UTRGV rolls out first merit-based pay adjustments

EDINBURG — The first pay raises solely based on merit became official this weekend at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, with qualifying faculty and staff receiving their announcement letters Friday.

These are the latest and most anticipated raises since the university had not issued a merit raise since its inception in 2015.

“People have worked very hard to ensure that this does a good job of addressing issues,” said UTRGV President Guy Bailey. “It was not slapped together. We spent a lot of time planning and working though it… to try to make it the best program.”

The pay adjustments range between a minimum of $1,000 and a maximum of 4 percent or $4,000, if the percentage exceeds $4,000.

A total of 2,496 faculty and staff received letters on Friday, detailing how much additional pay they qualified for, out of an overall faculty and staff count of 3,156.

The adjustments became effective Dec. 1, 2018 and will be included in their Jan. 3 paycheck.

The inaugural merit adjustment covers faculty hired as tenured, tenure-track or 3-year non-tenure track prior to September 1, 2017; as well as staff hired prior to Dec. 1, 2017 and with no employment interruptions.

To qualify, faculty must be in compliance with all required trainings and have a rating of “meets” or “exceeded expectations” in their 2016-2017 evaluation.

Non-qualifying faculty included one-year appointment lecturers on nine -to-12-month contracts.

For staff to qualify, they had to complete all required trainings and have positive ratings —  a minimum of 3 out of 5 — in the employee appraisals, and have no disciplinary record.

Only two qualifying faculty members didn’t meet guidelines university-wide, officials said.

When it comes to staff, those in temporary positions did not qualify. The university also excluded those in higher administrative positions such as executive vice presidents, vice presidents, senior associates, associates, assistant vice presidents and deans.

Because of the many inequities that could arise from combining two different institutions, there was an audit conducted early on that assessed pay.

Bailey said they began the salary adjustment process there by addressing issues such as gender inequity, competitive market rates, and inequity between employees from the two different institutions.

“We’ve committed about $15 million to pay adjustments,” Bailey said. “Some of that is just trying to get base market salaries up, some of it is merit adjustments, equity adjustments, gender equity, equity between Brownsville and former UTPA… once you put the two institutions together, all kinds of salary inequities needed to be dealt with.”

The initial three years were focused on those first adjustments but now UTRGV administrators are assessing the best way to roll out merit raises in the coming years.

“We do regular market analysis for the job families,” said Mike James, chief human resources officer at UTRGV. “We look at the departments as a whole, we look across the university by job titles, and we look at all of the indicators for employment demographics.”

These standard analyses come every two years, James said. But because the university is so new, some of these issues had to be tackled in stages.

The hardest issue to tackle was pay compression issues in which the salaries of faculty and staff with tenure at either of the two legacy institutions – UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American – were equal or less than new hires.

This was caused by attracting new staff and faculty with competitive rates, while those that were hired under the legacy institutions might not have gotten pay raises before the transition.

“If you are going to have top talent and retain them, you are going to have to recruit them at the market rates,” James said. “So if you are not having a program like a merit program that helps employees once you do hire them to continually move through their salary range, you end up making the compression issue much worse.”

The merit raise was important to bring the compression issues already brought up by the merger to a halt. But it is also not a one-time fix, officials said. The plan is to do this annually in order to be up to par.

“We know that we haven’t eliminated all the compression problems. We still think there are some we have to deal with, but I think we’ve eliminated the most egregious ones,” Bailey said. “We can not fall behind the same way we did before.”