Posts by Timothy Spears

 
 
 

Revising the Staff Salary Increase Program: Background

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

This is the first of three posts aimed at explaining the new salary increase program that the College will put in place during the next two years. Although we are holding open meetings this week to explain the new procedures, I thought it would be useful to put the relevant information online, so people can review the plan and ask questions (you can use the comments section to do that).

There is a lot of information to share about this plan, and the logistics involved are complicated. Therefore, I have divided this overview into three parts. My first post addresses the history behind the plan; the second will describe the plan; and the third will lay out the timeline for implementing the plan.

Again, if you have questions or just want to weigh in, you may use the comments section. Or, if you prefer, you may email questions to me at vpadmin@middlebury.edu.

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In the spring of 2010 President Liebowitz asked the Staffing Resources Committee to review the College’s staff compensation program to ensure that we optimize the funds allocated to this very significant budget item. (A similar project is focused on faculty wages). The SRC began the project by reviewing the 2008 findings of the last Wage and Salary Committee and met with Human Resources to understand how the compensation program has been working since its inception. The committee then recommended to the President that the W&S Committee be re-commissioned to advise the SRC on the new project.

The SRC concluded that while the staff compensation program is working well, there are several areas that could be improved. These areas, which the W&S Committee flagged for future consideration in its 2008 review, include 1) the challenge of rewarding strong performance through compensation (merit pay); 2) the fact that a considerable number of staff salaries are below the midpoints of their salary ranges, while others exceed the maximum pay level established for their grades; and 3) the lack of career ladders for staff members interested in professional advancement.

Given the President’s charge, the SRC chose to focus on items 1 and 2. Although the committee agreed that the career ladder issue warrants further consideration, it felt that the challenges surrounding the College’s annual salary increase process—namely, merit pay and salary distribution (salaries below the midpoint and at the maximum)—demand immediate attention. After consulting with the reconstituted W&S Committee, the SRC developed several possible strategies for addressing these challenges. Following considerable debate and discussion, the two groups settled on the approach outlined below. It should be noted that this approach is not meant to overhaul the current staff compensation system. Rather, it is an attempt to fine-tune one aspect of the program: the annual increase process.

For years, the College has been committed to a compensation structure that moves employees toward a salary that compares favorably with market rates–namely, the top 20% of the market. This goal dates back to the establishment of the old benchmark system, which was aimed at bringing staff to the 80th percentile of the given market for their job. At the same time, the College has instituted an evaluation process that is designed to reward superior performance with enhanced compensation. In surveys taken in 2007-2008, staff members expressed a strong preference for merit-based pay.

Like most salary programs, ours is based on a careful delineation of job responsibilities and market rates. Several years ago, the College instituted a system that placed each staff position in a particular band and level, establishing a mid-range and maximum salaries for all positions that are tied to comparable jobs in the market. Not surprisingly, given the years of experience represented on our staff, some colleagues earn salaries that exceed the maximum level established for their band and level. And because our method for determining annual salaries is tied to percentage increases, staff members at the top of their salary ranges draw a disproportionate number of dollars from the pool set aside each year for raises.

The SRC believes this arrangement is unsustainable and that in order to reward the good work of staff members who are further down in the general salary range, we need to rethink our approach to salary increases.

The situation we face is a sensitive one. While we want to recognize the superior performance of all employees, including those at the top of the salary range, we also need to support the compensation needs of staff members at the beginning and middle of their careers.  The solution we pursue will require a delicate balance of priorities and a clear understanding of the trade-offs involved.

Read more about the staff salary increase program.

Five Questions for James Davis

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

James Davis is an associate professor of religion whose main interests include religion in the public square, church-state issues, the Puritan legacy in American culture, and contemporary bioethical debates. Beginning on February 1, he will add a new line to his title: Assistant Provost.

1. Decorum dictates that one should never talk about religion or politics, but you talk about both in your recently published book, In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us. How can the average person discuss political or religious matters without degrading the conversation?

With all due respect for the dictates of decorum, we can’t help but talk about religion and politics if we are going to be engaged public citizens. I don’t think the topics themselves degrade conversation; quite the contrary, talking about them in a forthright way enriches our public discourse. But the secret is in how we talk about religion and politics. To me civility requires that we engage in public conversation with patience, integrity, humility, and mutual respect. If we hold to these virtues, we’ll be able to discuss even these sensitive subjects fruitfully.

