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February 4, 2010

Regional salary benchmarking: Faculty claim marginalization

Faculty leaders at the Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown campuses are frustrated by what they termed the “marginalization” of faculty input into a Provost’s office proposal to establish a list of institutions for benchmarking their faculty salaries.

The frustrations were voiced in response to a report at the Jan. 26 Faculty Assembly meeting and re-visited at the Jan. 29 University Senate budget policies committee (BPC) meeting on an issue that has been debated for a decade and prompted several alternative benchmarking list proposals.

Reiterating a report delivered at last week’s Faculty Assembly, BPC chair John Baker reported on a Dec. 21 letter from Provost James V. Maher to Senate President Michael Pinsky, which stated that there is a consensus on a “mutually agreeable group” among the regional campus presidents and their faculty senates to adopt as the official institutional benchmark list “all Carnegie II-B institutions from the three geographic districts that come together near western Pennsylvania” (Middle Atlantic, East North Central and South Atlantic).

However, Greensburg campus faculty representatives who attended the BPC meeting disputed that all three faculty governance groups had agreed to the provost’s recommendation, as did faculty leaders at Bradford and Johnstown who were contacted by the University Times.

Kimberly Bailey, secretary of the Pitt-Bradford Faculty Senate, stated in an email last week: “I talked with our Senate president [Don Ulin] on this issue and we agreed there was no vote taken because no one perceived a need. Without a vote, we were neither rejecting nor endorsing the provost’s list.”

Pitt-Greensburg faculty president Beverly Gaddy, who attended the Jan. 29 BPC meeting, said that while her campus faculty did in fact vote to accept the provost’s list of approximately 250 public, private and church-related institutions in the II-B category, “We understood it to be a ‘take it or leave it’ proposal.”

Faculty at the three campuses have struggled for years to agree on a common list, which has been a prerequisite to seeking the approval of the Provost’s office, Gaddy noted.

She said a faculty-developed shorter list of institutions that had been approved unanimously by all three faculty senates — a proposal that became known as the “Greensburg list” — matched the provost’s proposal except that it eliminated the religious schools.

“The benchmark group we all unanimously agreed to is a fair list,” Gaddy said. “It includes those institutions that are most similar to us in size, mission and market. Our proposed benchmark of approximately 128 institutions includes all II-B public and private institutions in the [same] three regions.”

Following their separate campus senate approvals, faculty representatives jointly sent their proposal to Maher last April, Gaddy said.

“The faculty senate presidents (Don Ulin of Bradford, Valerie Grash of Johnstown and I), with the assent of our campus presidents, sent a letter to Provost Maher informing him that we had agreed to a list, and attaching our report,” Gaddy said.

She said their letter acknowledged that no benchmark list is perfect, but added “that some reasonable benchmark must be established if only for the purpose of honest internal assessment of the size of [any salary] gap and its fluctuations from year to year.”

The letter further suggested the willingness of the campus faculty presidents to meet with the provost or his designee for further discussion, Gaddy said.

“We received a written response from Provost Maher on May 1, 2009. The response focused solely upon our offer to meet with Provost Maher or one of his representatives,” Gaddy said. “It read, in part, ‘It would be inappropriate for me to meet with a faculty member to address an agenda so closely tied to that faculty member’s advisory role to a regional campus president without having that president attend the meeting. In addition, there is no recognized fused identity to the three campus advisory groups that would attend such a meeting, and there would be the danger that you or others could construe such a meeting as conferring a political identity to such a supra-campus group, transcending and weakening the roles of the campus presidents.’”

Gaddy added that Maher’s letter advised the campus leaders that the proper means by which regional faculty could influence the issue was through their representatives on the University Senate and the Senate budget policies committee, which, she said, prompted her attendance at the Jan. 29 BPC meeting.

Gaddy also attended the Jan. 26 Faculty Assembly meeting at which the provost, via Baker’s report, was seeking Assembly approval of his list prior to soliciting Senate Council approval.

