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April 28, 2011

University Senate Matters: Is your salary unfairly low?

Is your salary unfairly low?

by John J. Baker

In recent Senate Matters columns, I have discussed fairness in Pitt faculty salaries from the perspectives of gender equity (March 3 University Times) and salary compression (Feb. 3 University Times). The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) defines salary compression as the circumstance in which more senior faculty at a particular institution are paid less than recently appointed junior faculty. Fortunately, considerable public information is available to help faculty members put their salaries in context.

Pitt reports average faculty salaries at the three professorial ranks annually to the AAUP for publication in the March-April issue of Academe. In 2010-2011, for an adjusted nine-month contract, Pittsburgh campus full professors averaged $132,800, associate professors $88,400 and assistant professors $72,200.

Some long-time faculty assume their salary is unfairly low if it is significantly below the average for their academic rank. However, this is not necessarily the case, because the reported average includes all salaries regardless of discipline — and salaries vary widely across different academic fields.

In considering how fair one’s own salary is, start by examining average salary for colleagues at your academic rank within your school. This information is reported annually to the Pennsylvania Department of Education in Pitt’s Snyder Report ( and to the University Senate budget policies committee in a report titled “Mean and Median Salaries of Full-Time Employees FY [year].” (See March 31 University Times.)

If long-employed faculty learn that their salaries are significantly below the reported average for their academic rank in their school, the next step is to compare their academic work productivity to that of their peers.

Pitt compensates non-instructional activities (research, publication and administration) at significantly higher levels than instructional activity (teaching). The average Pitt instructional and non-instructional salaries at the three professorial ranks can be calculated from salary and FTE data in Pitt’s Snyder Report. The table shows these for four academic fields in 2009-2010; 2010-2011 data are not available yet. (Note that salary data in different reports typically do not match — not only because of date discrepancies, but also because of different data definitions: Full-time or FTE? Nine-month contract or 12? All campuses or Pittsburgh only?)


As the table shows, there were significantly lower average salaries for instructional activities across all four academic areas, especially in the health professions and engineering, where faculty are expected to obtain research grants.

If a faculty member believes that his or her non-instructional output compares favorably with that of similarly occupied colleagues in the unit but has a below-average salary, then it is reasonable to conclude that his or her salary is unfairly low. The faculty member should speak with the department chair, then write a letter to the dean or director with a copy to the chair requesting a salary adjustment and giving the reasons for the request.

In my experience, most deans try to be fair and usually will make a salary adjustment for a meritorious faculty member who has an unfairly low salary relative to comparable faculty in the unit. The funds available for making such an adjustment may be limited in a given year, so it may take more than one year to bring the faculty member up to an equitable level.

If a dean declines to make such a salary adjustment, the faculty member can file a formal grievance with the Provost’s office. This last resort should be undertaken only after other remedies have been exhausted and there is good supporting evidence for both merit and an unfair salary relative to comparable faculty in the responsibility center.

Faculty who passively wait for a dean to make a voluntary salary adjustment may never receive one. Pitt’s administration does not consider salary compression alone a sufficient reason for adjustment, and a faculty member normally must have demonstrable non-instructional work output merit to receive one.

John J. Baker is past president of the University Senate and chair of the budget policies committee.


From our freshman reps

by Patricia Weiss

At the April 5 Faculty Assembly meeting, Provost Patricia Beeson described the University’s educational assessment process and its role in preparations for Pitt’s 2011-12 reaccreditation evaluation.

After the meeting, we caught up with two of the freshman representatives to Faculty Assembly we are following this year. Their comments:

From Kevin Kearns,

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs:

I thought the presentation by the provost was clear and compelling. It is clear that a good-faith effort to track student-learning outcomes is not just a compliance or accountability issue, but also makes sense from an educational standpoint. If done well, student learning outcomes could be an important pedagogical innovation.

From Colleen Culley, School of Pharmacy:

I appreciated the update and clarification on the budget implications of the commonwealth appropriations from the provost. As she noted, the line items affected by the proposed cuts are greater than what I had heard explained thus far.

The presentation by the provost on student learning and re-accreditation was informative. It was good to hear that the curriculum assessments requested by the Provost’s office are being used and rolled into the overall University assessment. I appreciated the discussion about the history nationally surrounding the need for program assessment at the University level. I agree with the provost’s comments that the assessment should be faculty-driven to ensure that the stakeholders are gathering and interpreting the data about programs. The discussion about a central office of assessment was thoughtful and seemed to be supportive of the plan to keep the assessment at the faculty level.

The School of Pharmacy has recently completed the self-study process as part of our successful reaccreditation. The 14 standards that the provost described were similar for the school’s report with institutional content, educational effectiveness and assessment. It was interesting to hear that the University will be focusing the self-study document on the assessment standards with institutional effectiveness and assessment of student learning.

It was encouraging to hear that the focus of the University is quality of our schools and programs.

Patricia Weiss is vice president of the University Senate.

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