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June 13, 2013

Med school pay policy called attack on tenure

Two faculty members called recent changes in medical school salary policy an attack on tenure that puts faculty at risk for unlimited salary reductions and decried a lack of broad faculty input in the policy’s development.

In a June 4 presentation to Faculty Assembly that will be posted at, Beverly Gaddy of Pitt-Greensburg and John J. Baker of dental medicine expressed concern that the policy violates longstanding American Association of University Professors (AAUP) statements on academic freedom and tenure and disregards shared governance. Gaddy is president of the Pitt AAUP chapter; Baker is its immediate past president.

Baker said AAUP’s Pennsylvania division has formed a fact-finding committee to investigate, adding that the committee would report its findings to the national AAUP.

AAUP Pennsylvania division President Tim Blessing told the University Times: “Outside of requirements of quarterly reports to the executive committee of the PA-AAUP, the committee has no timeline. We have every faith that their job will be thorough and timely.”

The committee’s structure is difficult to define, he said. “Our various fact-finding organizations overlap with each other and with the executive committee of the PA-AAUP. Members focusing on the University of Pittsburgh medical school have offered evaluations to those working on fact-finding undertakings at other schools — and we will soon have other official bodies/individuals commenting on the work at the University of Pittsburgh.”

The committee’s charge  “allows it to follow evidence and complaints wherever they lead,” Blessing said.

Baker added: “Individuals concerned about the medical school’s salary policy are welcome to contact the Pitt AAUP with their concerns.”

Salary policy

In his annual state of the medical school address, Dean Arthur S. Levine, vice chancellor for the Health Sciences, detailed the salary reduction policy, which allows a 20 percent pay cut for tenured faculty who fail to meet performance standards. Untenured faculty, “unless they’re on a time-limited contract, will be terminated” if they do not meet their performance standards, Levine said. (See May 30 University Times.)

The University Senate’s tenure and academic freedom committee has been fielding requests for guidance from some medical school faculty, mainly non-clinical faculty in the basic science areas, who have less flexibility in finding sources of salary support and therefore may be more vulnerable to the salary cuts.

Levine has set a school-wide goal of meeting 75 percent of non-clinical faculty salaries through external funding.

In his May 22 address, he reviewed new faculty performance evaluation forms ( that would set percentages of effort and enumerate expectations for a faculty member’s teaching, clinical and service activities, including the percentage and amount of salary derived from externally funded research.

Baker told Faculty Assembly: “We ask the medical school to honor fully the principle of tenure, to restore all salary cuts that 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.”

He added: “What we would like to see is standards that are brought about by peer review of faculty in the School of Medicine.”

AAUP tenets

Gaddy cited the AAUP’s 1940 statement on principles of academic freedom and tenure: “Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society,” referencing as well the AAUP’s 1999 report on medical school tenure. “The report makes clear that faculty should be guaranteed and assured a minimum salary. It also states that the unilateral administrative abrogation of a portion of that salary should be seen as an attack on the principle of tenure.”

In addition, “AAUP policy is that shared governance with faculty should occur in the development of policies that affect work conditions, performance standards and salaries,” Gaddy said.

“We’re concerned about a lack of faculty involvement in the present policy that has been done this year and in the evaluation form,” in contrast to the medical school’s 1997 policy on guaranteed salary associated with tenure, which was approved by its faculty.

Baker expressed concern that the performance evaluations could be abused. “The ability of the administrators in the medical school to assign different percent efforts in research, teaching and service is problematic,” he said.

“One of the reasons the potential is there is because there’s simply not enough teaching and service work available, nor hard revenue for the school’s large number of tenured faculty,” Baker said. “Since there’s a limited amount of teaching and service available, chairs can impose different performance standards on different faculty and this opens up the possibility for unfair treatment.”

Baker said faculty who have no research grants would be at risk if they are given a high research effort goal. “The chair can choose who is required to have a high percent research effort and who isn’t, who’s given a high percent teaching and service effort and who isn’t.”

