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May 1, 2003

Pittsburgh faculty salaries gain ground

Average salaries of Pittsburgh campus assistant professors ($59,600), associate professors ($68,000) and full professors ($102,400) all have gained ground since last year, compared with salaries at other Association of American Universities (AAU) schools. (AAU average salary charts for assistant, associate and full professors, as well as librarians.)

Pitt now ranks at, or above, the median among the 34 public universities in the United States that belong to the AAU, a group of prominent North American research universities that includes public institutions such as Pitt, Penn State and the state systems of California and New York, as well as Ivy League schools and other private universities, including Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pennsylvania.

According to the annual salary survey published in the March/April issue of Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors, Pitt ranks 14th among the 34 public AAU schools for the average salary paid to assistant professors (up from 19th place last year); 17th for associate professors’ average salary (up from 21st last year), and 15th for full professors’ average pay (up from 19th last year).

Even Pitt librarians’ salaries — which have long ranked near the bottom among AAU schools that belong to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) — have moved up in rank since the 2001-2002 academic year.

Among the 34 public AAU/ARL schools, the average salary of a librarian in Pitt’s University Library System ($52,000) ranks 26th, up from 30th last year.

Pitt faculty salaries rank considerably lower, proportionately, when measured against salaries at all 60 private as well as public AAU universities surveyed.

But Pitt administrators argue — and University Senate leaders acknowledge — that the private schools’ multi-billion-dollar endowments, high tuitions, specialized curricula and freedom from state government regulation (and reliance on shrinking state appropriations) give them a nearly insurmountable financial advantage over public AAU schools.

“We have continued to make investments in faculty salaries and we’ve done it consistently, budget after budget, at a time when other universities are finding themselves hard-pressed to make those investments,” said Robert F. Pack, vice provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management, at the April 25 meeting of the University Senate’s budget policies committee.

A number of prestigious public universities, including the University of Illinois and the University of California’s Davis and Irvine campuses, slipped by 6-10 places in some faculty ranks last year compared with their AAU peers, Pack noted.

But he added: “It isn’t just that we’re benefiting from bad economies in other states. [Pennsylvania’s] certainly isn’t any better. But this year’s numbers emphasize the high priority that our University has given to trying to maintain adequate increases in compensation.”

The Pittsburgh campus’s average salary raises this year were 6.9 percent for full professors, 4 percent for associate professors, 5.3 percent for assistant professors and 7 percent for librarians.

Among all 34 public AAU schools, salary raises this year averaged just 2 percent for professors, 2.3 percent for associate professors, 4.4 percent for assistant professors and 1.8 percent for librarians.

Pack noted what he called “a systematic movement of money during the last seven or eight years from administrative to academic areas” at Pitt, a move endorsed by faculty and staff participating in Pitt’s 10-year-old University Planning and Budgeting System.

When state funding cuts forced Pitt’s administration to withhold 2 percent from responsibility units’ budgets last year, budgets for academic activities largely were spared, the vice provost said.

This year’s improvement in the ranking of assistant professors’ salaries here proves that Pitt’s strategy of hiring assistant profs at the AAU median for their disciplines is paying off, Pack said.

This policy has been in place long enough that Pitt associate professors’ average salaries likewise are benefiting, he said. “You now have people coming in at sufficiently high assistant professors’ salaries in key disciplines that when they get promoted [to associate professor], their new salary is also a more appropriate one.”

Overtaking the remaining public universities that pay higher average salaries than Pitt will be difficult, according to Pack. A few of these schools (UC-Berkeley, UCLA, State University of New York-Stony Brook, among them) are located in high-cost areas where salaries are bound to remain high. Other elite public schools (such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin) “aren’t likely to give up the chase” in bidding for top faculty, Pack said.

Despite improvements in Pitt rankings in this year’s salary survey, the pay gap between public and private AAU schools remains a worry, said Pack.

“Clearly, it is becoming increasingly difficult for public universities, no matter what their intellectual and academic stature, to compete at the highest level for the most talented faculty,” he said. Only a handful of public schools have made the AAU’s top 20 for salaries in any professorial rank in recent years.

“Despite the gesture that Stanford is making to freeze its salaries this year because of the [sluggish] stock market, we all know that’s a ploy, that there are lots of faculty at Stanford who will probably make more money next year than they did this year,” said Pack.

“The reality is that a handful of private schools are absolutely immune to economic and market forces,” he said. Even in bad economic times, Pack pointed out, these universities’ endowments generate more than enough income to pay operating costs. In addition, he said, the Harvards and M.I.T.s of this world can hike tuition as high as they like.

“They can charge whatever they want, offer anything they want in terms of faculty salaries, and attract anybody they want as a result,” Pack said.

Despite this caveat, this year’s AAU salary survey was “a pretty good news story” for Pitt, he concluded.

English professor Phil Wion, who chairs the University Senate’s budget policies committee, agreed. “This is the most dramatic improvement in Pitt’s [AAU] rankings in a long time, if not ever,” he said.

“There is some question about whether the median of the AAU publics should be our target,” Wion noted. “The median of the overall AAU is our longstanding goal.

“We need to remind ourselves that Pitt’s goal, as enunciated by the chancellor this year, is to be one of the great universities of the world. And the median of the public AAU institutions in the United States is not going to make us one of the best in the world.

“But this [AAU survey] is real progress,” Wion allowed, “and I think we ought to look at the fullness of the glass rather than any emptiness.”

Pitt’s Office of Institutional Research has cited what it calls a number of problems inherent in the salary data published in Academe, including:

• Professors’ ages and tenure status are not taken into account. Universities with proportionately older and tenured faculty tend to pay higher salaries.

• Academe reports on salaries for a nine-month academic year. Average salaries of universities with a large proportion of faculty on 12-month contracts can be misrepresented.

• Academe data don’t account for academic disciplines. Schools that emphasize technical and high-demand fields such as business and engineering generally pay higher salaries than liberal arts schools. “You don’t hire to a campus, you hire to a department or a school,” as Wion pointed out last year.

Each year, Pitt and other AAU schools exchange salary data for individual disciplines such as business, engineering, law and the natural sciences (Pitt’s high-priority units, as determined by the Board of Trustees). This information is a better gauge than Academe’s survey of whether Pitt faculty salaries are competitive, said Pack, but the universities don’t reveal these data publicly.

Pitt has just begun receiving this year’s reports of discipline-specific salaries, he said.

— Bruce Steele

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