USC to give merit-based bonuses

Harris Pastides

Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestat

COLUMBIA -- Most University of South Carolina employees are eligible for merit-based bonuses this year, a gesture President Harris Pastides described Wednesday as appreciation for their work.

Pastides said he recognizes that the one-time increases, about 1.5 percent on average, are not enough but he hopes employees see them as a statement of the university's commitment.

The increases, which should show up in employees' Oct. 31 paycheck, are limited to workers making below $100,000 who were on staff before April 30. More than 90 percent of workers are eligible and the maximum bonus anyone can receive is $3,000, said Human Resources Vice President Chris Byrd.

Pastides said he's asked the school's chief financial officer and provost to come up with a proposal for more significant performance-based salary increases next year, despite the lingering economic slump. Previous state-funded increases were across-the-board, rather than performance-based.

The college set aside $2.3 million for the bonuses, based on evaluations, Byrd said. Staff last received a raise of just 1 percent in July 2008, he said.

"We've taken this initiative because it needs to serve as motivation. Some of our best staff members and faculty are being recruited to other places," Pastides said after giving his 30-minute "State of Our University" speech to hundreds of faculty and students gathered on the school's Horseshoe lawn. "Other universities have come up with more generous raise packages ... and our faculty and staff are saying, 'What about us?'"

Last month, Clemson University president Jim Barker said professors there could get raises of up to 6 percent this fall under the college's new merit-based compensation system. He said one-time bonuses of several thousand dollars also are possible.

Clemson's raises, to be implemented next month, will average 2.2 percent, spokesman John Gouch said Wednesday. Merit-based pay is part of Clemson's new 10-year plan to innovate, to grow and to graduate top-notch students with shrinking state support.

Pastides also alluded to fewer state dollars, saying appropriations account for less than 10 percent of the University of South Carolina's budget for its eight campuses.

"This is the new reality and we accept that we must be ever more self-reliant," he said. He pledged to keep tuition increases low. The school's trustees increased tuition 3.9 percent this year for the main campus in Columbia. That's down from nearly 7 percent last year.