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April 4, 2013

Assembly hears concerns about med school compensation policy

Faculty members expressed concerns about compensation practices for non-clinical medical school faculty during Faculty Assembly’s April 2 meeting.

A lack of understanding of the medical school’s salary policies — not only by some medical school faculty, but also by members of the Senate tenure and academic freedom committee — became apparent as TAFC has received requests for guidance by tenured medical school faculty members who are concerned about planned salary reductions in the coming academic year, Senate President Thomas C. Smitherman said. (University policy allows faculty members to request that the tenure and academic freedom committee investigate and mediate on behalf of a faculty member when efforts to resolve a grievance arising from an administrator’s actions have been unsuccessful. Dissatisfaction with salary decisions is excluded from University Policy 02-03-01, except in cases where the salary decision is part of a pattern of conduct that may form the basis for a grievance.)

In his report, Smitherman said the Senate’s executive committee has received assurances from the School of Medicine that documents pertaining to the school’s salary policy will be posted online.

Documents not already posted are expected to be available in the faculty affairs section of the School of Medicine web site in the next month or so, Ann E. Thompson, associate dean for faculty affairs, told the University Times.

Smitherman said the affected faculty were mainly from basic science areas who are not members of the University of Pittsburgh Physicians, the practice plan through which medical school faculty who provide clinical care receive separate compensation.

Under the medical school’s salary system, tenured faculty who do not meet productivity standards can have their compensation cut by as much as 20 percent each year.

A “faculty performance and evaluation update” dated Jan. 30, 2013 ( states, in part, “The target for the School of Medicine is to obtain an overall average of 75 percent support of faculty salaries from research grants of those faculty who are not members of UPP,” and outlines the evaluation process, including the potential salary cuts that could result if faculty fail to meet the goals set in their annual performance plans.

The document, which Smitherman said was approved by the medical school’s executive committee in February, “was largely unknown to members of the TAFC who were not members of the faculty of the School of Medicine and apparently had gone unnoticed by some faculty members of the School of Medicine,” he said.

Smitherman said, “Now the attention of the TAFC can turn to giving advice and guidance and helping in mediation of affected faculty members within the School of Medicine who are facing salary reduction, in the light of and with attention to the existing policies and procedures relevant to this issue.”

The document, however, raised some questions.

TAFC co-chair Rose Constantino thanked Smitherman for his support as the committee deliberated the issues, but said TAFC still needs more answers. “Two remaining gnawing questions that we have are: When did this become policy? … Is it applied evenly and equally to all faculty?”

Senate budget policies committee chair John J. Baker asked whether the policy was approved by medical school faculty or by its planning and budgeting committee.

“I would hope that the medical school would have an opportunity to vote on this rather than the administration just imposing this policy,” Baker said, adding that the compensation issue is not new. “There is no policy in the medical school that you have to have 75 or 50 percent of your salary on a grant,” he said. “The problem is this is applied selectively to certain people and you can use this to break tenure,“ Baker said. “If you have a policy like that, it should be applied to everybody in the School of Medicine and should be approved by the faculty.”

Tight research budgets play a role, noted Senate past president Michael Pinsky. “We’re pretty much stuck between a rock and hard place,” he said, citing reduced federal funding for research and increasing difficulties in obtaining both new grants and renewals.

“Grants that we expected would have been funded in a cakewalk a year ago aren’t being funded today,” Pinsky said. “In this setting, targeting a 75 percent support (level) when federal funding is not flat but decreasing is unrealistic if we expect to maintain the same faculty.

“A presumed assumption of this proposal is that we are going to let faculty go. If that’s the case and we’re talking about tenured faculty, this is something that the faculty as a whole should be discussing. These are the subtexts of this memo that need to be addressed.”

Thompson had no estimate of how many medical school faculty members could be affected. Likewise, Constantino and TAFC co-chair Lisa Borghesi had no estimate, nor would they elaborate on how many faculty members had approached the committee.

A report by TAFC is expected to be on Faculty Assembly’s April 30 meeting agenda.


Smitherman said that faculty members with clinical activities in addition to research and teaching activities have more flexibility with regard to sources of salary support than do those with no clinical and clinical administrative activities, “principally investigator-educators in the basic sciences.”

“These faculty members typically spend about 75 percent of their time with research and about 15 percent with teaching and mentoring and about 10 percent with service activities. Many of the direct and indirect teaching activities of these faculty members are associated with their own research. Opportunities to carry a full-time teaching load are greatly limited, unlike the situation in the natural sciences on the lower campus. Thus, absent funds for salary support from research grants and contracts for research, support for the salary of these faculty members must be diverted from funds that are not intended for that purpose,” Smitherman explained.

The issue of faculty performance is to be the focus of Arthur S. Levine’s annual state of the medical school address. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, has selected “Faculty Performance: Opportunities in a Time of Threats” as the topic for his talk, set for 4:30 p.m. May 22 in Scaife Hall lecture rooms 5 and 6.


The bulk of the April 2 meeting was reserved for a presentation by Provost Patricia E. Beeson, held in closed session at her request.

Senate bylaws permit Faculty Assembly to meet in executive session “when necessary and appropriate for dealing with confidential matters.”

The provost’s presentation, Smitherman said, stemmed from the Senate’s focus on the 2012 National Research Council report on the nation’s research universities (see Oct. 11, 2012, University Times). In addition to discussing Pitt’s progress, Smitherman said Beeson’s talk focused as well on “the challenging financial times this coming academic year poses and how that may affect our budget.”


In other business:

Kacey Marra, chair of the gender discrimination initiatives subcommittee of the Senate antidiscriminatory policies committee, reported on its recent activities.

Among the issues:

• Lactation rooms on campus. She noted that a list of 16 lactation rooms can be found on the Human Resources web page. The site also now has a link for parents-to-be.

• Sick childcare facilities. Marra noted a sick childcare room, available to the community, is located at the Children’s Center of Pittsburgh in Oakland.

• Clarifying policies for non-tenure stream faculty. Marra noted the subcommittee’s recommendations were approved by the Senate in December. (See Jan. 10, University Times.) The subcommittee also is supporting efforts to speed distribution of Pitt IDs to non-tenure stream faculty and is backing a petition in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences that would allow non-tenure stream faculty to be considered voting members there.

• Improving negotiation skills. Negotiation has been identified as among the factors that contribute to the salary gap between men and women. Marra said the subcommittee has found several resources for training, especially for women, in developing negotiation skills.

Most recently, the subcommittee has begun examining the issue of enhancing services for partners and spouses of prospective University hires, she said. Marra invited faculty to contact her with suggestions for other issues the subcommittee should address.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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