2. It’s no secret that “The West Wing” is your favorite television show. However, that show has been off the air for several years. What are you watching these days to take its place?

My favorite TV show right now (and perhaps of all time) is Sons of Anarchy. It’s an amazingly scripted drama about an outlaw motorcycle club in California that runs guns but also keeps its hometown, Charming, relatively peaceful and free from drug traffic. As an ethicist, I love a show like Sons that features morally gray characters as the protagonists, forcing you through the power of the narrative to root for people that society says are bad guys. As a motorcycle enthusiast, I love all the Harleys.

3. A Religion Department alumna looking up midrash in the library wants to know: if you could practice any religion for a day, what it would it be and why?

If I could pick a religion to practice for one day, it would be the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I know it holds the Truth, because I found it on the internet (http://www.venganza.org/), and as we all know, everything on the internet is true. Besides, I am naturally attracted to a religion that allows me to combine food and devotion. My own Christian tradition has a meal at the center of its liturgy, but overeating the body and blood of Christ is frowned upon. In the graceful eyes of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, everyone is entitled to seconds. So for one day I’d like to be a Pastafarian. May we all be touched by His Noodly Appendage. Ramen.

4. We’ve seen your hair styles range from near-buzz-cut to borderline-mullet. Why so much change? Do the different styles express changes within yourself, perhaps?

I have been prone to radically shifting hair styles, which I think reflects an allergy to the status quo. I get bored easily, and sometimes the best way to inject change into one’s life is to cut one’s hair. But I strongly reject the suggestion that I have ever had a mullet (at least since high school). The American Mullet Association has strict standards governing the length of hair required on the top and back of the head for a mullet. My barber has flirted with those standards but has never met them. Not that I would look bad with a mullet if I chose to don one; I am from Appalachia, after all.

5. What natural gift would you most like to possess?

I don’t know what counts as a “natural” gift, but I really wish I could play the guitar. I know there’s a blues singer in me, but I can’t find a band. If I could play the guitar, I wouldn’t need one, and my night life would improve significantly.

The Juice Bar Lives! (Or Will Soon)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Good things come to those who wait . . . . That’s the underlying message of our Juice Bar competition, and I am sure the people looking to buy food and drink in the space once known as the Juice Bar hope this mantra applies to them as well.

So here is the update: as I reported on December 10, our selection committee reviewed nine strong applications, and then interviewed three of the finalists.   We have now settled on our winners, and are very excited about the vision and menus they will bring to the erstwhile Juice Bar (whether it gets a new name remains to be seen).   What’s interesting about their proposal is that it prominently features food options that the Grille does not currently offer (some might call these options healthy alternatives).  In fact, almost all of the proposals stressed the need for healthy/nutritious/local food options on campus.  Which isn’t to say that the Grille doesn’t offer healthy alternatives–only that we could easily expand the possibilities in this area.

So what does this new vision of the Juice Bar look like, and who won the competition?!   You will have to wait until tomorrow (that is, Thursday the 20th) for the answer because I promised the CAMPUS that they could break the news.

Update: you can read the CAMPUS article here, which nicely covers all the salient points.

Also, on behalf of our selection commitee, I want to thank all the students who sent us such creative Juice Bar proposals.  Kudos to the students who will be launching their venture this spring:  David Dolifka, Kate Strangfeld, Ben Blackshear, Jessi Stevens, and Sarah King.

Five Questions for Carl Roesch

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Carl Roesch is the manager of 51 Main, an eclectic social venue where people can come together for music, conversation, art, and food.

On January 28, we will be profiling James Calvin Davis, Associate Professor of Religion.  If you would like to ask James a question, please send your submission to vpadmin@middlebury.edu.  In February, James will become Assistant Provost.

1. What do you find to be most rewarding about your work at 51 Main?

Knowing that I have been a part of something unique to the area and making it work, and also that Middlebury is now host to an eclectic group of people whom I would not have had the opportunity to  meet unless I worked at 51 Main.

2. You have lived and worked in many places around the world. What is your favorite location?

This is a difficult choice. I have taken away many different experiences from many different places that have each in their unique way contributed to my career and growth as an individual.  But  that feeling you get when you are in another country and you know you are someplace else would have to be Turkey.

3. As we send you these questions, there’s a blizzard raging outside. So, what’s your favorite thing to do in the summer?

Be outside. Swimming.   I can stay in the water for hours.  I also like hiking with my wife and dogs and now baby Violet.

