Thursday, January 19, 2006

Changing the Incentives (from Inside higher Ed)

My school is hiring this year, and we were just lamenting the fact that the salary we'll be offering is a bit below market levels. So, the discussion ended up focusing on what else we could offer - reduced teaching load for the first year or two, fewer preps (for non-academics, a "prep" is a course you must prepare for. So, if you teach two sections of the same class, it would be only one prep), and so on. The chair's initial response was, "We can't do that" (that's her response to most things, but that's a story for another time).

Inside Higher Ed has an article that's directly relevant to this point. It sounds like Duke has realized that different people want different things (news flash, there). They're examining a proposal geared towards faculty that take on administrative duties (like department chair, or other administrative duties), but the principle could easily be expanded to many other issues. In case you're not aware, taking on administrative duties often comes with a reduced teaching load. But, here's what Duke is considering instead:
A faculty committee proposed a system recently adopted by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, which has 600 faculty members, to create a menu of rewards. A reduced teaching load would still be an option. But a professor might also choose extra money for a laboratory, a travel fund to visit a far-off archive without having to spend time applying for a grant, or just extra cash.
Read the whole thing here.

IMO, the system could be expanded to things other than taking on administrative duties. In the Duke case, they noted that some administrated faculties wanted to keep teaching, so the reduction in teaching load wasn't that valuable to them. For them, extra cash might be preferable. For others, a better travel budget might be the appropriate carrot. The point is that people have different preferences, and a "one size fits all" solution invariably doesn't fit too many people that well.

Jeff Cornwall recently wrote a piece on staffing difficulties faced by smaller companies. His key point was that flexibility was key - take the time to find out what people really want, and you may find that it's often not all about the money.

Unfortunately, being flexible and entrepreneurial is an approach that dosen't come easily to most academics (and even less often to academic administrators).

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