Career Advancement Plan (CPI, Merit, PSA):
Money We Can Count On?
UBC’s Career Advancement Plan includes both seniority-based salary increments and merit-based salary awards. The former are called Career Progress Increments (CPIs), and the latter comprise two different types of awards, Merit and Performance Salary Adjustment (PSA). Members who want to understand the Career Advancement Plan in more detail should read our blog entitled “UBC’s Career Advancement Plan Salary Structure Explained,” published on May 25 2010.
The plan has been in place since at least 1976 and it has evolved over time, reaching its current structure in the 1997-1998 Agreement. Since that time the Agreement has stipulated that three pools of money should be established, each based on the total salaries of all members of the bargaining unit except for Sessional Lecturers’. The CPI pool is equal to 1.25% of that total-salaries amount, the Merit pool is equal to 0.75%, and the PSA pool is equal to 0.5%. In 2022, the relevant total salary from which the three pools was drawn was $521,854,828.
The process by which the money in the three pools is to be allocated could definitely be better. This blog explains the problems the Association is attempting to rectify, and the objectives it is attempting to achieve, with our proposals.
1. Changes to the CPI Increment Chart
CPI is awarded in increments (the value of a single increment in 2022 was $2,151). The number of CPI increments for which members are eligible depends on their classification, rank (where relevant), and years in rank. Charts describing the precise allocation can be found in Appendix B (Librarians) on page 44 and Appendix A (everyone else) on page 43. The specific problem we are attempting to solve is this:
There are four more increments available in the Assistant Professor rank than in the Assistant Professor of Teaching rank, but the normal maximum pre-tenure period for the former is only two years longer than the normal maximum pre-tenure period for the latter. This creates anomalies such as the following: An Assistant Professor of Teaching who has had her pre-tenure period extended because of a maternity leave will have, as a result, a year in which no CPI is awarded. That will not happen to Assistant Professors.
We propose to make the relationship between maximum pre-tenure periods and increments the same for both ranks, without changing the total number of increments available, by moving increments from the end of the Associate Professor of Teaching scale to the Assistant Professor of Teaching scale. (From the time an Assistant Professor is hired until the time they reach the top of the Associate increment scale, there are 22 increments. This is true both for members of the Scholarly Activity stream and for the Educational Leadership stream. It would stay true under our proposal.)
2. Merit Awards by Classification
The fairness of Merit award availability is problematic. Among instructional departments there are three different classifications of members who are eligible for Merit, each with different duties. According to the Collective Agreement, “Judgements [about Merit awards] shall be based on the duties expected of a member in the period in question and shall not be based on activities in which the member had not the opportunity to engage.” Consequently, we would expect that the mean Merit award would be more-or-less the same across the three classifications.
However, what the data tell us is this: over the most recent four-year period, the mean Merit award across the bargaining unit was 0.565. Since the minimum award is 0.5 units, there was just enough in the overall Merit pool to give everyone at least the minimum award. The mean award for those in the Scholarly Activity Classification was 0.609, for those in the Educational Leadership classification it was 0.554, and for Lecturers it was 0.313. This pattern is consistent across years and Faculties.
It’s clear to us that departmental Merit committees are having a hard time comparing meritorious performance between colleagues with different duties, and the results reflect something that was not intended in the language of the Collective Agreement. In particular, we think the work of Lecturers (primarily undergraduate teaching) is undervalued by the institution and as a result, Lecturers are being assessed partly on the value the university places on their work, rather than on the performance of the work they have been assigned. We have had complaints from Heads and former Heads about the almost impossible task Merit committees have in ranking meritorious performance of colleagues who have such different sets of assigned duties. This is a problem that the bargaining committee is working on. The FA has made a proposal to clarify and strengthen the existing language, a proposal which the University has not accepted, so the committee is currently exploring alternative approaches to dealing with this problem.
