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June 13, 2013


envelopePitt AAUP on medical school salary policy

To the editor:

The Pitt chapter of the AAUP believes salary cuts being imposed upon some tenured faculty in the School of Medicine ( and are in violation of AAUP policy and may be regarded as “an attack on the principle of tenure.”

A key policy statement in the AAUP’s report on “Tenure in the Medical School” (1999) affirms that “… all tenured and tenure-track faculty should be guaranteed an assured minimum salary adequate to the maintenance of support at a level appropriate to faculty members in the basic sciences. The unilateral administrative abrogation of a portion of that salary, absent a prior understanding as to the extent of its guarantee, may reasonably be interpreted not as an exercise of fiduciary responsibility but as an attack on the principle of tenure.” (

The report also says that “Key to the role of medical faculty …  is the opportunity to define the terms and conditions of faculty employment, including such appointments as are necessary to meet institutional needs, and procedures for the award of tenure under Association-supported standards.”

We are deeply concerned that at Pitt these standards have not been met.  The recently posted (May 22, 2013) version of the medical school’s Faculty Performance Evaluation and Plans Form ( states, “The school has a goal, for the school as a whole, of 75% of the cost of research — including salaries, benefits, direct costs, and overhead — being funded externally, but this may differ among faculty members (emphasis added). In any case, there must be an adequate revenue stream to cover each performance expectation, totaling 100% of salary. Faculty base salary guidelines are linked to the expectations described in this FPE.”

Two major unstated problems are: 1) The medical school has expanded its number of tenured faculty ( far beyond the capacity of its hard revenue to support them; and 2) Its teaching and service revenues are only a small portion of its operating budget ( Consequently, it is highly dependent upon soft revenues (research and clinical) to support its large number of faculty. Now that grant revenues are falling, it can no longer comfortably support all of them and is imposing a goal that research faculty as a group, including tenured, must obtain 75 percent of the cost of research, including salaries, from funded grants.

The May 22 form further states that “Chairs/Evaluators must provide clear goals for teaching and/or external funding for research on this evaluation.”  Measurable outcomes must be defined explicitly, including percent effort, dollar amount of salary, and projected percent of salary for the next year on externally funded research. Since only a limited amount of teaching and service work is available, chairs can impose different performance standards upon different faculty, opening up the possibility of unfair treatment of some.

For example, one faculty member without a grant may be assigned 75 percent effort on research, 15 percent service and 10 percent teaching, and given the goal for the next year of obtaining a funded grant covering a portion of his or her salary. Another without a grant may be given 50 percent effort on teaching, 30 percent service and 20 percent research, and exemption from the goal of obtaining a funded grant. If the first fails to meet the imposed goal, his or her salary can be cut 20 percent. The other does not have to worry about receiving a salary cut for not having a funded grant because he or she was not given that goal.

Chairs can also rule that a faculty member’s performance plan is not ambitious enough and recommend a 20 percent salary cut on that basis ( Thus, chairs have the power to select who is required to have a funded research effort and who isn’t, who is given a high percentage teaching and service effort and who isn’t, and therefore whether a tenured faculty member without a grant will be placed at high risk or low risk for receiving a 20 percent salary cut.

These conditions have great potential for abuse; an out-of-favor tenured faculty member can readily be given goals that cannot reasonably be obtained, and could suffer 20 percent salary cuts year after year.  There is no limit to how low a salary can fall, a clear violation of the AAUP principle that “all tenured … faculty should be guaranteed an assured minimum salary adequate to the maintenance of support at a level appropriate to faculty members in the basic sciences.”

Pitt’s medical school does have a policy defining salary associated with tenure: the median salary for the equivalent rank of tenured faculty in the basic science departments, or, if it is lower, the faculty member’s current University base salary level (

However, the policy has recently been changed to say the salary associated with tenure can be reduced “below that amount if performance is not adequate.” Before May 22, 2013, the latter quote ended with “to meet a minimum standard” and “the default minimum standard is full-time satisfactory teaching in the School of Medicine,” but these specifications have disappeared from the policy.

Since the school does not define what constitutes full-time satisfactory teaching, and has no other defined standards for adequate performance, the way is left open for the undermining of individuals’ tenure rights through arbitrary setting and enforcement of performance standards.

Dean Levine claims only a small minority of faculty will be adversely affected by the new policy ( If so few faculty are affected, why not simply give them more teaching and service to do? Why does he need to impose a policy that can undermine tenure rights, especially when there are fairer ways to cover temporary financial shortfalls that do not undermine tenure? We don’t have space to offer suggestions here, but will outline some on our web site ( after this letter is published.

