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The Fraser Institute

University professors need incentive-based pay


Rodney A. Clifton, Ph.D., University of Manitoba,
Telephone (204) 474-9625, Email:

Hymie Rubenstein, Ph.D., University of Manitoba,
Telephone (204) 474-9396, Email:

For Release: 4 February 2002

WINNIPEG, MB— Universities should evaluate teaching and scholarly output on the basis of performance, rather than on the existing tenure system, says a new paper, Collegial Models for Enhancing the Performance of University Professors, published by The Fraser Institute and released today.

As Canadian universities restructure to meet the demands of tight financial resources and higher societal expectation, they must pay more attention to the system-wide provision of high-quality teaching and the production of high-quality scholarship. A major problem facing senior administrators is how to enhance the teaching and scholarly performance of existing tenured professors, especially those who are judged to be inadequate.

"We propose a system in which departments, rather than individual faculty members, would be judged using readily-available and easily interpreted data on teaching and scholarship, ensuring that the allocation of rewards would be fairer and more transparent," says Professor Rodney Clifton, an academic from the University of Manitoba and co-author of the paper.

Rewards should be based on clearly-defined objectives and meaningful incentives so that departmental faculty members would be obligated to work together to achieve those objectives.

The number of functions universities have come to value has expanded and, to some degree, the emphasis on teaching and scholarship has been diluted. Student leaders at many Canadian universities are calling for improvements in teaching in both classrooms and laboratories.

Besieged from without and from within, universities are slowly, often reluctantly, paying more attention to the quality of teaching that undergraduate students receive.

"The lack of published evidence on the performance of faculty members is a reflection of the fact that few university administrators are willing, or able, to punish those who do not teach well or who do not engage in significant scholarly activity," says Clifton.

"Simply put, professors experience few, if any, positive or negative consequences for their indifference to the performance, good or bad, of their colleagues. In turn senior administrators have been unable or unwilling to reform the existing system of incentives to focus the attention of professors on a relatively few, clearly stated objectives in teaching and scholarship," says Professor Hymie Rubenstein, the other co-author of the paper and also an academic at the University of Manitoba. "Moreover, senior administrators seem unaware of the existence of, or unwilling to implement, incentive procedures to achieve greater cooperative behavior from their faculty members," he continues.

Good scholars and teachers who are independently motivated and cooperative would flourish under this system; academic underachievers who need the formal encouragement of their colleagues, the academic equivalent of 'the carrot and the stick,' would boost their performance. Conversely, as in other workplaces, some poor performers, who adversely affect the well-being of their departments, would likely resign when their behaviour was subject to ongoing rebuke from concerned colleagues.

In conjunction with this new incentive-based system, the authors suggest a number of additional policies including changes to the student course withdrawal dates, rewarding teaching units for increasing their graduation rates (while not decreasing the standards required from students), and ensuring that the best professors in poor departments do not break away to form new "super" departments.

"Incentive-based performance is not a radical idea. Our argument is that collegial performance-based reward systems are much more likely to enhance the quality of our universities than the needs-based reward systems that are currently in place," concludes Clifton.


Established in 1974, The Fraser Institute is an independent public policy organization based in Vancouver with offices in Calgary and Toronto.