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May 18, 2000

Pitt should compare faculty pay with that at public AAU schools, University's administrators insist

Pitt can't hope to match average faculty salaries paid by private Association of American Universities (AAU) schools such as Harvard, Stanford and Cal Tech, and should benchmark its salaries against those at public AAU schools only, Pitt administrators say.

They maintain that the private universities' huge endowments, high tuition, specialized curricula and freedom from state government regulation enable them to pay higher salaries than public AAU schools — and the latest salary survey by the American Association of University Professors supports that argument.

Among the 58 AAU schools surveyed, 32 were public ones. Yet, the 10 universities with the highest average salaries for full, associate and assistant professors were all privates. Only a handful of public institutions made the top 20 in any professorial rank.

See salary charts on this page and page 7.

The AAU is a group of prominent North American research universities that includes public institutions such as Pitt, Penn State and the state systems of California and New York, as well as private schools such as Carnegie Mellon and Ivy League universities.

Pitt's administration and University Senate groups agreed during the 1980s that Pitt should strive to raise faculty salaries here to the AAU average for each faculty rank. Pitt hasn't met that goal yet. And according to the administration, the time has come to face reality and change Pitt's stated goal to competing only with public AAU schools.

"The disparity of wealth in American higher education between elite private universities and the rest of us is increasing," the University Senate's budget policies committee was told April 28 by Robert F. Pack, vice provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management.

"Realistically, you're going to see a growing disparity in those salary differences," Pack said. "That's one reason we should focus on the question, Who are our real competitors and how are we doing against them?"

Among 32 public AAU institutions, the Pittsburgh campus ranked 20th in average salary of full professors (Pitt average: $85,900) during the 1999-2000 academic year, the same ranking as the year before; 19th for associate professors ($60,600), down from 18th place; and 20th for assistant professors ($50,800), up from 22nd.

The average salary of Pittsburgh campus librarians ($44,500) improved from 30th place in 1998-99 to 28th place last year among the 32 public AAU schools that belong to the Association of Research Libraries.

Among all 58 public and private AAU schools, the Pittsburgh campus ranked 44th in average salary paid to full professors, 42nd for associate professors and 44th for assistant professors.

The average salary of Pittsburgh campus librarians ranked 46th among the 55 AAU/Association of Research Libraries schools.

Average faculty salaries at Pitt's four regional campuses remained in the bottom half for most professorial ranks, compared with those at AAU branch campuses. See regional campus salaries story on page 7.

Comparisons between AAU and Pitt average salaries appear in a recent report by Pitt's Office of Institutional Research. The report considers salaries of 1,410 Pitt instructional faculty members, including those on sabbaticals and release time for research. It excludes Pitt's nearly 1,400 medical school faculty members (whose sheer number and comparatively high salaries would skew the report), faculty administrators such as deans, faculty on leave without pay and lecturers.

According to Vice Provost Pack, one way that Pitt is trying to improve salaries is by hiring assistant professors at competitive pay to replace senior professors who have left the University through the early retirement incentive plan.

As those young professors move up through the ranks, Pitt's salary rankings in the AAU should improve, Pack said.

Not only have Pitt's AAU rankings at the assistant professor level risen from 51st place to 44th over the last three years, but assistant professors here received higher percentage raises (5.6 percent) last year than did full professors (3.7 percent), associate professors (3.4 percent) or librarians (4 percent).

In their report, Pitt Institutional Research staff cited what they called a number of problems inherent in the American Association of University Professors data:

* The AAUP reported on faculty salaries for a nine-month academic year. "As a result, average salaries of institutions with a large proportion of faculty on 12-month contracts can be seriously misrepresented," Institutional Research wrote. "The ratio one uses to convert a 12-month salary to a nine-month equivalent may vary among institutions and one can debate the rationale for converting the salaries at all."

Both the Pitt and Association of Research Libraries studies used 12-month contract salaries for librarians.

* Faculty members' ages and tenure status were not taken into account. Universities with proportionately more senior and tenured faculty tend to pay higher salaries.

* The AAUP data don't account for discipline areas. Schools that emphasize technical and high-demand fields such as engineering and business tend to pay higher salaries than liberal arts schools.

"This point particularly brings into question the appropriateness of comparing public institutions to private institutions," according to Institutional Research. "While the public university has a responsibility to teach a broad spectrum of topics, thereby limiting the ability to specialize heavily, private institutions are not so bound. In addition, private schools often lack the limits placed on public institutions in terms of compliance with state and federal governance rules and also reliance on public funds."

— Bruce Steele

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