Pitt AAUP calls upon the medical school to honor fully the principle of tenure, to restore all salary cuts which violate that principle, and to work with faculty, through genuine shared governance, to develop reasonable minimum performance standards for teaching, research and service that can be applied equally and fairly to all faculty in the School of Medicine.


Beverly Ann Gaddy,


John J. Baker,

Immediate past-president

Philip K. Wion,


Maria Kovacs,

T/TS representative,

Oakland campus


Dean Levine replies to Pitt AAUP letter

Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences and dean, School of Medicine, replies:

This letter is to clarify the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine policy in response to the preceding letter from the University of Pittsburgh chapter of the Association of American University Professors (AAUP).

As a starting point, it may be helpful to note that the 1999 AAUP report so frequently quoted by the officers of the Pitt AAUP chapter explicitly acknowledges that American medical schools “have a unique status among institutions of higher learning.” As stated in that report, “medical schools are very different from the universities with which they are affiliated” and “they are also very different institutions from what they were three decades ago.” Medical schools also have changed in the 14 years since that report was written, and in a number of important respects, that 1999 document does not reflect the policies and practices in effect in top American medical schools today.

Key differences between medical schools and most other academic units include much larger faculties, comparatively smaller student bodies, and a financial structure that is far more heavily dependent upon both clinical revenues and research grants.  Focusing on Pitt and using numbers from the 2013 University of Pittsburgh Fact Book, some of those differences become even clearer when our School of Medicine is compared to the University’s other large academic unit, the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. The School of Medicine has 2,273 full-time faculty members, compared to 746 full-time faculty members in the Dietrich school. However, the FTE student enrollment in the School of Medicine is only 951, compared to more than 12,000 in the Dietrich school. The proportion of tenured and tenure-stream faculty members in the School of Medicine is 28.5 percent, compared to 66 percent in the Dietrich school.

It is true that the number of faculty members in the School of Medicine has grown significantly during my time as dean. In that same period, our federal research revenues and national research ranking have risen even more dramatically, to the benefit of the School of Medicine and the entire University. Those funding increases have left us in a better position, because we are starting from a much larger base, to deal with emerging reductions in research support. Certainly, any suggestion that the tenured and tenure-stream medical faculty could have been supported in all of their missions at any point in the school’s modern history by revenues from teaching and service is simply untrue. That is not, and has not been, the “medical school model” at Pitt or any other American university.

The University of Pittsburgh recognized these differences many years ago by making the School of Medicine a “tub on its own bottom” for budgeting purposes. This categorization was designed both to help insulate other units of the University from the different financial stresses sometimes faced by medical schools as well as to give the School of Medicine an added measure of flexibility in dealing with those challenges.

In recent years, virtually all revenue streams driving that model have been subject to challenge. For example, state support for the School of Medicine, which has always been among the lowest in the country, was cut by 50 percent two fiscal years ago when support for the rest of the University was cut by 19 percent. Those additional burdens were met through actions taken within the school and were not imposed on the broader University. Even before the impact of sequestration is felt, the rate of growth in federal research funding has declined dramatically, another challenge met within the school, and clinical revenues will almost certainly be under pressure with implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Unless the University’s budgeting model changes, those challenges, too, will be handled within the school.

Even with its unique financial model within the University, the School of Medicine is in compliance with the AAUP statement of policy that “… all tenured and tenure-track faculty should be guaranteed an assured minimum salary adequate to the maintenance of support at a level appropriate to faculty members in the basic sciences…” and that this base salary not be subject to reduction “absent a prior understanding of the extent of the guarantee.” Indeed, the School of Medicine has had such a policy in place since December 1997 (nearly a year before my arrival here), following sequential approval, first, by the School of Medicine executive committee and then by the faculty as a whole. While that policy was clarified in June 1999 to indicate the amount by which a tenured faculty member’s salary could be reduced for failure to meet relevant productivity standards, the policy remained substantially the same. The policy was reiterated and related questions were answered in an October 2000 memorandum from me to the School of Medicine tenured faculty. Together, the 1997, 1999, and 2000 documents lay out the extent of the salary guarantee in the School of Medicine.

The 1999 revision also clarified the process for notification of faculty members whose salary was in jeopardy due to less-than-satisfactory performance and for appeal of such an evaluation. After rather widespread faculty discussion, that document, too, was approved by the School of Medicine’s executive committee. Moreover, as I noted in my state of the school address on May 22, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is among a declining percentage of the nation’s 141 accredited medical schools that guarantee any minimum salary for tenured faculty. About half of the country’s medical schools, including many of our most esteemed peer institutions, such as Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Columbia, do not.