“As one of Greensburg’s representatives to the Faculty Assembly and the Senate Council, I spoke to the issue at [the Jan. 26 Faculty Assembly] meeting and requested the one-month delay in order to permit representatives from Bradford and Johnstown to also speak to the issue,” Gaddy said.

Pitt-Johnstown faculty president Valerie Grash said her Faculty Senate also voted last September to approve the provost’s list. “When it became glaringly evident that the [larger] II-B list was the only one that was going to be accepted by the provost, the decision was made that any benchmarking list was better than none; thus our faculty resignedly supported the only permitted option,” she told the University Times.

“[We] earnestly engaged the provost on the issue of benchmarking for many years,” Grash stated in an email last week. “The fact that our sincerest efforts have been stifled for an extended period of time is further demonstrated by the heavy-handed manner in which this particular salary benchmarking ‘agreement’ was achieved. It was indeed presented to us, as Beverly noted, as a ‘take it or leave it’ offer which, after years of dedicated, yet constantly frustrated, work, we decided to accept as better than nothing.”

Grash added, “At this time, we do not wish to step back and quibble about the substance of the benchmark — regardless of which one is used they all still verify that regional faculty members are underpaid. What we do oppose is presenting the issue as if the regional faculties were forthrightly engaged by the provost, and a willing consensus was agreed upon.”

At the BPC meeting, Gaddy said, “Which list becomes the benchmark is the smaller issue. Far more significant from my perspective is the marginalization of the regional faculty senates this last year regarding agreement on a benchmark. The integrity of the process, and the prevention of genuine faculty input, has now become the principal issue.”

As a result of their discussion, BPC members voted to divide the issue into two parts and plans to present two proposals to Faculty Assembly in response to Baker’s report. Faculty Assembly next meets Feb. 23.

At the meeting, the two BPC resolutions, the wording of which currently are being crafted, were summarized as follows:

1. The committee’s recommendation to “accept” the provost’s list of benchmarking institutions in the interest of moving forward, coupled with a request that salary data derived from one or more other proposed benchmarking lists of the regional faculty senates’ choosing be included as addenda to the annual report on faculty salaries prepared for BPC by the Management Information and Analysis office. BPC annually tracks faculty salaries as part of its mission.

2. A resolution expressing frustration with the process as having marginalized regional faculty input, and recommending improving communication channels for future issues affecting regional faculty.

In other business, BPC co-secretary Phil Wion updated his running tally that notes the annual rate of inflation and University salary pool increase. He noted that in calendar year 2008, inflation was 0.1 percent and that in the most recent Pitt fiscal year, there was no salary pool increase due to the University-wide salary freeze.

For 2009, the inflation rate is 2.7 percent, Wion said, noting that the figure needs to be taken into account by the University planning and budgeting committee when considering its recommendations on the salary pool for the upcoming fiscal year.

Wion also urged BPC to request that University administrators provide their annual report on Pitt faculty and staff salaries, in spite of the current wage freeze.

The report, prepared by Pitt’s Management Information and Analysis office, offers a snapshot of faculty and staff salaries for each responsibility center, categorized by faculty rank or staff job classification.

“Asking for the reports to be reiterated every year, even in years of a freeze, I think is appropriate,” Wion said. “There’s going to be some fluctuation in those data even in the year of a freeze. I wouldn’t assume that a salary report for the past year was absolutely identical with the one we received for the year before.” He noted that new hires, promotions and retirements were among the factors that could impact the report.

—Peter Hart & Kimberly K. Barlow


What are II-B schools?

Category II-B schools, drawn from the Carnegie classification but used in the AAUP survey, are four-year public, private-independent and chaurch-related institutions characterized by an emphasis on undergraduate baccalaureate-level education, as opposed to graduate degrees.

The number of II-B institutions fluctuates as schools reach a threshold of three discrete graduate programs and thus are reclassified.

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