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October 1, 1998

Senate meeting to look at how pay hikes are distributed here

Is it time to change Pitt's policy for spreading around salary raise money? Deans, professors and staff employees have good reasons to differ in their opinions on that issue.

The question is further complicated because most Pitt employees probably don't know the University has a salary increase policy.

To heighten awareness of the policy and discuss pros and cons of altering it, the University Senate is inviting faculty, staff and students to its fall plenary session, "The University's Salary Increase Policy: Is It Time for a Change?" The two-hour meeting will begin at 3 p.m., Oct. 14, in the William Pitt Union Ballroom.

See advertisement on page 5 for the meeting agenda and list of speakers.

The salary raise policy is scheduled to be re-examined this year by the University Planning and Budgeting Committee (UPBC). Provost James Maher chairs the committee, which includes faculty, staff, students and administrators and advises Pitt's senior administration on budget issues.

According to the current salary raise policy, adopted by Pitt's administration in 1994, the pool of money for salary raises should include four components each year:

* Maintenance of real salary — i.e., a cost of living increase pegged at the annual Consumer Price Index inflation rate.

* Merit increases to reward outstanding job performance.

* Equity adjustments aimed at reducing unfair pay discrepancies among employees.

* Market adjustments to make Pitt salaries more competitive with those of other employers.

Given that Pitt employee compensation funds come out of the University's state appropriation — and considering appropriations have averaged just 2-4 percent in recent years, with similar increases likely for the foreseeable future — critics of the salary policy say it's unrealistic.

Dividing such tiny salary pool increases into cost of living, merit, equity and market components can be like trying to feed a family on a personal pan pizza (although Pitt's administration managed to meet the policy's requirements in hiking the salary pool by 3 percent for fiscal year 1998-99 — largely because this year's inflation rate was a mere 1.5 percent.) Some deans argue that all raises should be merit-based, to encourage individual excellence, retain star professors and allow funds to flow toward higher priority units.

Many staff and faculty prefer across-the-board cost of living raises, not trusting supervisors to distribute merit, equity and market funds fairly.

English professor Phil Wion, who chairs the compensation subcommittee of the University Senate budget policies committee (BPC), said at a recent BPC meeting: "Any change in the salary raise policy will offend, disappoint or anger some people. It's a complex subject. But first we need to articulate the rationale for the current policy before people start attacking it." Wion will speak at the Oct. 14 Senate meeting on the topic, "What Is Our Current Policy and How Did We Get There?" BPC chairperson Richard Pratt, of physics and astronomy, said: "There is no clear opinion either among faculty or administrators about the salary policy. But the [Oct. 14] meeting will give both of those groups, along with staff and students, an opportunity to air their views." Pratt will moderate the meeting.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 3

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