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May 25, 2006

Regional faculty salary peer debate continues

An analysis of average faculty salaries at Pitt’s regional campuses found the University near the bottom of the list in comparison with regional/branch campus faculty at similar institutions.

The report, prepared by Pitt’s Office of Institutional Research based on salary information in the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) annual salary survey, compared faculty salaries at the Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown campuses within a peer group of branch campuses at 18 category IIB Association of American Universities (AAU) public schools. Pitt’s smaller Titusville campus was compared in a group of three Category III AAU public branches.

Category IIB schools are characterized by an emphasis on undergraduate baccalaureate-level education as opposed to graduate degrees. Category III schools are defined as those who confer at least three-quarters of their degrees or awards at levels below a bachelor’s degree and who use academic ranks to categorize faculty.

Professors’ salaries

Pitt’s eight professors at UPG ranked No. 15 with an average salary of $71,400. The 16 professors at UPJ ranked No. 17, earning $64,900, and UPB’s nine professors earned an average of $63,800, last on the list of 18 public peer schools.

Penn State’s IIB campuses, which are reported as a group, topped the salary comparison with an average salary of $87,300 for the 51 professors listed.

The group average, excluding Pitt, was $76,800.

The average salary of Pitt-Titusville professors was not reported in the AAUP survey because there were fewer than three individuals at the rank on that campus.

Associate professors

The 25 associate professors at Pitt-Bradford tied for No. 12 with Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute with an average pay of $57,400.

Pitt-Johnstown’s 60 associate professors ranked No. 14 with an average pay of $57,000, while Pitt-Greensburg’s 25 associate professors ranked No. 16 with an average salary of $56,100.

Topping the rank were Penn State’s IIB campuses with an average salary of $70,600. At the bottom was University of North Carolina-Asheville at $55,700. The group average, excluding Pitt, was $61,700.

Pitt-Titusville ranked last of the three schools in the Category III comparison with its nine associate professors earning an average of $49,900. Associates at Penn State’s Category III campuses led the group with an average of $65,900, followed by University of Wisconsin Colleges with an average of $51,300. The group average, excluding Pitt, was $59,600.

Assistant professors

Pitt-Greensburg’s 30 assistant professors earned an average of $46,900 to place No. 13 among the IIB peer group, followed by Pitt-Bradford’s 26 assistant professors who earned an average of $46,600. Lower in the rankings were Pitt-Johnstown’s 39 assistant professors, who earned an average of $46,300, tied for No. 16 with Indiana University-East. The group average, excluding Pitt, was $52,600.

Pitt-Titusville’s nine assistant professors ranked No. 2 among the Category III group with an average salary of $45,200. Penn State’s III campuses led the group with an average of $59,400, while University of Wisconsin Colleges was at the bottom with $41,700. The group average, excluding Pitt, was $51,300.

The annual figures compare Pitt salaries against peer groups that are the subject of ongoing contention. Last year, in coordination with the central administration, regional campus presidents approved a plan that would compare faculty salaries at the regional campuses to a broader group of 270 four-year category IIB baccalaureate schools in the eastern United States. A new plan, developed by an ad hoc committee named by the UPJ faculty president and including representatives from the UPG and UPB campuses, proposes using yet another methodology that recommends comparing salaries with a group of 22 schools. (See April 27 University Times.)

The debate continued during the May 19 University Senate budget policies committee (BPC) meeting at which the annual salary figures were presented. BPC chairman Stephen Carr acknowledged that the Institutional Research analysis is based on the “old” comparison groups. “So, this is in some sense an archaic comparison,” he said, reiterating that the issue has yet to be settled. “We need to change these terms and there’s been no satisfactory resolution to what is the appropriate comparison group for the branch campuses,” Carr said.

Carr said he believes BPC should not be involved in defining what comparison group should be used to rank the regionals, saying it is more appropriate for the regionals, in consultation with the central administration, to develop an acceptable peer group list.

In April 2005, Provost James V. Maher, in consultation with the UPB, UPG and UPJ campus presidents, okayed a list consisting of 270 IIB institutions in the Middle Atlantic, East North Central and South Atlantic regions. (See April 28, 2005 University Times.)

At that time, Maher told the University Times the small size of the faculty at the regional campuses made it nearly impossible to find an appropriate comparison group against which to measure each separately. Rather, Maher said, faculty salaries at the three regional campuses would be compared as an aggregate against any peer group salary data.

Maher said the administration had made a good-faith effort to respond to numerous requests for a new benchmark, adding that the protocol would be for the campus presidents to present the proposed list to their faculty senates for study. “[The campuses] don’t have to accept it if they don’t want to,” Maher said in 2005.

Although the regional presidents approved the broader list as an improvement over the AAU publics list, the development of the UPJ committee’s proposal has further muddied the waters as to the proper comparison group.

In response to a question at the May 19 meeting by BPC member Philip Wion, Robert Pack, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, said there had been no tabulations based on the larger group of 270 IIB peer institutions.

Pack reinforced the provost’s position, adding that the administration would not change the way it analyzes the peer group information until the three regional campuses are in agreement on a single benchmark group, nor would it review each regional campus separately, because of their small size.

Pack said the Bradford and Greensburg regional campus presidents, working through their respective planning and budgeting systems, had agreed to use the larger comparison group of IIB schools and to report the regional totals as a combined group.

“But until we get agreement from the third school, we’re not going to impose it, we’re not going to start listing it this way… so we’ll just keep listing this [AAU comparison group] until somebody tells us they agree,” Pack said.