The School of Medicine is also in compliance with the AAUP statement, “Key to the role of medical faculty…is the opportunity to define the terms and conditions of faculty employment….” The school’s recently updated annual faculty review guidelines actually clarify, rather than diminish, this principle by requiring each faculty member and his/her department chair to agree on specific numerical goals and other quantitative measures by which a faculty member’s performance will be evaluated. This revised process eliminates a great deal of subjectivity from the evaluation process and, in that regard, is as beneficial to the faculty member as to the evaluator. The School of Medicine has eliminated the definition of a default minimum standard of adequate performance only from the summary page of the “Guidelines for University Base Salary Associated With Tenure.” This portion of the summary was removed solely because it generated confusion, rather than clarification, when removed from the context of the guidelines. The guidelines themselves remain the same, and this section should be considered in the entirety of the policy’s context to be fully understood. (The link to the School of Medicine “Guidelines for University Base Salary  Associated With Tenure” is here:

While the target for the School of Medicine is to obtain an overall average of 75 percent support of faculty salaries from research grants for those faculty who are engaged in research and are not members of University of Pittsburgh Physicians, again — as I stated in my state of the school address — that target is an across-the-board average and not an individual mandate for each faculty member. The same document cited in the above letter from the AAUP chapter states further, “It is recognized that each faculty member will have different levels of research support and that faculty may have other major assignments and responsibilities,” including educational activities, which are recognized as a “core force in support of a faculty member’s position,” and service to the school. Indeed, the faculty member has primary responsibility for setting his/her own academic plans and measurable outcomes for the year as the first step in the annual review process. Moreover, I have instructed school leaders with faculty supervisory responsibility to do all possible to identify each person’s abilities and to match them against the school’s needs and available opportunities to address those needs. If a faculty member and his/her chair cannot negotiate a set of performance expectations that provide a fair basis for compensation, adequate appeal mechanisms are in place to come to a fair resolution.

Like other units at the University, the School of Medicine exercises shared governance via standing committees, a number of subcommittees and task forces, and numerous department- and division-based committees. The 10 standing committees of the School of Medicine are: executive committee, Education Policy Council, curriculum committee, admissions committee, medical student promotion committee, committee for tenured faculty appointments and promotions, committee for non-tenured faculty appointments and promotions, committee for affiliated faculty appointments and promotions, planning and budgeting committee, and Graduate Council.

Under the bylaws of the School of Medicine, the executive committee — which includes elected faculty representatives, as well as department chairs — is recognized as the “primary policy-making body of the School of Medicine” and is authorized by those same bylaws to “initiate any actions not otherwise provided for in this plan as are necessary or desirable for the best interests of the School of Medicine.” This kind of representative democracy is, of course, common throughout the University, particularly in faculties of especially large size — and also in the University’s Senate Council and Faculty Assembly and, if their web site is accurate, the Pitt chapter of the AAUP.

Let me close by making a few additional points. The amount of money available to the School of Medicine for faculty compensation is finite, and that finite amount is now severely constrained both by federal-level budgetary sequestration and by anticipated reductions in clinical revenue under the Affordable Care Act. The formal conclusion to the 1999 AAUP report, though it was not cited by the Pitt AAUP letter-writers who based most of their submission on that report, includes the following statements of principle that are quite instructive in framing these issues and  that are entirely consistent with the School of Medicine’s practices.

“The Association has long held that academic tenure is not merely, or even most importantly, a form of job security, but rather an instrument for the protection of ‘the common good.’ In serving that function, a system of tenure, properly applied, is a guarantor of educational quality. We question whether any institution of higher education or one of its components…can provide such educational quality without that reasonable assurance of stability that helps ensure the commitment of faculty members to freedom of inquiry in teaching and in research and to the preparation of its students.”

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is known around the world for achieving the high levels of quality in teaching and research to which the AAUP report refers. And even before some of the current challenges emerged, the school came to be recognized for its distinctive efforts to advance, even in unstable times, the kind of stability noted in the AAUP report. One key example would be the school’s substantial investments in its program of institutionally supported and peer-reviewed bridge funding for established researchers whose recent grant applications, though strong, were not successful in this increasingly competitive environment.

Clearly, we also need to employ fair measures of assessment as we move to meet even more substantial challenges — both to be equitable to the individual professionals involved and to protect “the common good” so prominently referenced in the AAUP report. All of us must be willing to work together to sustain — and continue to build — the excellent school that is our academic home, as we have done in the past.


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