Merit pay plan sparks college debate, undermines staff

By Editor-in-Chief

Just before the college community departed from the campus for the winter break, the United Staff of Columbia College, the college’s staff union, had rallied for a cost-of-living adjustment, with COLA signs and soda cans decorating the walls and stairwells of many campus buildings.

As reported Dec. 14, 2015, by The Chronicle, the staff union has been in negotiations with the college administration for almost three years to have these requests met. In the meantime, union members have made it clear they will reject any merit-based salary increase proposals until they are granted COLA. 

While the union and the administration continue to debate at the bargaining table, a Jan. 12 email to staff from Michelle Gates, vice president of Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer, announcing that full-time, non-union staff will be eligible for merit-based salary increases has some members of the college up in arms.

Many staff members oppose merit raises because there is a perception that the merit-based increases could foster a subjective, manipulative atmosphere in which favoritism could lead to certain employees getting larger raises than their colleagues regardless of true merit.

While Columbia markets itself as an all-inclusive college, its very own staff is being divided down the middle.

The merit-raises spark a debate that begs the question: How can Columbia’s staff work toward a common goal and properly serve the student body if they are not adequately compensated and feel undervalued by the administration?

Even the most dedicated staffer could be discouraged by the competition and politics that the merit-based raises could incite. Some may be motivated by the competition, but others might lose momentum amid the personnel distractions—all because the college refuses to grant its staff raises that align with the current cost of living. 

As reported in the article on Page 3, administrators would be eligible for the merit-based raises as well. 

The potential for administrators to receive performance-based salary increases is leading some to question whether the college is further rewarding those at the top of Columbia’s hierarchy and neglecting to meet the needs of the people who are already paid significantly less.

The climate that initiatives such as this have fostered at Columbia has already inspired a parody Twitter account—presumed by many to be run by a disgruntled college employee—and if the tension continues to escalate, the college could see retaliation kill professional morale collegewide.

The college’s higher-ups may be looking for creative ways to inspire change, but they should not resort to enforcing poverty as a motivational tactic. 

After the college’s staff has been told for years that they will be granted cost-of-living raises when Columbia’s enrollment figures appear back on the rise, it is time Columbia cut the act and reward some of its hardest working employees.

With no credible signs of improving enrollment numbers, it’s a worthless excuse to tell the staff they’ll get more money when the college gets more students. 

What the administration should take into consideration is whether a “victory” at the bargaining table is doing anything at all to benefit the students who pay continuously rising tuition rates to attend the college, and whether Columbia should be branded as a college that doesn’t value its staff.