Pack said the UPJ proposal had not been formally received, “but I read about it in the paper.”

In a May 22 interview, Jerry Samples, interim vice president for academic and student affairs at UPJ, said the committee that developed the alternate list forwarded a copy of its report to the Provost’s office immediately after the April 19 UPJ Faculty Senate meeting. “Frankly, I did that because we knew that the University Times had a copy of it, and I didn’t want any surprises,” he said. Samples added that the forwarded copy was not accompanied by any recommendation. “We are still undergoing analysis of that proposal, and it will also be brought to the JPBC (Johnstown planning and budgeting committee),” he said.

Pack expressed his “serious reservations” to BPC members about the composition of the 22-school comparison group. “I think it’s an illegitimate methodology partly because the definition on which it is based, about the nature of the faculty … is not appropriate and it really is based on what I think has been an error in our submission historically, in terms of how we categorize the faculty,” he said.

Pack argued that the University has been miscategorizing itself in its federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) reporting as having a “combined instructional/research/public service” faculty, rather than an “instructional” faculty, which he said more accurately reflects the faculty University-wide.

“You’re supposed to look at the whole faculty and categorize it according to the majority of the faculty,” either as instructional, research or public service, Pack said. The “combined” category is to be used if it’s not able to be determined which category applies, Pack said.

Pack said Pitt mistakenly chose the combined category long ago and the mistake never was corrected. “But, our faculty obviously are not combined,” Pack said, adding “the overwhelming majority are instructional.”

Starting next year Pitt will discontinue reporting itself as combined. “As soon as we do that, that means that the recommendation from the Johnstown senate doesn’t rest on anything,” he said.

But Allan Walstad, a UPJ faculty member who helped prepare the ad hoc committee report, differed with Pack’s interpretation of the IPEDS categories and defended the report’s methodology in a May 22 interview.

“The IPEDS ‘primarily instructional’ category is not based on whether at least 50 percent of your faculty have instructional responsibility,” he told the University Times. “Nor is the ‘primarily research’ category based on whether the majority of your faculty [engage only in] pure research. Each individual faculty member — actually, each individual professional staff member, which includes faculty — is to be categorized based on that individual’s responsibilities. This is clearly spelled out in the IPEDS questionnaire instructions. A person whose role is instruction combined with research and/or public service as integral components of that person’s regular assignment goes in the combined category.”

Walstad said the committee relied on information the University supplied to IPEDS. “We could hardly have imagined that the University would react to our findings by repudiating its own responses on the IPEDS questionnaire. Nevertheless, if those responses were truly in error, then our results do not apply. I just wish that had been gotten straight sooner.”

In a separate interview, UPJ faculty president Richard Ulsh, who convened the ad hoc salary benchmark committee, said that if the committee report was based on faulty data it would not be a catastrophic setback.

“Faulty data is not the same as faulty methodology,” Ulsh said. “The majority of the work the committee did in preparing their report was in reaching a consensus of how we define ourselves and to develop an appropriate set of criteria based on that.”

He added, “If we needed to develop a new proposal, I would likely charge our standing welfare committee to work on it. They would not necessarily have to start from scratch.”

He maintained that the ad hoc committee never intended to preempt any procedures or channels. “As I said in the University Times, I cannot speak for any other campus or for our administration here or for the Provost’s office. I believe the committee was acting in the spirit of shared governance, the methodology was sound and the recommendations of the committee were given a fair hearing by the Faculty Senate and the administration on our campus. It is up to others to accept or reject the recommendations.”

At the BPC meeting, Wion questioned whether there might be other options to doing nothing until the three regionals come to an agreement on a salary benchmark list.

“It seems to me there’s another alternative, which is to enter into some sort of discussion and see if a mutually agreed upon group can be found, one that will make sense to central administration, knowing all that it knows about these complexities and that will make sense to reasonable faculty [here] and to the faculties at the regional campuses,” he said.

Pack responded, “A lot of the faculty at the regional campus do believe [using the broader peer group] makes sense. What you’re saying is ‘Let’s negotiate with one campus.’ But, the other two who have agreed are now going to have their fate decided by the Johnstown campus? No, I don’t think so. Each of these campuses is separate. When they decide how they want to do it, we’ll do it. And they haven’t decided yet.”

Pack went on to say that benchmarking salaries is a difficult task and that the underlying purpose behind compensation levels must be kept in mind.

“What you’re really looking at is, can you hire who you want to hire and can you retain who you want to retain?” Pack said.

Noting that he has no way to know exactly what factors into other institutions’ compensation decisions, Pack asked whether other schools’ practices should take precedence over determining what’s necessary to attract and retain the caliber of faculty appropriate for a particular program.

“This is a very unit-specific issue. And so even though we get these average salaries, they don’t mean very much. What means a lot to us is, Where are we in engineering, where are we in business, where are we in physics? It’s really a much more specific set of arguments. And are we able to achieve the goals we have for that unit? And we have different goals for different units in terms of competitively where they stack up,” Pack said.

Carr said that while he agreed in part with Pack, transparency plays a role in the discussion. Benchmarks are being used, Carr said, and they serve to provide feedback to faculty. “What we’re talking about when you do these broad comparisons is the best available means of making benchmarks transparent to people who are affected by them. And I think that’s the substance of the debate about what is the appropriate peer group for the branch campuses.”

Pack agreed that the issue of determining a benchmark is an appropriate regional campus faculty issue, but repeated that no changes will be made without agreement from the three regionals.

—Kimberly K. Barlow and Peter Hart

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