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June 22, 2000


Discrepancies in Pitt salaries

To the editor:

In the May 11, 2000, University Times we learned more about the way the University spends its money on salaries than we have known in the past. Most interesting to me, we began to learn more about how the huge discrepancies among salaries within the same division have developed over the years. It would appear that there are two reasons for this state of affairs.

First, the University has long admitted that the market is more important than merit in determining salaries. That means higher raises for faculty who can attract outside offers, and higher starting salaries in trendy disciplines.

Now the University Times has revealed another reason for salary discrepancies within divisions. It would appear that the administration routinely distributes to departments a standard, average raise for the budgeted number of faculty members, regardless of how many of those positions are filled. That means the average increment to individual faculty members is higher, in terms of percentage, than the increment allotted to individual departments.

I am not sure I understand exactly what is happening here. When I was chair of my department, I often fought for two or three years to replace a retiring colleague, or one who had left for a more prestigious position, or one who had been denied tenure, but I never saw any addition to the pool for salary increments during these periods. Does that mean we were budgeted for a decrease in size even before the end of the recent planning process? I was never told.

Whatever the case, it would appear that there are always a number of budgeted but unfilled positions in FAS that always make the FAS average raise higher than our departmental allocation. I cannot imagine that the administration simply allows the raise that would accrue to these positions, were they actually filled, to be distributed to continuing faculty. That might mean that the University is planning to hire at a rate inferior to the market when the position is eventually filled, but this seems to me to be highly unlikely. Or the administration may simply be using this device to explain a strategy of increasing the relative size of the salary pool in select departments.

In any event, it has long been the case that the average raise to continuing faculty at the University has been much higher in percentage terms than the amount distributed to a department like ours. This suggests to me that the University is pursuing a two-tiered policy for the support of departments, and makes no provision for rewarding individual achievement outside favored departments.

If I have understood the situation correctly, it urgently needs to be addressed, for it probably contributes much more to faculty dissatisfaction with the compensation structure at Pitt than any comparison with salaries at other AAU universities, whether private or public. We all understand that higher average salaries in California and Boston respond in some measure to a higher cost of living, and a different competitive environment.

A first-rate university deals with such matters in a way that makes university decisions, on compensation for example, seem rational to faculty even when an individual faculty member may disagree with them. I hope that Pitt will soon begin to address questions of faculty compensation and other matters of University governance in new and creative ways.

Daniel Russell


French and Italian Languages and Literatures

Provost James V. Maher replies:

There are several key issues to understanding the tables of numbers which Professor Russell is interpreting. These issues are all discussed in some detail in the University's salary policy document. Analysis of salary trends at major research universities shows that Pitt has been more egalitarian than our peer institutions in distributing salaries, and this has resulted in Pitt salaries for some disciplines and professions ranking lower than the overall Pitt ranking in the AAU. Since the entire argument for comparing our salaries to national norms is a market argument, it makes sense that the University salary policy includes a provision for devoting some of the salary increment pool to addressing market issues of the sort that we have identified. Only if we take cognizance of these market issues will we be able to attract and retain the faculty we need in each area of the University.

For all of us who are concerned to keep the University's salaries competitive, it should also be regarded as a positive element in our recent experience that the salary pool made available for raises has always been somewhat larger than the announced fractional increase would indicate because the pool is calculated from the budgeted rather than the filled positions. I do not know exactly how the salary increases for Professor Russell's department were handled during his time as department chair, but I am confident that the funds available to the overall faculty would have exceeded the announced fractional increase because the central budgeting adjustment was calculated in the same way then. I have required that the full amount that is budgeted for salary increases be distributed to continuing faculty, which is why the average annual increase exceeds the percentage that is announced as the raise pool.


Creating a crisis of confidence

To the editor:

Recent newspaper articles revealed that Pitt's football coach is one of the four highest paid employees of the University. His salary is higher even than that of the chancellor. I remember that when Babe Ruth was told that his $80,000 salary was greater than that of President Hoover, he responded: "What kind of year did the president have?"

