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February 17, 2011

Administrators, faculty to look at pay trends issue

Joint effort planned

Do Pitt faculty salaries keep up with inflation over the long run? It depends whom you ask, and how you ask, but a unified view may be on the horizon. University administrators and Senate budget policies committee members have agreed to jointly develop a meaningful way to analyze faculty salary trends.

BPC’s longstanding concern over how well faculty salaries have kept pace with inflation over time remained in the spotlight at the Feb. 11 BPC meeting in the wake of differing viewpoints that appeared in a Feb. 3 University Times Senate Matters column by BPC chair John J. Baker and a response by Provost Patricia A. Beeson and Chief Financial Officer Arthur J. Ramicone.

Baker’s analysis compared the 15-year cumulative effect of raises that equaled the federal consumer price index, Pitt’s salary pool increase maintenance component, the maintenance and the merit/market/equity components of the pool increase, or the full salary pool increase on average salaries for Pitt assistant, associate and full professors.

The administration countered with a statement that at least 85 percent of faculty at Pitt since 1995 have seen their pay increase by more than the inflation rate.

(In a letter to the editor published in this issue of the University Times, Pitt-Greensburg faculty member Beverly Gaddy weighed in on the impact of raises and inflation on regional faculty salaries.)

In advance of the Feb. 11 BPC meeting, Baker had distributed to members an expanded version of his Feb. 3 column, along with a proposed resolution urging administrators to fund future salary increase pools at a level at least 1 percent higher than inflation when possible.

However, instead of seeking action on the resolution, Baker agreed to set it aside in favor of first looking more closely at salary data with Ramicone and Vice Provost David DeJong, both of whom are chancellor’s liaisons to BPC.

“I think we would all benefit if we had a little bit more information and could study this a little more carefully,” Baker said, acknowledging that, while he attempted to make his analysis a realistic one, it still was hypothetical and based on averages, and therefore imperfect.

DeJong agreed. “I think that’s a good idea for a couple reasons. When you look at averages, you can get a very misleading picture,” he said.

“Suppose that 60 percent of the faculty every single year don’t make the average rate of inflation. It could still be the case that every single individual faculty member is doing better than inflation,” he said. A faculty member could receive raises lower than the rate of inflation in two years, but then get a large raise in the third year, for example.

“It would be a good idea to sit down and agree what would be a meaningful analysis,” DeJong said. “It’s not easy and we’d want to make sure that we had a finite number of questions and they made sense, but I think that could be very helpful.”

Baker said his aim was not to get into a confrontation with the administration over salary issues, acknowledging it is difficult to raise the issue at a time when the amount of the University’s state appropriation for the coming year is in question in the face of Pennsylvania’s looming multi-billion dollar budget deficit.

“The chances of the state increasing our support are probably slim to none and we may have a cut,” Baker said.

Salary pool increases at Pitt traditionally are funded by the state appropriation and tuition dollars, making for a precarious balance in the wake of declining state support for the state-related universities and pressure to hold down tuition increases.

“The purpose is to generate discussion of this issue. I certainly did not intend that in any way to be a criticism of the administration because I think the administration has done a very good job of managing the money that’s been available,” Baker said.

“What I was trying to do is engage the administration in a dialogue on it for consideration in the future,” he said, adding that he would like to revisit at some point the proposition that the salary pool be funded at least 1 percent higher than inflation whenever possible.

“I would like to see it be a goal and not a requirement. I’m hoping we can view it that way as something that we could discuss and maybe come up with some common things that we agree on,” Baker said.

The University’s balancing act when it comes to budget decisions goes beyond compensation issues, Ramicone noted, adding that other expenses such as debt service, software maintenance agreements, utilities, insurance and the cost of operating new buildings all add to the total expenses. “There’s a lot more to the budgetary increases than just comp,” Ramicone said, noting that the University Planning and Budgeting Committee’s (UPBC) parameters subcommittee wrestles with all those issues as a University budget is developed each year.

DeJong added that he found the BPC discussion valuable. “It does show how many different factors that are weighed in the UPBC as we pursue our salary objectives,” he said.

“Beyond the monetary factors, there are additional factors like, in the last several years, maintaining stable employment levels and being able to avoid using furloughs to balance the budget. All those factors are weighed in UPBC and, obviously, the salary considerations are one of those factors. But there are a lot of other considerations and a lot of constraints.”

DeJong added, “[Baker] started out the meeting recognizing that salary is one thing you think about when you think about budget. In this particular economic climate, I think a focus on efficiency enhancements and cost management would also be extremely important to do. Certainly UPBC wrestles with those issues when they’re dealing with salary issues, so we could sit down and do some analysis of salary history, but I really think that we’ve got to look at the big picture as we’re wrestling with the salary component of the puzzle.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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