Many thanks to Paul Handford for a profound analysis of the flaws of the merit pay system (commentary, Bulletin, March 2002). He is quite right that this system is anti-collegial, demoralizing, wasteful on time, energy and resources, and makes almost everyone unhappy.
The problem is whether it is possible to indicate a clearly better alternative. While, of course, the extreme of total salary equality is an unlikely sell to academia, a sensible compromise could be a replacement of the present merit pay system with fixed salary levels, say, two or three for each academic rank (assistant, associate and full professors). For as long as individual performance remains satisfactory, a raise to the next level should be determined largely by seniority. A similar system (fixed salary grid with uniform inflationary adjustments) is, in fact, commonly used for non-academic staff at universities and, in my view, its extension to the academic sector is long overdue.
Special achievements and/or administering extra duties should, as Professor Handford correctly points out, be covered by a system of ad hoc prizes and/or stipends. These, however, should not be built into the base salary and hence should not affect future pension benefits.
Alexander A. Berezin
Engineering Physics, McMaster University