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October 23, 1997

Salary is an unknown in search for Health Sciences senior vice chancellor

Thomas Detre, senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences, is Pitt's highest-paid employee. In addition to his $438,000 salary, he is entitled to a University car, special health benefits and financial counseling, among other perks available to officers of the University.

Detre plans to retire at the end of the current academic year or when his successor takes office, whichever comes first. As the University searches for his successor, the question arises: Will Pitt have to pay its new senior vice chancellor even more? "I don't know the answer to that question," said Detre's boss, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

"We have, of course, combined the positions of senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the medical school, which means there will be expanded responsibilities for whomever ultimately is selected from the search. Salaries within the health sciences, in particular, have risen in the recent past.

"We are one of the top academic medical centers in the world," Nordenberg continued. "We want to build on our current position. That means we will have to be competitive in salary to attract the kind of person who can lead us to even greater heights. But at this point, I really don't know in this changing market what that [salary] will be." H.J. Zoffer, dean emeritus of the Katz Graduate School of Business and chairperson of the search committee for Detre's successor, said Chancellor Nordenberg instructed the committee to find the best possible candidates, without regard to compensation.

In an interview, the chancellor confirmed those instructions. "I told the committee to identify the highest-quality candidates, and to leave issues like compensation to me," Nordenberg said.

Detre himself said the senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences' compensation "probably will require some upgrading," although he declined to speculate what his successor's salary might be.

"It depends on how young or old that person is, how many years of experience they have," Detre said. "When people quote what they regard as my obscenely high salary, they forget about the fact that I have been at this University for over 20 years." Detre has been senior vice chancellor for the last 13 of those years. For most of that time, too, he was president of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). Detre also has served as interim dean of several Health Sciences schools.

In 1996, the median salary for chief health professions officers at doctoral-level universities in the United States was $250,000, according to the College and University Personnel Association. But that figure represents salaries paid through university payrolls — not additional perks and non-university incomes.

"Quoting hard-money salaries does not give you a very good idea of who gets what," Detre said. "For instance, if somebody gets $250,000 in salary plus a car, a chauffeur, a large house and servants, that is already more, right?" In many cases, health sciences officers earn additional, non-university income through physician practice plans, academic medical centers and consultative work, Detre pointed out.

But wouldn't it be difficult to arrange such supplemental compensation for Pitt's next senior vice chancellor, given the recently articulated split between the University and UPMC? "Maybe, maybe not," Detre replied. "The separation [between Pitt and UPMC] doesn't mean that the medical center, under certain circumstances, wouldn't want to make a contribution. For instance, we are in the process of recruiting a chairman for the Department of Medicine, and the medical center made a very generous contribution toward that.

"Our interests are linked. The medical center derives its reputation both because it is well-run and because the physicians and other scientists who work in connection with the medical center have a good reputation. So it is a symbiotic relationship. It's in everyone's interest that we have the best and the brightest among us." Detre said that neither Pitt nor the UPMC Health System pays him anything in addition to his $438,000 University salary. "Also, when I was a consultant to anything or any organization as a result of my University affiliation, I returned the money to the University," he said.

Detre was the only Pitt senior administrator willing to comment on a suggestion by the Staff Association Council (SAC) that he, Chancellor Nordenberg and four other University officers refuse pay raises recently awarded to them by the Board of Trustees. Detre, like most of the other officers, received a 3.1 percent raise.

"I worked hard. I earned it. I deserved it," Detre said. "Besides which, I didn't make the decision of how much I should get. I received it, I suppose, because the chancellor and the Board of Trustees' compensation committee decided it was okay." In making the return-your-raise suggestion on behalf of SAC at the Oct. 13 Senate Council meeting, SAC President Brian Hart noted that the officers' pay raises amounted to as much as twice the salaries of some lower-paid staff at Pitt.

Hart said he didn't expect the administrators to actually return the raises. "We don't begrudge them their salary increases," he said. "We were simply trying to raise the issue of how those raises look to many of the staff." SAC's recommendation was aimed more at the Board of Trustees than at the administration, Hart added.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 30 Issue 5

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