Bonuses at Kent State

by Harry on September 5, 2008

A Chronicle story, annoyingly behind a paywall, here. The gist:

Kent State University is trying a new and unusual tactic to improve its
status, retention rate, and fund raising—paying cash bonuses to
faculty members if the university exceeds its goals in those areas.
The bonuses are built into a contract, approved last month, that covers
864 full-time, tenure-track faculty members who teach and do research on
the university’s eight campuses. Proposed by Lester A. Lefton, Kent
State’s president, the “success bonus pool” will be divided among
faculty members if the Ohio institution improves retention rates for
first-year students and increases the research dollars it generates and
the private money raised through its foundation.

To key things. The bonuses don’t replace regular pay, and merit increases. Nor does it look as if they will be unequally distributed: it seems that the plan is to distribute them equally among the faculty. The faculty reps seem happy enough with this, as they would be. There’s no word about whether the academic staff and adjuncts are included in the plan; and I just assume that the rest of the workforce, many of whom have the kinds of interactions with students that make a big difference to whether they stay or dont stay, are not included, but I’d like to learn that I’m wrong about that.



matt m 09.05.08 at 5:09 pm

I like the idea of creating new ways for faculty to participate more fully in some of the core functions of the University. One of the better ways Universities are successful in recruiting, retention and fundraising is by increasing faculty participation in these activities. But I wonder whether this would interfere with the ever-increasing demands on research by faculty.

While Kent State says they will reward those who bring in more external funding/grants among other things, and this program will also incentivize participation in the greater University community, it will reduce the amount of time committed to faculty research. Is there is enough money at stake to motivate faculty who are already be pressed for time? The share available to faculty seems too low to warrant widespread participation.


otto 09.05.08 at 8:46 pm

Surely things like overall retention rates are effectively public goods as far as individual faculty are concerned, regardless of the contingent financial incentive.


jim 09.05.08 at 9:53 pm

How many of the 864 full-time tenure track faculty actually teach freshmen? Does the Chronicle tell us?


Slocum 09.05.08 at 10:14 pm

Sounds like an ineffective (if egalitarian) proposal. That has been my experience with revenue-sharing plans — the effect of one’s own efforts on the success of the enterprise as a whole is invariably lost in the noise (and so is the added incentive).


Zamfir 09.06.08 at 11:20 am

I used to have a student at the local IKEA, and they had the same system: a large yearly bonus based on a range of metrics for the overall store. Everything was written out on a very large board near the canteen, so that everyone could see everyday how the bonus was going.

As Slocum notices, there was no way how an indivdual could make an impact on the numbers, but the company still took it very serious. IKEA is large enough to experiment around with these kinds of things, so I think it must have worked.

My theory was that the point was not to make individuals really work harder, but more to create a feeling of connection between the people and the well-being of the store. If you have a lot of low-status, generic jobs, such a connect is not a given.

But I really doubt that this would have much effect for academics.

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