Welcome and Merit

Welcome to the fall term!

We have now gone through the first biennial performance review which was developed in the last round of bargaining, a change from the annual review in place for many years. We are always asked questions about this review and merit, so I provide a general overview about our system slanted towards answering the questions we most often receive.

The Queen’s-QUFA performance review is based on academic decision-making by peers rather than it being a labour relations exercise. There are no strict rules about what would garner a particular merit score. Such certainty and predictability would likely require a grid scheme or checklist or some such system. I have heard arguments that such systems could give quantity more importance than quality in research or service or professional practice, or equate student popularity with outstanding teaching. And that such a system would not necessarily require any real judgment, indeed, could be done by a person or a computer totting up entries. It would be akin to bean counting. The system we now have relies on judgment that is nuanced and specific enough to take these details into account, but which is often questioned because it is not as predictable or transparent.

The default score in our faculty merit exercise is 10 and for librarians and archivists is 2, meaning that you are doing your job well: you are meeting the high expectations that you have set yourselves as dedicated, first-rate academic staff. You are progressing through the ranks (PTR) and have earned the career development increment (CDI) that was bargained for if you do your job as expected. In other words, you are average within your exceptionally accomplished and industrious peer group. Keep in mind that expectations and averages shift over time; for instance and for a stark comparison, what is expected and average now is very different from what was it was 50 years ago.

Anything less than a 10 or 2 requires a written explanation from the dean or University Librarian about where the deficiencies lie in the performance of assigned duties. Merit, strictly speaking, is defined as getting anything over 10 or over 2. I quote from the Collective Agreement 2015-2019, first for faculty and next for librarians and archivists: Very good or excellent performance in any or all of teaching, research and service may result in a merit score above ten (10). To receive a merit score of greater than ten (10), a Member’s performance in all three areas (research, assigned teaching and service) must be at least satisfactory. The Parties intend that performance in teaching or research would carry more weight than would service, so that a score of fifteen (15) or twenty (20) would normally reflect excellence in either teaching or research, or both, even if service was also a factor. A score of twelve (12) means a significantly better than average performance in at least two of the three areas, though an exceptional performance in one area may suffice. [sic] Very good or excellent performance in any or all assigned duties may result in a merit score of three (3) or four (4). To receive a merit score above two (2), a Member’s performance of all assigned duties must be at least satisfactory. A score of three (3) means significantly better than average performance in one or more assigned duties. A score of four (4) means excellent performance in several assigned duties.

Additional merit points are available from the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) “to ensure that meritorious Members can be appropriately recognized without producing inappropriate pressures to give low scores to others.” Continuing Adjunct Members may also receive points for unassigned duties if these are considered to be outstanding contributions (Article

We are regularly asked about the fairness and consistency of application, both within an academic unit as well as across departments and faculties. To compare productivity amongst faculties and departments would be quite difficult as the norms vary amongst, say, Math and History and Archives. This issue is addressed at Queen’s by placing trust in academic unit heads to do the best they can in a system based on judgment rather than certainty, and then making fair and consistent recommendations to the provost who provides campus-wide quality control.

These are academic decisions and the union cannot opine; all it can do is explore whether they were properly made. Practically speaking, that means that QUFA doesn’t grieve a merit score of 10 and 2 or higher unless it can be clearly demonstrated that an egregious error has been made and this is extremely difficult to do.

The biennial review does not change any of this, but it seems to have caused some confusion because the expectation of what someone might get in an annual review still carries weight with Members.  Here is a link to Elizabeth Hanson’s comments on the current system; she was the chief negotiator last bargaining round.


There will likely be a review of the biennial system in preparation for the next round of bargaining. I urge you to provide positive and negative input, now or later, to inform the bargaining team of any weaknesses and strengths.

The Grievance Corner makes you aware of processes, issues, trends, and anything else that might be helpful or interesting. To that end, please feel free to send in topic ideas and feedback. Remember that the grievance process is confidential, so that the content of the Corner will have to take that into account. You will find archived Corners and other grievance information on the QUFA website under Member Services.

Ramneek Pooni can be reached at poonir@queensu.ca.