Faculty deserve some carrots of their own

Gov. Arne Carlson was right 14 months ago when he said the University should be willing to pay $1 million for a good football coach. University administrators were right this week when they agreed to pay Gophers head coach Glen Mason less than half that amount. After all, the team dropped from a 4-7 record in 1996, under former coach Jim Wacker, to 3-9 last year.
The Gophers haven’t had a winning season this decade, so the arithmetic of athletic success might be unfamiliar to the University community. Men’s athletics more than pays for itself, generating $3 million in annual revenue for the University. A winning football team will boost ticket sales, merchandising profits and freshman applications. Mason’s $420,000 annual salary will be a bargain if he can turn the program around as he did at Kansas several years ago. In any event, cash in his pocket is not money that otherwise would have funded classical and near eastern studies or a new library.
In addition to his base salary, Mason will receive bonuses for winning the Big Ten and increasing the number of his players who graduate. Fundamentally, such bonuses belittle Mason. After all, we presume, a coach’s job is to win games and to ensure his players keep up with school. To assume, as his contract does, that being paid $420,000 to coach a football team is insufficient motivation for Mason to do his job is insulting.
But such is the market today. Salaries are not the sum total of a coach’s compensation any more; they’re the skeletal base. Performance bonuses are the norm, and many coaches like them. It’s a way for coaches to put their money where their mouths are, a sort of bet with the boss that they can perform. As such, Mason’s up-to-$50,000 bonuses are entirely proper.
Perhaps the time has even come for wider use of such incentives. Tenure prevents administrators from using many common forms of discipline against faculty members, but performance incentives are all carrot, no stick. Language professors could be given $1,000 if 90 percent of their students pass standardized language exams at the end of the quarter. Academic advisors could be given a premium — $175, say — for each of their students who graduate in four years. The premium could drop to $75 at five years and $25 for six. Professors and advisors would have an added investment in the success of their students.
Many research programs bring money and talent to the University that would otherwise have gone elsewhere. Faculty members could be offered a $250 publication bonus or a $500 incentive every time one of their students receives a degree and continues at the next level of study. Enrollment bonuses could focus professors — without punishing those who teach unpopular, but necessary classes — on teaching courses that meet student demands.
Of course, there’s no reason to limit merit pay to the faculty. Surely, there are ways we could convince University administrators to run the school more effectively. College deans might be rewarded when their programs finish a year in the black. The University could cut a check to President Mark Yudof for every increase in our national rankings.
We could even offer Men’s Athletics Director Mark Dienhart a bonus every time Coach Mason earns his pay.