4. 2010 was a big year for you: you and your wife welcomed your first child, Violet. What are you looking forward to in 2011?

To just enjoy every parental experience by watching my daughter learn and grow.  She is amazing.  I notice something new every day. My sister is expecting her first in March so 2011 is pretty huge for my whole family.  I wish for good  Health and Wealth for 2011 and beyond.

5. If you could only eat one 51 Main menu item every day for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

“Poutine.”   It probably wouldn’t be very good for me health wise, but it is just so good. Fries, cheese curds and brown ale gravy–it just sounds good.

Not Exactly Administrative News: Ten Great Albums of 2010

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The following post is not even close to an administrative update, but for the past couple of years Matt Jennings and I have blogged about our favorite albums of the year (for instance, see this and this).   Because we do a radio show on WRMC every Friday afternoon, we get to pretend to be authorities on pop music.  And we have fun.

We ‘re doing it again this year, and share the following recommendations in the spirit of the holiday season.   We invite readers to post their recommendations as well.  The more, the better . . .

Matt’s Choices

Astute listeners of 68 Degrees and Holding will not find my list particularly surprising (nor will they be surprised by what will surely be a snarky response from my friend and co-DJ, the author of this blog).

Some really good music was produced this year, but to my admittedly quirky ear, this five albums represent the best of the best:

  • Mumford & Sons, “Sigh No More”

A brilliant debut from this West London quartet. From Marcus Mumford’s passionate vocals to Winston Marshall’s banjo pickin’ (yes, Spears, banjo pickin’!) to Ted Dwayne’s mastery of the stand-up bass, this band manages to sound both refreshingly original yet appropriately reflective of their musical roots in bluegrass, folk, and eclectic rock.

  • The National, “High Violet”

I enjoyed “Boxer” so much that I was both eager and anxious about this album’s release. Eager because “Boxer” just left me wanting more, more, more and anxious because I fretted that “Boxer” was so good that anything that followed would be a letdown. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.

  • Frightened Rabbit, “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” [Insert Spears eye roll here]

I’m well aware of the heresy of comparing the Irish to the Scottish, but this band reminds me of the Pogues–without Shane MacGowans drunken (and ultimately destructive) antics. “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is the perfect follow up to 2007′s “The Midnight Organ Fight”; it’s fun, catchy, and addictive.

  • LCD Soundsystem, “This is Happening”

A trendy pick, I know, but to ignore James Murphy’s latest work would be a flagrant omission, especially if we were to look back on this list in a year’s, two years’, ten years’ time. Aggressively original and fascinating to listen to.

  • Treme Soundtrack

From the traditional (Dr. John, Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffin) to the original (Steve Earle’s “This City, which was written for the show) to the hilarious (“Shame, Shame, Shame” by Steve Zahn and friends) this soundtrack from the HBO original series is a must have, both for fans of the show and folks who love great, authentic music.

Tim’s Choices

No snarkiness here.  All sweetness and light!

  • Cee Lo Green, “Lady Killer”

Cee Lo Green has a storied career in the hip-hop world, but this is a full-out R & B record that traditionalists will love.  It includes the infectious and infamous “F– You,” which can be seen and and heard in all its glory on YouTube.  But there is nothing gimmicky about this album.  Fans of Michael Jackson, Al Green, or Beyoncé should take note.

  • Janelle Monáe, “The ArchAndroid”

At times, this sounds like another entry in the R & B sphere, but the album is so diverse and international in its offerings that it really can’t be categorized (though I don’t think it includes any banjo).  Style-wise (check out her videos), Monáe gestures to 1920s (the album cover art is apparently inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis), but her genre-mashing encompasses hip-hop, jazz, Afro-punk—you name it.  A virtuoso performance, and Monáe, who is from Kansas City, is only 25.

  • Bruce Springsteen, “The Promise”

The outtakes from Springsteen’s 1978 album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” the songs here will please long-time fans of the Boss.  This album is not entirely new, since Springsteen has been performing these songs for decades and they’ve appeared on bootlegs.  But it is great to have them all in one place.   And it’s also worth listening to these songs along with “Darkness” so you can see what sort of sound and statement he was going for on the original album, which is more stripped down than “The Promise.”

  • Robyn, “Body Talk, Pt 1″

The Swedish techno-pop star hits the sweet spot with songs about dancehall love, gender bending, and cyber culture.  She keeps it light, witty, and danceable—not so heavy as Lady Gaga.   And, believe it or not, she will be performing at Higher Ground in later January.  I already have my tickets.

