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January 10, 2013



Salary inequity: The norm at Pitt

To the editor:

Pitt’s Board of Trustees recently awarded high dollar amount salary increases to the University’s officers (University Times, Dec. 6). Their salaries are in the upper tier of officer salaries for Pitt’s peer group — public universities in the American Association of Universities (AAU).

By contrast, most of Pitt’s core teaching faculty receive salaries near the bottom of their public AAU faculty peer groups.  This may be a desirable management tool because it keeps operating costs low, but it causes faculty hardship and turnover — and does not promote quality teaching, something Pitt claims as a priority.

For 2011-12, Pitt’s Oakland non-medical school assistant professors averaged $71,700, versus $77,900 for AAU peers; instructors $45,300, versus $53,600; lecturers $44,300, versus $59,000; no-rank faculty $45,200, versus $52,200 (for details, go to

Most full professors are well-paid ($131,800 average, 2011-12), but constitute a small minority of core non-medical school teaching faculty (26 percent of Oakland’s 1,744 full-time faculty; 10 percent when part-time faculty and graduate assistants are included).

Part-time faculty salaries at Pitt are not published and vary from unit to unit.  Many part-time faculty are paid a set amount per course taught: $2,722-$4,046 for a three-credit course is common. A full-time teaching load (12 credits each of two semesters, totaling eight courses) pays only $21,776- $32,368 yearly.

The raises received by some Pitt officers were higher than the entire annual salaries of most part-time and some full-time faculty. While the officers may merit good pay raises, perspective on dollar amounts is in order. A 3.3 percent raise on $561,500 ($18,530) is enormous compared to a 3.3 percent raise on $21,776 ($719).

It is inequitable to bestow the same or higher percent raises on high-paid officers than on the vast majority of low-paid teaching faculty, due to disparate salary differences and the substandard salaries of most teaching faculty; the median faculty raise was only about 2.5 percent, not 3.7 percent.

Pitt’s low-ranking teaching faculty, like its officers, deserve to be rewarded appropriately relative to their peers, but they are not, nor have they been for many years. It’s hard to understand why this inequity exists when Pitt has the highest public university tuition and fees in the United States.

Pitt’s low state appropriation is a factor in this inequity, but not the only one, because high tuition compensates for the low state appropriation — a fact shown by comparing Pitt’s revenues to those of other public AAU universities on Trends in College Spending:

Other spending priorities, revealed by examining Pitt’s expenditures on — including above-average expenditures for tuition discounts, student services, research, public service, academic support, institutional support, operations and maintenance — are also factors in why the salaries of Pitt’s core teaching faculty are lower than those of their public AAU peers.

Whatever the reasons, Pitt’s trustees need to correct these faculty salary inequities. The core teaching faculty produce most of Pitt’s unrestricted revenue, so it is the right thing to do and will help Pitt attract and retain quality teaching faculty.

John J. Baker

University Senate

budget policies committee chair


University Senate president, 2006-2009


David N. DeJong, professor of economics and vice provost for academic planning and resources management, replies:

Because everyone is concerned with equity, in salaries and in other aspects of University life, the title that Dr. Baker has given to his letter is attention-grabbing. However, its conclusion is neither supported by the numbers nor consistent with his own earlier statements.

In commenting on the annual analysis comparing faculty salaries at Pitt to those at peer public AAU universities, Dr. Baker was quoted in the Oct. 11, 2012, issue of the University Times as calling Pitt salaries for full and associate professors “quite competitive,” while expressing concern at what he labeled below-average pay for assistant professors. At the suggestion of the Senate budget policies committee, a subsequent comparative analysis taking account of variations in cost-of-living was conducted. The results of that study were reported in the Nov. 8, 2012, issue of the University Times. Adjusted for cost of living, Pitt salaries, when compared to the 33 other public AAU universities, became even more competitive. Pitt full professor salaries rose from a ranking of 16th out of 34 in the unadjusted analysis to 5th; associate professor salaries rose from 14th to 6th; Pitt assistant professor salaries rose from 26th to 9th; and Pitt librarian salaries rose from 14th to 3rd.

