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May 30, 2013

Dean addresses non-clinical faculty pay


“Money is going to be very tight for the next few years so we have to interrogate every dollar and every one of us has got to earn our keep,” Pitt medical school Dean Arthur S. Levine told faculty members in his annual state of the medical school address last week.

Dean Arthur S. Levine

Dean Arthur S. Levine

In comments on faculty performance evaluations and salary policies that have raised controversy in the medical school, Levine, who also is senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences, said, “It just is absolutely imperative that every faculty member put as much effort and time into how it is they’re going to justify their compensation as is imaginable.”

In his talk, titled, “Faculty Performance: Opportunities in a Time of Threats,” Levine said he wanted to dispel the rumor that the School of Medicine has changed its salary reduction policy, which allows a 20 percent reduction in salary for tenured faculty who fail to meet performance standards. “We’ve had the same salary reduction policy since 1997,” he said, inviting faculty to view the policies and guidelines at

Concerns have been aired in University faculty government meetings regarding the school’s stated goal of obtaining from research support 75 percent of non-clinical faculty salaries. (See April 4, University Times.)

“I do not expect every faculty member doing research to earn 75 percent of their compensation from research. What I do expect is that they will cover their time and effort as specified in the grant,” Levine said.

He said the school recently has “tweaked” the faculty evaluation system to make it more objective, noting that the evaluations now review “the specific number of dollars and percentage of effort derived from externally funded research with regard to compensation,” and take into account the percentage of teaching, clinical, service and administrative activity in the assessment. “But it has to total 100 percent, and that is how we will evaluate 2013 and set expectations for 2014,” Levine said.

The tweaked version, he said, aims to “shed ambiguity and subjectivity and I believe that this will be fairer to the faculty members as well as to the institution.”

Levine said faculty members and their supervisors must agree at the beginning of the pay cycle what the expectations for the year will be, adding that there is an appeal process if agreement cannot be reached.

“Every faculty member will differ one from the other. For example if a faculty member does nothing but research, my expectation is that they will cover 100 percent of their salary through research,” Levine said, acknowledging those faculty are “a rare minority” given that few faculty members do full-time research. “Most spend at least some time teaching or something else that makes up the difference,” he said.

“There will be plenty of faculty members who do full-time teaching and no research and there will be plenty of faculty members who primarily see patients and do a limited amount of teaching.

“These percentages are going to differ from one faculty member to the next. But once again, the golden rule here is that we have to basically earn our keep.”

“If they don’t make up their salary by research it ought to be by teaching or it ought to be on some other activity specified in the evaluation plan,” Levine said.

Beyond the numbers, he called attention to a portion of the evaluation based on professionalism.

“It says that leadership qualities are important in all medical school faculty members,” Levine said.

“Evaluators should comment on the faculty member’s ability to perform as an effective leader in settings that call for that role and/or as an effective team member in settings that call for that role. Evaluations should focus on the specific setting wherein the faculty member works and the faculty member’s ability to solve problems creatively to maintain personal composure in difficult situations to  promote and/or participate in changes in the work environment  and to contribute to improving quality and productivity,” he said.

“This is a singularly important aspect of the evaluation because we’re not going to win together unless we achieve our collective goal in an atmosphere of collegiality, generosity, civility and collaboration.”

He said supervisors in their yearly evaluations will determine whether the faculty member surpassed, achieved or didn’t meet the goals in determining the basis for excellent, satisfactory or unsatisfactory performance.

Levine said faculty evaluations were completed in December and letters warning of a possible salary reduction in July were sent to those with unsatisfactory evaluations.

“If the progress report this June is unsatisfactory, salary will be reduced for next fiscal year,” Levine said, adding, “This is true of people with tenure. People who are untenured, if they’re unsatisfactory, unless they’re on a time-limited contract, will be terminated.”

Levine said such action is necessary, “as unfortunate as that may be, because, once again, we now have to shepherd every dollar.

“My responsibility is to maintain the viability and momentum of the institution and while I am sympathetic to the plight of individual faculty members, it’s the plight of the institution that has to be transcendent,” he told faculty.

“We’re in a sad situation,” he said in response to faculty member James T. Becker, who expressed concern for faculty who have no clinical appointment, noting, “I’m not quite sure what a PhD or an MD who doesn’t have clinical skills is going to do if their funding starts to drop.”

Levine said few faculty fall into that category, adding, “Many of our researchers do teach,” and that there are positions for PhDs as well as opportunities for teaching.

“We will always try to find other opportunities for people so that they can support their compensation, but we won’t always be able to find those opportunities. I think that we certainly will give credit to people who are trying as hard as they can, but there comes a point at which, just as I said, uppermost in our mind has to be the viability of the institution.”

Becker also inquired about the effects on research faculty whose salary exceeds the NIH cap.

Levine said, “I know very few, if any, faculty members who are at the NIH cap who aren’t also having some money from teaching.”

In addition, “This entire system depends upon maturity, vision and wisdom. My assumption is that the supervisors in positions of leadership will obviously negotiate an arrangement with their individual faculty members that makes sense.”

He continued: “We’re talking about a small minority of faculty members who for whatever reason are not up to any task the institution needs, but I can count on the fingers of two hands that number of faculty. This will not apply to the preponderance of faculty. The preponderance of faculty, together with their supervisors, will find a way to justify their compensation.”

In response to a question by faculty member Maria Kovacs, Levine reiterated that the 75 percent figure is an “aspirational” goal, noting that the medical school has $150 million to cover the cost of research.

“It’s not going to be more than that in the foreseeable future. So, in order for us to function, we must make sure that we spend every dollar appropriately. That doesn’t mean that every faculty member has to bring in 75 percent, or that even every department has to bring in 75 percent. But across the medical school we have to approximate 75 percent.”

Levine said, “I do not expect every faculty member doing research to bring in 75 percent of their compensation. What I do expect is that they be transparent and direct with the percentage of effort that they put on grants and the percentage of effort that they spend on that grant. … I’ve also made the point that all of our chairs and division directors and institute directors will work very hard with every faculty member to make sure that they have an opportunity to meet their compensation, if those opportunities exist.”


A link to Levine’s talk can be found by clicking on “health sciences” at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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