Saturday, October 10, 2009

Blind Salarying

CeleryIt annoys me when people create new verbs like the radio ad we have down here announcing the dealership is "clearancing." But now I have my own -- salarying, which means making decisions about salaries.

At my school we blind grade which does not mean we cannot see the papers but that we do not know whose they are. The idea is that you might be inclined -- consciously or unconsciously to grade some agreeable people higher and others lower. And then there is the halo effect that may influence the grade you give someone who was really great in class but did not do so well on the exam.

If you think law school Deans are unaffected by personal views and halo effects, you are asking too much and I have some swamp land for sale in Forida. Thus, shouldn't law schools consider blind salarying? There is a difference, though, between deans and graders. Deans are closer to elected officials than most other professionals I know of. For elected officials the first priority is to do what is necessary to keep the job or, in deanspeak, not have a "failed deanship." In the "what is necessary" department I have seen some doozies including the world record one that was in this very sentence until my better judgment, in one of its rare appearances, said "Don't do it."

Blind salarying would mean salaries would be based on an objective assessment of productivity. I don't think that could be achieved by blotting off the names on yearly reports because Deans -- unlike faculty grading papers -- will know who did what. So, the blind grading should be done by a third party -- say a special committee of the AALS that analyzes faculty performance from each school each year and files a report -- almost like a big arbitration but there are are no "sides."

I fear some readers may not know that I realize this is unworkable. In the last AALS listing that included a category for Objective Law Professors there were only 27 entries and that was in 1955. Can you imagine what would happen today with blind salarying. The quality of work would depend largely on whether the reviewer agreed (as it probably did in 1955).

Aside from the objectivity matter, how would we define productivity? Here this a little more hope because we could at least agree on what it is not. There would be no correlation between salary and:

1. Unquestioning loyalty to the dean whether in the form of formal membership in the administration or cheer leading.

2. Threats to leave when one has tried and can not scare up an offer.

3. Threats to leave that the dean feels would make him or her look bad. This is very different from a departure that would actually damage the law school.

4. Never having uttered a public word in opposition to the dean.

5. Whining, butt-kissing and office visits to the dean. In fact salaries would be inversely related to the amount of time in the dean's office or on the phone with the dean.

6. Ingratiating efforts in the form of "advising" the dean on what is really going on with the faculty that she should know about not because she needs to know but because you want her to know you are on her side. Yes, I am talking about the self-appointed confidants.

7. Complaining about how overworked you are. On this I have a story. One semester a few first year teachers were asked to teach two 4 credit sections of the same course in the same semester. So, 8 hours in the semester. I did it and and I have to confess it was the easiest teaching load I ever hand. Eight of my 9 hour yearly teaching load (actually 10 that year) was taken care of with one preparation that I had done for years. The howling in the halls from others was deafening and you can bet the Dean was reminded every week of how they were going beyond what is expected. Of course, maybe they were craftier than I think and they were pulling the old "briar patch" trick.

8. Race, gender or sexual preference.

Maybe I have this all wrong and what we need is not blind salarying but X ray salarying. Here the dean would be required not simply to assess what the faculty member does that is obvious but what good and bad things actually go on. Is the faculty member a constant source of stress by virtue of gossip, exaggerations, and unwanted office visits? Very often the ingratiator is also a stress producer because he is so self absorbed he is not content to let the teaching and writing speak for itself.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Jeff--first off, your posts always intrigue me, and this one's no exception. Re salaries and what a dean should know about what faculty members do in terms of earning their salaries: one of my biggest frustrations when I was a dean was that I could only know what faculty members told me, either in the hallways or in their annual reports. Yet often people didn't take the annual reports seriously and were still affronted when I didn't "understand" how much they'd done during the year.

Now that I'm a faculty member again (and it is SO fun to be a law professor!!!), I find myself so busy that I can see why folks hated filling out the annual reports. Still, though, a dean is busy putting out fires and can't possibly know everything that everyone is doing. Even if the dean is keeping up during the year w/what faculty members are producing, it's still more fair to put all of the info into reports that can be used for comparison purposes at salary-setting time. (Do people still get raises???)

The fact remains that being a law prof is one of the best jobs in the world, at least post-tenure. Virtual freedom to read what you want, write what you want, teach (almost always) what you want, and with very few "hard" deadlines bothering you.

During my first year here at UNLV, I caught myself complaining to the dean about how busy I was; then I remembered what my decanal schedule was like, and I swore I'd never make THAT mistake again.


10/12/2009 4:45 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I wanna say "Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population." car dealer fraud lawyer

10/13/2009 4:40 AM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...

"9. Indirect suggestions that one is more virtuous than one's colleagues."

Seriously, isn't the problem not stating what should *not* be relevant, but rather stating what *should* be?

This problem looms especially large because this is not just "blind salarying" akin to blind grading -- here you are choosing a different grader altogether, and you need even clearer principles to constrain the delegation.

10/14/2009 2:29 PM  
Blogger The Mousetrap said...

Instead of replacing the Dean with a blind committee for salarying, Why not let the students determine faculty salaries? After all, the students are the primary consumer of faculty services with the greatest economic stake in faculty productivity. This makes the students the most objective arbiters of faculty value.

With students in control of faculty salaries some interesting and positive reinforcing dynamics may com into play. Faculty who are responsive to student learning needs would be compensated for their responsiveness. Faculty who are unresponsive to student learning needs would immediately feel the pinch of small or insignificant pay raises.

Faculty who fail to contribute to the school’s reputation would also eventually feel the pinch as students reallocate the school’s limited salary funds to attract and compensate faculty members that improve the school’s reputation. After all, a good school pedigree does make a salarying difference in the marketplace.

Over time, I suggest, students will choose to allocate limited funds to maximize the value of their legal education.

Hmmm - A good legal education, Isn’t that what Law School is all about?

10/14/2009 6:56 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Nancy, Thanks for taking the time. Here are some responses. Raises? Not here, but from time to time there are rumors that it is possible for the Dean to make a special plea for money to address and inequity or to keep someone from leaving. Plus we have a truly insane University raise possibility every 7 years that depends on the dean's ranking. I think the dean even dislikes it because people are awarded 9% or 0%. So a person ranked one molecule short of the person ranking ahead of him or her is a 0.

Of course rankings and inequities are in the eyes of the beholders and I would prefer the decision to be made by a person who has nothing riding with respect to his or her personal interests on the response to the ranking. I doubt any dean fits this so then the question is: Knowing that something is riding on it, do you have the guts to do the right thing or do you go with the thing that is more comfortable personally? That is the measure of the character of a dean. I will not get into how many measure up.

I actually appreciate the forms as a bit of a leveler. Ideally it means the dean can have a basis of comparison independent of office visits and self appointed confidants. Of course a dean needs to know how to interpret the forms and needs to go by that interpretation. If someone reports 5 coauthored articles is that the same as 4 single authored pieces? Is a 50 article on a topic the person has written on 5 times before as important as as a 35 page article that really reflects new research?

Note to Mousetrap. Not a bad idea but I would allow at least 5 years to pass after graduation before asking. When they are students, students have very little to go on with respect to what they need.

Note to Ani: I was so worried you would not comment but you came through. Thanks. Ideally, your are right but I think at an initial level we would get more consensus on what should not could (but often does).

10/14/2009 9:15 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Sorry, Ani, I meant "not count."

10/14/2009 9:17 PM  
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10/19/2009 5:16 PM  

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