Ordinarily, I would assume that the football coach had a better year than the chancellor. But that's not what the Board of Trustees said when it gave the chancellor his financial rewards. Because of his great year, they gave him a bonus — and a percentage raise greater than that dedicated to faculty. The answer, of course, is in Pitt spokesperson Ken Service's statement that it's a question of the market: Good coaches cost more than any old chancellor. Of course, with a coach whose record is at or below .500, one wonders about the "good" part. I have often stated my opinion: We should get rid of such anomalies and absurdities as coaches who are involved in activities that have nothing to do with the main purpose of the University. But it's the market that dominates, and the people who run the University have, in their wisdom, chosen to accept the market economy model. I assume that we are in market competition with Nebraska, Penn State, Notre Dame and Alabama.

At least for football coaches. But what of other people — like professors? In the current discussion of equal benefits for same-sex partnerships, the board of that other university up the street from Pitt (which doesn't have a serious sports program to speak of) announced that they were in competition with Stanford and MIT and Harvard, and since those universities were giving same-sex health benefits, Carnegie Mellon had to do what the market demanded in order to remain competitive academically.

Is the Pitt Board of Trustees — and its faithful mouthpieces at all levels — prepared to say that we don't aspire to be in the same marketplace as Stanford, MIT and Harvard? Mr. Service keeps saying that we are a state-affiliated organization, subject to the will of the legislature. I wonder whether this isn't a bogeyman argument. But whether it is or not, what really is at stake is the University. The trustees and administration would like to define the University as themselves. Mr. Service says it again and again: "We at Pitt…etc." I have no idea what "We at Pitt" think, but I suspect that what the faculty think is quite different from what the Board of Trustees thinks and what the chancellor says.

I am disturbed that the University is losing good people because of the atmosphere created by the board and the administration. The recent letter in the Post-Gazette by Professor Scheuerman of the political science department is indicative of a malaise and an unhappiness that must be taken seriously. One young scholar goes off to the University of Chicago, another to the University of Minnesota. What will the administration say: We don't compete with the universities of Chicago and Minnesota? Wait a minute. What happened to that market economy stuff we heard when they tried to explain why a losing football coach was worth more than the chancellor? After we look at the list of universities that the administration has chosen not to compete with, I get the feeling that they are prepared to announce to the academic world that YES! we are committed to competition with the Bob Joneses of America.

When I came to Pitt in the mid-1960s, people still talked about the vision of the late Chancellor Litchfield: to make Pitt the Harvard on the Monon-gahela. Later, Wes Posvar had the vision of Pitt as an international university. Some of these men's dreams were laughable, some were exciting. But at least they had dreams. They had visions of what the University could be. As anybody at Bob Jones University can tell you: Where there is no vision, the people shall perish.

Recently, the three major U.S. auto manufacturers — Ford, General Motors and Daimler Chrysler — announced same-sex health benefits for their workers. Why? Because they decided that they did not want to lose good people — engineers, designers, managers, line workers — to other areas of the economy. Why do so many others seem to understand what it means to be competitive in the marketplace while our board and administration merely babble on about market conditions? For better or worse, the market does not understand religious or philosophical positions; money speaks clearly. Our blundering board and administration have chosen to cover their own strongly held religious views with babble about the marketplace — and while doing so, have turned a small personnel situation into a major crisis of confidence. Worse than being right or wrong, they have shown incompetence in their handling of the matter.

Myron Taube

Professor Emeritus

Department of English

Ken Service, director, Office of News & Information, replies:

