All units have salary-decision appeal procedures
A University-wide survey has found that all units have salary decision reconsideration procedures and that such requests from faculty and staff are rare.
It also found some policies could be more detailed and accessible, prompting administrators to plan to address the topic at the Council of Deans retreat next month.
In a Nov. 30 presentation to the Senate budget policies committee, David DeJong, vice provost for academic planning and resources management and a chancellor’s liaison to BPC, reported that all units are in compliance with Part V of Pitt’s salary increase policy (www.cfo.pitt.edu/policies/policy/07/07-09-01.html). It states: “Procedures should be developed within each responsibility center through which individual faculty and staff members can request reconsideration of decisions related to aspects of their salaries.”
Under the policy, BPC and the Staff Association Council (SAC), in consultation with the administration, are responsible for monitoring and reporting each year to the University Senate and SAC on the implementation of the policy.
“It was a couple years ago that we made sure each unit was informing their faculty and their staffs of their right to do an appeal,” DeJong said. (See Sept. 11, 2008, University Times.) In response to BPC discussion in September (see Oct. 11 University Times), and because Carey Balaban recently became vice provost for academic affairs, “This seemed like a very opportune time to canvass the responsibility centers and get an inventory,” DeJong told BPC.
“Carey and I surveyed the heads of every [responsibility center] and we asked them to share with us their procedure.” They also asked: “Over the past five years can you tell us how many appeals that you’ve had and of those appeals how many resulted in an adjustment in salary?”
DeJong said most University units hadn’t kept count. “Guesstimates” in response to the question showed that of some 70,000 salary decisions made over the past five years, there were fewer than three dozen reconsideration requests. “A little less than half the time some adjustment was made following the appeal,” DeJong added.
Most cases were handled within the employee’s responsibility center, with only about five requests taken to the senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences or the provost, he said.
BPC co-chair Beverly Gaddy said the number of requests seems extremely low. “I wonder if that’s because people are satisfied with their salary decisions? Or is it that they’re too intimidated to appeal for some reason? Or not aware?”
DeJong said he found no increase following the directive to ensure that units were informing their employees of their rights to appeal. “I don’t think it was a lack of information that explains the low rate,” he said, declining to speculate further.
Adriana Maguina-Ugarte, SAC’s representative to BPC, offered her opinion on why staff might not appeal. “We don’t have tenure, for one thing,” she said, adding that lack of courage to appeal to higher levels, a lack of clarity about the procedures and ties to staff performance evaluations also could be factors.
She asked what percentage of the reported requests came from staff. DeJong said the survey had not asked for that information.
DeJong said he and Balaban noticed “quite a bit of variation across the units relative to how detailed the procedures are and also the level of accessibility.”
Some units post their policies online, some detail them in faculty and staff handbooks, some convey the policy in employees’ annual salary letters, he said.
The best are “very clear, very detailed.”
Some units provide a template, he said. Other policies are very specific about what criteria should be identified in making an appeal or in outlining the steps of the process.
Based on that variability, it was decided to bring the issue to the Council of Deans, which includes responsibility center heads.
DeJong said administrators plan to highlight some exemplary policies and ask units to consider modifications along the line of the examples. They also plan to suggest better accessibility in areas where the policies are difficult to find.
“The University’s policy is pretty short and sweet,” he said, reiterating that all units are in compliance. “But I do think that we could have some improvements if we follow the lead of some of the units that we identified that really have quite good procedures in place.”
BPC co-chair John J. Baker asked whether a standardized salary reconsideration form was being considered.
DeJong replied that he’d like to see where discussion at the Council of Deans leads. “If there’s a desire to standardize across units, that’s something we’ll certainly will work to do. But if there are good reasons why one unit would want to have a more flexible policy than another, that’s really for them to decide.”
Baker said, “I think this is an excellent first step toward resolving problems in the past. And I look forward in terms of having a more uniform procedure in the future everywhere.”
In other business:
• Baker outlined several resources for data on Pitt and other institutions of higher education in light of the recently released Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education report. (See Nov. 21 University Times.)
The report states that higher education in Pennsylvania is less affordable than in many other states and receives less state support, Baker said. It also concluded that higher-than-average costs to deliver higher education in Pennsylvania stem largely from the variety and quality of opportunities institutions offer.
The report recommends linking increased funding to performance in multiple areas, with scorecards measuring performance in constraining the growth of educational costs; increasing access to underserved groups; responding to workforce needs; closing achievement gaps; decreasing time to completion, and attracting research funds.
DeJong said he felt Pitt would compare positively on performance measures. “My own personal opinion on this is cautious optimism,” DeJong said of the report. “It can end up as a very positive thing for us and now the governor has to act on it and that remains to be seen.”
He said Pitt has been working “extremely hard” on cost containment. He added that in terms of comparing performance, as long as appropriate criteria are used, he feels that Pitt is strong in comparison with its peer institutions.
Baker noted that information on individual institutions as well as statewide and nationwide data can be found using sites such as the Delta Cost Project (www.deltacostproject.org) and its trends in college spending data site (www.tcs-online.org) as well as the National Center for Education Statistics’ integrated post secondary educational data system (IPEDS) data center (http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds) and its college navigator (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator) comparison site.
For example, he noted that the net price for the private University of Pennsylvania is $500 more than at Pitt. “That gives you some idea of competition,” he said, noting that while Pitt does well with the resources it has, Penn has “a lot more resources.”
Education and general (E&G) spending data showing year-to-year changes in various categories of University spending can be gleaned from the TCP site.
Between 2004 and 2008, Pitt’s average annual change in E&G spending was up 1.1 percent. Broken down, average annual spending was up in the categories of instruction (2.1 percent), student services (3.7 percent), research (5.5 percent), academic support (5.8 percent), institutional support (8.2 percent) and operations and maintenance (10.4 percent). Spending was down in public service (4.3 percent), according to a table Baker provided.
“You can see our costs at Pitt are increasing not so much in instruction, but in other parts of the University,” he said.
Examples of other information on Pitt that can be compared to other schools include spending within education and related components; price vs. spending comparisons; revenues by source; cost, price and subsidies; degrees and completions; graduation rates, and spending per outcome.
“That type of information is readily available if you want to use it,” he said, urging BPC members to become familiar with the data available.
Data examples are posted at www.pitt.edu/univsenate/committees/budget/documents.html.
“It’s very difficult to talk about these things if you don’t understand the material. You’ve got to look at this stuff to really understand it,” he said. “It’s amazing how useful this information is.”
IPEDs data includes details on spending, faculty numbers and average salaries, freshman class SAT scores, enrollment and degrees awarded in various fields. “You can compare any university in the country this way,” he said.
Arthur G. Ramicone, chief financial officer, agreed, “There’s a lot of information out there,” but urged caution in using it. “It’s a blunt tool,” he said, noting, for instance, if operations and maintenance has increased while instruction remains flat, it could be due to a new research building on campus. Or if people are hired to handle new research, they’re counted on the institutional support line. “Who knows all that stuff institution by institution? It leads you in a certain direction where you want to do more analysis, but in and of itself it’s really hard to draw meaningful conclusions.”
• Gaddy noted that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s reaccreditation review pointed out that it has been nearly a decade since the University’s planning and budgeting system (PBS) has been reviewed. (See Sept. 13 University Times.)
BPC member Phil Wion said the PBS document provides for periodic reviews. “If it’s been 10 years, it probably is time to look at it again.” The process is too time-consuming to complete this year, but “we ought to revisit that and think about initiating the process,” he said.
—Kimberly K. Barlow