  • Jamey Johnson, “The Guitar Song”

This is country music about the useful themes: heartbreak, crummy jobs, alcoholism, and the little pleasures of everyday life.  Johnson is a compelling storyteller, and his Alabama-tinged bass voice gives the lyrics a sense of gravitas and depth.  I don’t listen to a lot of country music, but I keep returning to this album, trying to understand why I like it so much.  There are also just enough guitar riffs here to satisfy rock fans.

Juice Bar Competition Update

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

A selection committee convened last week to review the nine proposals we received for a student-managed food and drink service in the Juice Bar. As we have mentioned before, proposals were evaluated on the following criteria: feasibility, economic viability, vision, and simplicity. We also took into consideration the numerous comments readers left on the last update post, so thank you to all who contributed.

After much deliberation, we have narrowed the field to three proposals. We have notified the students and we will be conducting interviews in the first week of January. We hope to make a final decision shortly thereafter. If we are unable to reach a decision after the interviews, we will reconsider the other applications.

In the meanwhile, please feel free to continue chiming in on what you’d like to see at the Juice Bar.

Five Questions for Gary Margolis and Karl Lindholm

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Gary Margolis  is Executive Director of Counseling and Associate Professor of English.  Karl Lindholm is Dean of Cook Commons and Assistant Professor of American Studies.  Both are Middlebury graduates from the class of 1967.

1. You have worked with literally thousands of students over the years.  Is there one student experience in particular that stands out for you?

Gary: How often our students, with support, humor and goodwill, can move from despair to resiliency.

Karl: It’s a tie between (1) the night of Winter Carnival in the 80s when I went to the Slug barn to help Public Safety (then Campus Security) close down a frat party at 2:00 a.m. that was infuriating its neighbors and when the house president said over the band’s microphone that the Dean was here and he says the music has to stop all in attendance chanted, “F___ the Dean!” and poured beer on the Campus Security officer- and (2) the occasion on a cold snowy Saturday morning of another Winter Carnival weekend when Dean of the College John Spencer and I called in an enormous earth mover (from a nearby construction site) to destroy the obscene snow sculptures (anatomically perfect) in front of the DU house first and then the Chi Psi house next, the earth mover rumbling up Main Street amid the cheers of the frat boys bedecked in bathrobes and u-trou. Ah the good old days. Then there was the raft race on Otter Creek, and the demo derby in front of one of the frat houses, and, oh yeah, the time Erica Wonnacott and I . . . .

2. What is your all time favorite Middlebury College sports memory?

Gary: If memory affords me: beating Plattsburgh in triple-overtime on their rink and driving home in a snow storm; winning our first lacrosse national championship at the University of Maryland and driving back to Midd with Mickey Heinecken; bus rides with my basketball teammates; seeing Karl on the mound.

Karl: April, 1965, Middlebury 5 - RPI 1, in baseball, the one good game I pitched in three years. Went the route, all nine innings. After the game, my new college girlfriend Anne and I went with friends down to Green Mountain Park in southern VT and enjoyed the thoroughbred races at that time  – that was a good day.

3. In one sentence, what advice would you give a newly arriving first year student?

Gary: Asking questions of your professors and deans is a strength; keep the phrase, “progress not perfection” close to your heart.

Karl: Work hard; have fun; enjoy your friends; make new ones; don’t drink too much; spread out; grow; relax; take a deep breath; enjoy your surroundings (love those semi-colons – one sentence!).

4. What influence have students had on your style as an advisor and counselor?

Gary: To listen carefully for what is said and unsaid. To being open to the unique experience of each student and the wisdom they bring.

Karl: Are you kidding – a short answer? My job(s) has been about students. I have enjoyed my constituencies. My limitations have been in administering systems. I like it when students talk to me. I try to listen and respond honestly.  At the outset, I remember what I felt as a student and what I needed so I have tried to be someone that I might have been able to talk to then, who I might have listened to, who didn’t condescend, but who leveled with me, and seemed to enjoy students, and life, who had some enthusiasm for the enterprise.

5. What is the most significant positive change you have seen at Middlebury since you graduated from the College in 1967?

Gary: That as the “Strength is in Our Hills,” it is also in the changing landscape of our contemporary students, from across the country and around the world, and in the ways they urge, require us to take each background and way of life into account.

Karl: The increased diversity in the student body, which has been the hallmark of the school’s effort and concern in all the years I’ve been here.