As perhaps even Professor Taube might agree, extrapolating from a sample of two seldom yields universally valid results. Were that the case, I could demonstrate Pitt's competitive advantage by simply pointing to two of the many recent distinguished appointments, which include faculty members coming to Pitt from institutions that offer same-sex benefits. But evidence of Pitt's competitiveness does not end there. The upward trend in both the number of applicants and the academic credentials of the entering freshmen continues to increase, sponsored research dollars and private fundraising have reached all- time highs, and the appropriations bill awaiting the governor's signature includes $9 million in line item support — double last year's amount for laboratory improvements, information technology, and student life and program initiatives. That last item may be something for closer consideration by Professor Taube and others who share his opinion that Pitt can ignore the views and policies of state government with impunity. For recent evidence regarding the position of state government on this issue, one need look no further back than the June 19 edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which contained an article headlined "Harrisburg leaders back state policy." In the article, which notes that neither Penn State nor Pitt offers the benefits, high ranking representatives of the Commonwealth once again expressly state the view that any public university in Pennsylvania offering health benefits to same-sex couples would not be in compliance with state policy and would be jeopardizing its state funding. Under these circumstances, the leadership at both Pitt and Penn State have determined that the policies of state government, and the potential financial risk inherent in challenging them, remain significant issues that cannot be ignored.


Appoint joint committee to look at same-sex health benefits

To the editor and Chancellor Nordenberg:

As a University of Pittsburgh employee, I also have been closely following the saga of the University's fight to deny health benefits to partners of its gay and lesbian employees.

I would first like to greatly applaud the University's Faculty Assembly, the Equal Rights Alliance, and the Coalition Against Discrimination as well as all of the plaintiffs and their legal team for sticking with this fight, despite Judge Gallo's ruling.

At this point in this issue, it is utterly amazing to me that Chancellor Nordenberg and allies continue to insist that denying health benefits to this group of employees is not only non-discriminatory, but right. While the chancellor may counter that he has never stated that it is "right" to do this, his actions and the actions of the University members who support this denial is nothing less than benign neglect of the needs of probably hundreds of University employees, employees who work hard for, and represent, this institution. It is especially amazing, considering that the University's primary health insurance carrier has offered to extend benefits, and it has been proven that offering these benefits will not greatly increase benefit costs to the University.

I would like the chancellor and allies (as well as all University employees) who are married and able to have their spouse and children receive health benefits, to imagine their situation with one difference: that they have to pay out of their own pocket monthly for their family's benefits. What would that do to your finances? What type of plan would you be able to afford that would be worth it and that had adequate coverage? What if it meant that you couldn't afford to cover your spouse or child and there was a serious medical emergency?

I have been in a committed relationship for nearly seven years. My partner and I, like many other Americans, work in a two-income household, are paying extensive student loans, pay our taxes, volunteer in our community, and live a rather average life…often times paycheck to paycheck. After being laid off last year, my partner is now working as a para-professional in her field, but unfortunately with no benefits whatsoever. We pay $200 per month for her health benefits alone, and as a result, we had to choose between her health benefits and her pension plan. While we of course are still working towards the day when she will have another professional position with full benefits, it has been sometimes difficult adding that extra cost to our monthly bills. Being able to pay for her benefits through my job at Pitt would save us over $2,400 a year. That, chancellor, is the reality of this situation. My current commitment is no different than the marriages of my friends and colleagues. We are not just two individuals living together; we have combined finances, have living wills and power of attorneys for each other, share our possessions and living space, and plan our future and hopefully retirement together around our careers, dreams and potentially raising children together.

If Chancellor Nordenberg and the University chose to do the right thing, it could be worked out. If there are non-legally married heterosexual couples who would feel discriminated against if same-sex couples received benefits, they would at least have the option of a legal, common-law marriage. I do not have that option. I have no other options but to pay for what many of my colleagues in the same level of a relationship receive as a benefit of their em-ployment…based solely on a piece of paper stamped by the state of Pennsylvania.

I urge the chancellor and trustees to seriously consider the efforts and words of the Faculty Assembly and approve their request for a "joint committee of concerned persons" on this issue.

Mary Herbert

Clinic and Outreach Coordinator

Program for Health Care to Underserved Populations

Division of General Internal Medicine

Ken Service, director, Office of News & Information, replies:

As Chancellor Nordenberg indicated at the last [June 12] Senate Council meeting, he has a belief in the value of dialogue, and he stated that he would discuss the Faculty Assembly proposal with President Hershey. However, he also pointed out at that time that the existence of the litigation, which Ms. Herbert says she applauds, is a major impediment to free and open discussion of the kind that Ms. Herbert seeks.

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