To provide context for officer salary increases, the University’s media release reported that the average faculty raise for the current fiscal year was 3.7 percent. It also reported that nearly 15 percent of faculty members received raises of 5 percent or more and nearly 5 percent of faculty members received raises of 10 percent or more. Those numbers are accurate, and reflect the crux of a study requested by the University Senate and reported in an Oct. 27, 2011, article in the University Times. The study examined the salary increases of a fixed cohort of faculty over time. It revealed that salary increases for individual faculty members typically are not consistent from year to year.  Rather, individuals tend to receive extra-ordinary salary increases when they have a particularly productive year, when they are promoted, get a book published or receive an outside offer. And the study revealed that over time, the vast majority of faculty end up with raises that exceed inflation, and for the most productive and successful faculty, these raises far exceed inflation.

Dr. Baker seems to argue that raises should be calculated and compared on an absolute dollar basis and not on a percentage basis, which would be inconsistent with what appear to be near-universal practices as well as longstanding Pitt policies. Presumably, he would extend that approach to highly paid faculty and staff members, as well as to officers. However, since salary decisions at every university, for faculty and administration, involve considerations of both merit and market, any such approach would quickly put Pitt at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Dr. Baker’s regular references to “teaching faculty,” presumably as opposed to “non-teaching faculty,” also are puzzling. Research-active faculty members, as we all know, enhance the environment for teaching and learning through their teaching, mentoring, research and other scholarly and creative activities; they also play a key role in building the strong institutional reputation that distinguishes Pitt from other institutions and that is critical in attracting the large numbers of top students who now seek to be educated here. The references are also divisive. All faculty are critical for advancing the mission of the University, and the administration is committed to the maintenance of competitive salaries for all faculty, and for all staff as well.

Dr. Baker himself noted this commitment in an article in the July 26, 2012, University Times. Commenting on the increase in the salary pool announced for fiscal year 2013, Dr. Baker stated:

“Faculty and staff greatly appreciate the 3 percent salary pool increase this year, given the difficult funding choices Pitt’s administration had to make due to flat funding from the state, the limited tuition increase that could be imposed, and the hostile attitude of some state legislators to giving pay raises for faculty.”

He also stated: “To stay competitive with other AAU universities, Pitt needs to bring its faculty salaries up at all levels. To its credit, Pitt’s administration understands this and is trying to do it, but it is a difficult goal given the low level of support Pitt has received from the state in recent years.”

Dr. Baker’s assertion that Pitt officer salaries “are in the upper tier of officer salaries for Pitt’s peer group” is not substantiated. Even if true, that ranking would be justified by the high levels of performance and extended terms of service that have been characteristic of Pitt’s officers. However, the most recent survey of presidential compensation published by The Chronicle of Higher Education provides scant support for Dr. Baker’s suggestion that Pitt officers are better paid, in the comparative sense, than Pitt faculty members. Instead, that survey reveals that Chancellor Mark Nordenberg ranked 11th in compensation among the public AAU presidents.

To provide some additional context, among the 10 public AAU presidents with a higher level of compensation than Chancellor Nordenberg, only the Ohio State president has more extended presidential service. His total annual compensation was $1.99 million compared to Chancellor Nordenberg’s $561,500, and his presidential service has been spread across four different AAU universities.

The Chronicle’s surveys and other public reports also reveal that Chancellor Nordenberg’s compensation is lower than that paid to both the recently resigned and the recently appointed president of Penn State, Pennsylvania’s other public AAU university; to the presidents of Carnegie Mellon and Penn, Pennsylvania’s two private AAU universities; to the president of Temple, Pennsylvania’s non-AAU state-related research university, and to the presidents of Chatham, Duquesne and St. Vincent’s, our much smaller neighbors here in western Pennsylvania. Surely, if there is any inequity in those comparisons, it is not because Pitt pays its officers too much.


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