The Corporatization of American Higher Education: Merit Pay Trumps Academic Freedom OR More Discretionary Power for Administrators over Faculty: You’re Kidding Me, Right?

By Robert P. Engvall

I decided to include the irreverent alternative title to this essay because, when I was first presented by our faculty union with the proposal for increased reliance on merit pay for pay raises, my initial response remains my most persistent thought on the subject: “You’re kidding me, right?” I have discovered that neither my administration nor my union leaders were kidding, yet the joke remains on me and the rest of my colleagues who are now subjected to the wonders of the grand idea and the realities of the perverse execution of the concept of merit pay in the university. 

A great cynical mind once said that representative democracy was an outstanding idea, and the most pure form of government for and by the people—and that the United States should try it sometime. It seemed fitting that, when we met in our nation’s capital to discuss the state of higher education, I began with an equally cynical take on the concept of merit pay. Like the above statement concerning our less-than-pure democracy, the concept of merit pay is an absolutely grand idea, but unfortunately the way in which we’ve practiced it has, I will argue, been anything but pure.

Let me begin with three significant disclaimers:

One. Some people oppose merit pay because they aren’t that good at what they do. To a degree, I agree with that premise, and I would be happy to address that issue—but not in this essay. Instead, I intend to focus on something larger: my perception that opposing merit pay in the university setting is absolutely vital to protecting the essence and quality of that setting. It’s vital unless we’re willing to allow ourselves and our fellow faculty members to become “speechless” when the freedom of our speech is key to the important role of the “true professor.”

View the entire article "The Corporatization of American Higher Education: Merit Pay Trumps Academic Freedom Or, More Discretionary Power for Administrators over Faculty: You’re Kidding Me, Right?"

Robert Engvall is a professor of justice studies at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. He holds PhD and JD degrees from the University of Iowa, and a BA from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. His research interests focus upon various marginalization, professionalization, and social justice issues within higher education. He has written four books and numerous articles and book chapters on similar topics. His most recent book, The Corporatization of Higher Education, will be published by Hampton Press in late 2009 or early 2010.

Add new comment

We welcome your comments. See our commenting policy.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture.
Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.