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Students walk to the UNLV School of Medicine located in the Health District on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Jeff Scheid-Nevada Independent)

Regents this week approved the creation of a task force to explore performance pay increases for faculty after the issue failed to move forward during the legislative session.

The Task Force on Performance Pay Administration and Support — comprising Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) regents and officials, legislative representatives, a representative from the Governor’s Finance Office, faculty and administrators — is charged with reviewing and identifying potential funding sources for faculty pay raises. Currently, more than 6,000 faculty within NSHE have no guarantee of a raise.  

Performance pay raises have been long awaited by faculty in Nevada’s higher education institutions. NSHE and the Nevada Faculty Alliance tried to codify a system of pay raises with SB214 in the last legislative session, but the bill died, and the new task force will pick up where it left off. 

Perhaps the greatest financial challenge of fixing the higher education pay scale is “compression,” or the amount it will take to bring the salaries of professors who have been in the system for a long time up to the current starting salary rates for new faculty. Administrators have said it is urgent to address compression to stop the flight of faculty to better-paying jobs out of state.   

NSHE asked the governor to earmark $20 million to address compression of faculty salaries, but the money was not approved. A 2018 study commissioned by NSHE said it would cost more than $87 million dollars to fix the issue.

SB459, which would have provided for binding arbitration over faculty grievances and contract disputes also did not make it out of the legislative session, and so the task force will need to figure out how to settle faculty contract disputes and grievances for the time being.

The task force may recommend seeking additional money from the Legislature to fund performance pay, or looking for the money in existing budgets, which might mean cutting elsewhere or raising student fees.

To muddy the waters, a proposed constitutional amendment — AJR5could remove regents from a privileged place in the state Constitution. The underlying idea of taking that authority away is to increase legislative oversight on higher education administrators. 

Proponents hope it will increase accountability in institutions’ pay raise practices. AJR5 passed two consecutive sessions and will be up for a statewide vote in the 2020 election.

Updated at 1:25 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2019 to omit statement that NSHE supported binding arbitration, and at 3:35 p.m. on Sept. 8 to clarify how the task force might fund performance pay.

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