bonuses totaling $1.1 million from revenues generated during fiscal 2003, according to previous news reports.

“This is a product of the university becoming more corporate — instead of state-funded,” Christensen said.

The guidelines for future incentive plans provide a transparent process involving all stakeholders and require periodic extensive review of the plan so changes can be made if the fee-for-service activity, or the plan itself, does not benefit the university community.

Christensen said the current incentive plan for RADIL was formed in secret, producing hard feelings in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Chancellor Brady Deaton, who favors incentive compensation, said MU faculty salaries are not near the median in the Association of American Universities. Deaton said incentives are “vitally important for us to ensure the competitive edge to keep some of our top faculty and staff.”

“We’re very vulnerable to having some of our best people picked off and hired away,” Deaton said.

The new incentive plan set for RADIL will remain the same except for a slight decrease in compensation, said Pat Morton, adviser to the provost. When bonuses that are more than a professor’s annual salary are involved, there can be significant motivation for other professors to consider the same corporate route.

Deaton said that when a faculty member’s incentive program is proposed, it needs to meet the criteria of benefiting the university community before it can be implemented.

“There’s nothing I would fear more in the long run than if we established an incentive system that started pulling apart that sense of community and scholarship and learning that’s critical to a successful institution of higher education,” Deaton said. “In no way do we have incentives for faculty to go out on their own looking for incentives — they would probably fail miserably if that approach were taken.”

Although implementation of the change in guidelines appears almost certain at MU, no firm start date has been set. Christensen said this plan is just for MU right now, but he is confident it will extend to the system in the future.

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