UT System regents approve incentive pay plan
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Presidents at the University of Texas System's 15 campuses will be able to earn bonuses for increased graduation rates or donation hikes under an incentive plan approved Thursday that's more commonly seen in the corporate world than the academic one.
The Board of Regents voted to begin implementing the pay-for-performance initiative, which calls for university leaders to be eligible to earn an additional 10 percent on top of their base salaries if they meet certain goals. Officials now have 60 days to figure out the details.
The plan would also offer bonuses to all three of the system's executive vice chancellors and its six vice chancellors. The Board of Regents chancellor and general consul may also be eligible to participate.
Describing the plan a day before the vote, Scott Kelley, the system's executive vice chancellor for business affairs, said offering monetary incentives tied to on-the-job performance was common among businesses but less so at universities — though the UT Medical Branch at Galveston is already using similar performance-based initiatives.
Presidents would be eligible if their universities can increase four-year graduation rates or philanthropic giving rates. Other goals include the ability to attract more sponsored research grants and implement certain cost-cutting measures.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry has been a vocal supporter of increasing accountability in higher education across the state. A spokeswoman for his office, Lucy Nashed, said Thursday that "the governor supports the concept of incentive pay."
"It creates a climate of people doing their best," Nashed said. "He's all for institutions doing that."
Others have criticized the plan as part of the UT system's increased focus on business-oriented approaches to education, including ongoing efforts to more closely scrutinize faculty productivity by measuring class sizes and the number of research grants awarded.
"There appears to be a heavy emphasis on quantification," said Gordon Appleman, a prominent Fort Worth attorney and longtime advocate for the system's flagship Austin campus.
"There's a lot of stuff about education and quality and excellence that's difficult to quantify," said Appleman, who is on the operating committee of the nonprofit Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education. "Metrics are good where they apply and where they are meaningful. That doesn't mean that everything can be statistically, numerically scaled."
Running universities more like businesses can be a positive thing, Appleman said, but such efforts have to be tailored to individual campuses to ensure that education quality and academic reputation don't suffer.
He also expressed concern about "an atmosphere of top-down, rather than bottom-up decision-making."
Others worry about a potential conflict of interest. Presidents and other top university officials are already instrumental in fundraising efforts and critics say they now stand to benefit financially from activities that were already part of their jobs. Also, grade inflation or making curriculums less strenuous to ensure graduation rates don't slip might become more-prevalent.
Nashed said, "Those are things that the institutions need to address individually."
"You can't have innovation or improvement anywhere if you never try anything new," she said. "With any reforms in higher education, the point is, 'Where can we be trying new things to see what works?'"