The Case of Rewarding "A" but Expecting "B" in Higher Education: Revisiting Reward Systems That Fail in Universities

By Snipes, Robin L.; Carter, Fonda | Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies, August 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Case of Rewarding "A" but Expecting "B" in Higher Education: Revisiting Reward Systems That Fail in Universities


Snipes, Robin L., Carter, Fonda, Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies


CASE DESCRIPTION

The primary subject matter of this case is employee motivation and developing reward systems that match the organization's mission and objectives. Secondary issues examined include performance appraisal systems and employee compensation. This case has a difficulty level of four, appropriate for senior-level undergraduate students or first-year graduate students. The case is designed to be taught in a one-hour class and is expected to require at least three hours of outside preparation by students.

CASE SYNOPSIS

There are many examples of reward systems where the behaviors that are rewarded are not those desired by management. In public universities, officials hope that teachers will focus on quality instruction, but they are mainly rewarded on their research and publications. Moreover, teaching quality is often measured by student evaluations, which may be manipulated by making courses easier or more "fun". Students get rewarded for getting good grades, not necessarily for acquiring knowledge. In short, the reward systems of most universities have failed to achieve their intended objectives. As pointed out by Steven Kerr over 30 years ago, some of the causes of this are the fascination with "objective" criteria, overemphasis on highly visible behaviors, and an emphasis on equity rather than efficiency.

INSTRUCTORS' NOTES

Recommended Assignment: Have students write a report to the President of this fictitious university discussing these issues with their recommendations on how to resolve them, in light of the current budget situation. Be sure they include a cover letter that summarizes the report. In the report, they should address the following questions:

(1) How do you think faculty productivity should be measured? Discuss specifically what each measure should contain. What would be an accurate measure of teaching productivity? Research productivity? Service? Can they all be quantified? If not, will the measures be reliable and valid (free from error)?

(4) Can you think of some cost-efficient ways to motivate faculty to participate in developing learning assessment plans?

Students will get creative here. Some research has shown that group rewards as well as individual rewards can motivate employees to achieve the organization's objectives. Some type of group incentive - possibly in the form of a group outing or bonus - could be used as well as individual recognition and rewards. Additional training might also be necessary to show faculty the value of using learning assessment in their courses and how this information might help them become better teachers.

(5) Some might argue that faculty motivation can be best explained by the tenants of SelfDetermination Theory in that faculty are motivated more by intrinsic than extrinsic rewards. What does this theory suggest about how we should motivate faculty to perform their best work?

Self-Determination theory argues that some employees are more motivated by intrinsic than extrinsic factors. It proposes that people want control over their actions and lives, so anything that makes their jobs feel more like an obligation than a freely chosen activity will be demotivating for them. To increase motivation, then, the most important thing to many employees is to give them the tools to do their jobs well, and then give them the autonomy to do their jobs the way they see fit. S elf-Determination theory argues that extrinsic rewards may even reduce the intrinsic interest in a job. It could be argued that business faculty are drawn to their chosen occupations because of intrinsic reasons, not because of the pay. …

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