3. Merit Unit Value Determination
The way the value of a Merit unit is derived is rather peculiar. It is determined residually based on the size of the CPI pool and how many members will be eligible for CPI in any given year. Not surprisingly, calculated this way, based on an unrelated value (the # of CPI units that need to be paid out in a given year), the value of a single Merit unit tends to rise, and sometime fall, from year to year randomly. That has never made any sense to us. It means that a member getting a Merit award in Year A might see their salary rise by $1800, while another member getting Merit in Year B might see their salary rise by $2100, for no obvious reason other than the way the Agreement currently assigns a numerical value to a Merit unit. We proposed in the previous round therefore that the Merit-unit value be set at some specific value in a “base year” (say, $2,100 in 2023) and rise with the general wage increase thereafter. This would mean that the value of a Merit award would be predictable and fair. There are no cost implications, and our proposal would improve equity between member cohorts. The University did not, for some reason, accept this very sensible proposal in the previous round. We have made the proposal once again in this round.
4. PSA and Merit Transparency
Currently, the Agreement specifies that a list of members who are awarded Merit and/or PSA , but not the amount awarded, be distributed to all members of the same unit (normally a department). The Association is proposing to make the Merit and PSA process even more transparent by having the lists indicate the number of Merit units awarded and the size of the PSA awards.
5. PSA maximum size
The Performance Salary Adjustment (PSA) is meant to address anomalies and inequities and to reward long-term achievement. There are no set amounts in which it can be awarded, unlike Merit, and it is awarded on the recommendation of the Head after consultation with members of the department (usually a Merit and PSA committee). 82% of awards (including the awards of $0) are for amounts of $1,000 or less. And 99% of awards are for amounts of $6,000 or less. At the very tail end of the distribution, though, are a handful of very high PSA awards. Over a recent five-year period, 26 faculty (a little over 5 a year) were awarded PSA sums of between $15,000 and $40,000, and all but 3 of the 26 were in the same Faculty. In our view, these large awards are being used to solve salary problems beyond the anomalies PSA is designed to rectify. We’re not saying the salary problems didn’t need to be solved, but that the PSA fund should not be used to solve them. UBC has yet to provide a reasonable explanation (whatever it is, it’s not retention – there’s a separate fund for that and it is significantly underutilized). The Association is therefore proposing to cap PSA awards at a value equal to three times the value of a Merit unit (a little over $6,000). This should mean that PSA money can be more fairly distributed across the bargaining unit.
6. PSA Purpose Clarity
The language that specifies the criteria for awarding PSA is confusing, to say the least. It is almost certainly the case that different departments are interpreting the criteria differently. The three criteria are (i) performance over a period of time which is worthy of recognition; (ii) the relationship of a member’s salary to that of other members, taking into consideration total years of service at UBC, and (iii) market considerations. There are a couple of problems with this language.
One problem is that the Agreement also specifies that “it is inappropriate to recommend PSA to compensate for salary differentials that result from the differential award of…merit awards.” However, we know that in many departments the total availability of Merit awards may be insufficient to make awards to every meritorious member. Some members left off the list may essentially be as meritorious as the last member on the list. Further, meritorious performance is a continuous latent variable and Merit awards are discrete; we all know of cases where a colleague with an uneven publishing pattern might easily get fewer Merit awards than one with a steady stream, even with the same net numbers of publications over a set of years. Consequently, after a “period of time” it is inevitable that some anomalous salary differentials will arise precisely because of the peculiarities of the annual-snapshot Merit award process. The Association proposes eliminating the sentence fragment in quotations above.
A second problem is with the term “market considerations.” PSA awards are individual awards. Markets are not typically individual. We think the term is usually interpreted to mean a situation in which a specific member’s value in the academic employment market differs from their current salary. When UBC grants retention increases it often gives reasons like “highly marketable and poachable by other institutions.” In other words, market considerations are, and should be, dealt with by the retention money, a fund which is currently under-utilized. The Association proposes dropping the third criterion.