In addition, Baker said the faculty member’s chair determines whether performance goals were sufficiently challenging. “If a faculty member achieves whatever the goals were in the plan, if they weren’t ambitious enough, they could still get a very low rating on this form.”

He added: “If you have a faculty member who’s tenured and for some reason they’re disliked or out of favor, the chair can readily give that faculty member goals that cannot reasonably be obtained and cause that faculty member to have a 20 percent salary cut,” potentially year after year.

“That’s the whole problem with this evaluation plan: There’s no limit to how low the salary can go, no limit to how many times a faculty member can have 20 percent cuts. It violates longstanding AAUP policy,” Baker said.

Also problematic, he said, is that the school “doesn’t have any public standards for adequate performance. This is not stated anywhere on the web site. This opens the door for undermining an individual’s tenure rights through arbitrary setting and enforcement of the goals.”

Policy changes

Baker took issue with Levine’s statement in his May 22 address that the school has had the same salary reduction policy since 1997. “That’s partially true,” Baker said.

He noted that an attempt to change performance evaluations was opposed by the Senate in 2009 and not implemented.

Baker called attention to a portion of the 1997 policy, which was approved by faculty vote. It allows for reductions in faculty salaries “if specific grounds for reduction are identified and fair and proper procedures are followed as described in the faculty handbook,” he said.

A  June  1999 update   dropped the reference to “fair and proper procedures are followed as described in the faculty handbook.” This occurred without a faculty vote, Baker said.

A clarification in October 2000 changed the language again. “Salary would only be warranted and maintained for satisfactory full time teaching or ‘other academic performance,’” which Baker said is “not specified anywhere.”

A posted version of the policy that Baker said was changed “around May 22” had stated “even though there is a set University base salary level associated with tenure, this does not preclude reducing a University salary level below that amount if performance is not adequate to meet a minimum standard. The default minimum standard is full time satisfactory teaching in the medical school.”

In the new version, the administration dropped the words “to meet a minimum standard. The default minimum standard is full-time satisfactory teaching in the medical school,” Baker said.

“It now reads they can reduce the salary if performance is not adequate,” said Baker. “I wonder whatever happened to ‘fair and proper procedures as described in the faculty handbook.’”

He said, “We don’t have a problem with the medical school doing soft money research: They can hire as many people as they want on soft money as long as they make it clear to that faculty member they’re on soft money and they give them a contract telling them they’ve got to bring in X amount of salary,” Baker said.

“The problem is when you have tenured faculty. There’s a policy that there should be a minimum salary,” Baker said, citing medical school policy that calls for the minimum to be the “median salary for the equivalent rank of tenured faculty in the basic science departments, or, if lower, the faculty member’s current University base salary.”

In other business:

• Nicholas Bircher reported that the bylaws and procedures committee has discussed changing the name of the anti-discriminatory policies committee to the equity, inclusion and anti-discriminatory advocacy committee.

“The committee wishes to underscore that this represents updating the name in order to let the name catch up with their current level of function,” Bircher noted.

The proposal has produced differing opinions on whether the change is a good idea. Bircher said the anti-discriminatory policies committee will continue considering the change over the summer, then bring the issue back to the bylaws committee and then to Faculty Assembly.

• Kathleen Kelly reported on the educational policies committee’s activities.

The group facilitated the addition of more detail on student transcripts that include international baccalaureate and advanced placement credits. Kelly said transcripts previously did not indicate in which subject the credits were earned, which created difficulty when students applied to graduate school or to programs that required specific prerequisites.

The committee also considered a request raised by its student representative, who conveyed students’ desires for access to quantitative aspects of professors’ teaching evaluations. Kelly said students were seeking “legitimate” information to aid in course decisions that they were not able to obtain through web sites such as Rate My Professor.

She said the committee found that some units and departments were making such information available and opted to allow the decision to rest at the school or unit level.

In a related issue, the committee is looking at developing a course summary form to ensure that course information is up to date when students register.

Kelly said that in some cases students have only the most basic information: the course name, times and days and the number of credits when they register for a course.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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