Merit pay cut plan faulted

The UNLV Faculty Senate chairman on Friday criticized a plan by university officials to cut merit pay in half and delay paying it to faculty in the next fiscal year.

"I think a delay like that will really penalize our highest-performing faculty," University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Bryan Spangelo said. "It would be a detrimental message to our overall outcome as a research campus."

The leadership of the university system's four colleges, two universities and the Desert Research Institute released plans Thursday to deal with 4.5 percent budget cuts mandated by Gov. Jim Gibbons. The governor said the cuts are needed because of less-than-anticipated tax revenues.

Included in those plans was the option to alter merit pay for faculty and administrators for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Faculty who earned merit pay would not receive it for the first six months of the year. They would receive half of it in the second half of the fiscal year.

Their total awarded merit pay would still be rolled into their base salary for following years.

The Board of Regents will hear the proposal by college and university presidents at UNLV on Monday.

Unlike Spangelo, some faculty leaders in Nevada see delaying merit pay for six months as a necessary evil in tough financial times.

"We felt like it was a way for us to make a contribution to the effort to address the budget cuts," said University of Nevada, Reno Faculty Senate Chairman Stephen Rock.

Rock and College of Southern Nevada Faculty Senate Chairwoman Judy Stewart see it as an obligation when, under the budget cut plans, students at the two respective institutions would have to pay additional fees.

"Students are doing their part, and I think faculty feel they need to do their part, too," Stewart said.

Officials at UNLV and Nevada State College aren't proposing fee increases for students.

Spangelo said another reason UNLV faculty oppose the merit pay cut is because it unfairly punishes the top-performing faculty. Faculty who haven't earned merit pay won't have to do any similar belt-tightening.

Merit pay, awarded by UNLV department heads on faculty members' previous year's teaching, research and service accomplishments, is particularly valuable for young, hardworking professors who don't earn as much as their tenured peers, Spangelo said.

Between 50 percent and 60 percent of faculty at UNLV earn merit pay, Spangelo estimated.

Faculty can earn up to $4,500 per year in merit pay, although the number of faculty receiving the maximum amount is "very small," Rock said.

University system Executive Vice Chancellor Dan Klaich said Spangelo's argument could be justified, but that difficult financial times call for difficult measures.

"Those are the exact same faculty who benefit the most of the upside by getting the full benefits of the merit pay when things are good," he said.

University system administration will also have their merit pay cut in half and delayed, Klaich said.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at or (702) 383-0440.