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September 14, 2006

BPC chair wants Pitt salary policy study

Are there some employees who are unfairly penalized by the University’s salary policies?

Stephen Carr, chair of the Senate budget policies committee (BPC), is calling for a study into the potential “pernicious effects” of Pitt’s compensation policies.

“Overall, the administration has done a terrific job regarding compensation over the last 10 years, and for those of you who know me, that’s not something I would say lightly,” Carr told Faculty Assembly Sept. 5. He said comparative measures show that Pitt faculty have climbed steadily in all ranks among peer institutions in recent years, and that Pitt, unlike many institutions, has not had a salary freeze in more than a decade.

“Nonetheless, there are issues,” Carr maintained, including that a high percentage of employees do not get raises equal to the rate of inflation in most years.

“Last year, inflation was 3.5 percent, and the salary increase pool was 3.25 percent. That means that overall real wages, on average, did not keep up with inflation. In only two of the last 10 years has the cost-of-living component for satisfactory performance been [as high as] inflation and, in some years, like last year, the total salary increase pool has been below the rate of inflation.”

Moreover, according to the Office of Institutional Research’s latest figures, more than half the faculty, excluding the School of Medicine’s clinical departments, received less than a 3.3 percent raise, Carr added, “and that includes some people who received more than a satisfactory performance raise with some adjustment for merit or market.” (See March 2 University Times.)

Since inflation is likely to remain high due to increasing health care and energy costs, this will continue to be a problem, Carr said.

Also vulnerable to negative effects of Pitt’s current compensation policy are associate professors in some schools who earn less than incoming assistant professors, a phenomenon known as salary compression, Carr added.

In addition to the cost-of-living (salary maintenance), merit, market and equity components of the 1993 salary policy, Carr said, “For the last several years, there has been a separate item in the budget called ‘academic initiatives.’ This has usually been 0.5 percent over the total pool that’s been targeted to groups or schools where there are specific needs. It’s been handed out, as best as I can determine, both wisely and fairly widely.”

However, the academic initiatives (also called faculty initiatives) line item contradicts the compensation policy, which specifies that the salary increase pool be the same for faculty and staff. “The academic initiative funding is only for faculty,” Carr said. “The immediate reason is that [as a category] faculty is a national labor market and staff is a local labor market. It’s important to note, however, that staff representatives are upset about this, [because] there is basically more money going to faculty salaries than to staff salaries.”

In addition, the academic initiatives funding is allocated by the administration without input from appropriate channels, he said. “This is something the Senate should attend to. Because this is a centrally controlled fund, it is without immediate input from any Senate committee. Personally, I think this administration has done a very good job in allocating it, but it is outside the agreement on salary increase policy. It is certainly something to keep an eye on.”

Other groups that potentially are vulnerable under Pitt’s policies include staff who are “maxed out,” that is, at or near the top of their classification’s pay range and are therefore ineligible for salary increases regardless of their performance evaluations, he noted.

Assembly members noted that this happened in 2003, and that Assembly, as well as the Staff Association Council, at that time protested the policy. (See University Times April 17 and May 15, 2003.)

(According to Rich Colwell, president of the Staff Association Council, since 2003 Human Resources has reviewed salary ranges for staff classifications and raised the maximum in an amount approximating the salary pool increase. “Also, it is my understanding that if a staff person is deserving of a raise and is at or near the maximum, a justification letter can be written by a supervisor and it is given consideration for an increase that would exceed the maximum of the job class,” Colwell said in a separate interview.)

Carr told Faculty Assembly, “The University planning and budgeting committee (UPBC) has recommended that there be a study of the effects of the policies on staff, and I hope that that will have some real data to look at to see whether or not reasonable policies across the institution might have pernicious effects upon one of these groups within the overall University community.”

UPBC is a group of faculty (including Carr), staff and administrators that makes recommendations to the chancellor on salary increases for staff and faculty.

“One piece of information that would be useful to discover is understanding how staff salaries work,” Carr said. “Up to as many as one-sixth of staff change jobs or change job classifications in a given year. It may mean that those changes are a more important contributing factor to real wages than the salary increase pool. If that’s the case, then staff in the same job who are doing meritorious work may need to be looked at.”

Assembly member Carey Balaban suggested instituting a “longevity bonus” for such staff.

Carr said, “I think that’s a great idea, but first I want to learn the facts. That UPBC has called for a study of staff salaries is the first step. I would urge (Senate President) John Baker to support that in his discussions with the chancellor. Specifically, we’d like to learn where are the choke points of most pressure on the salary distribution.”

Carr acknowledged the difficulty in finding alternative funding streams to help feed the compensation pool. “I can urge support of a larger salary increase pool, but it’s not a simple thing. It used to be as a rule-of-thumb formula that 1 percent increase in the state funding plus 1 percent increase in tuition would mean a 1 percent increase in the salary pool,” he said. “Because of the real loss of growth from the state, that formula is changing somewhat so that tuition is becoming an ever more important component of faculty and staff compensation. But it’s also the case that tuition can’t be raised indefinitely because it starts to affect the quality of students and the number of students applying.”

Also, when tuition is raised, financial aid is likewise hiked, and it’s often a net wash in the operating budget, he added.

“One of my concerns is what happens over several years,” Carr said. “In any given year, it is a reasonable policy to do the best you can with the available money. But what happens over several years to less-compensated faculty, for instance? I would include in that part-timers, who often suffer a real loss of wages. It may be that other groups in the faculty suffer unduly. I want to be on the lookout for the pernicious effects on collegial governance and collegial activity that follow when this policy is in place.”

In other Faculty Assembly developments:

• The Senate’s fall plenary session is set for 2-5 p.m. Oct. 19 in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room. The topic is “Fostering Mentoring for Sustaining Organizational Vitality.”

Baker is soliciting topics for a spring 2007 plenary session. He said early suggestions include: “Is teaching undervalued in evaluations and promotions at Pitt?” “Rescuing science from politics” and “National performance standards for colleges.”

“We are not required to hold a plenary session, but if we do we need to make a decision on a topic by next month,” Baker said.

• Assembly heard a report from Senate Vice President Michael Pinsky, chair of the fitness for life ad hoc committee.

Last year, in collaboration with UPMC Health Plan, Pitt negotiated a one-month premium holiday for health plan participants who took designated blood screening tests. However, it was determined that the data are close to useless unless the information leads to action, Pinsky said.

The ad hoc committee divided its tasks into two subcommittees: health maintenance, which is focusing on stress reduction, weight reduction and smoking cessation; and risk reduction and management, which will create web-based, tailored criteria for risk reduction screening, linked to the expertise of organizations such as the American Heart Association.

The goal, Pinsky said, is to match existing Pitt programs with the needs of employees as identified by the personalized screenings, so that referrals by primary care physicians to those programs can be incorporated into the health plan details next year.

• Assembly also got an update from Nicholas Bircher, chair of the Senate ad hoc committee for customer satisfaction with UPMC health services.

Bircher said that Pitt Human Resources officials and ad hoc committee members periodically have been meeting with UPMC Health Plan representatives.

“We are negotiating a consumer advocacy program,” Bircher said. “As the framework for negotiation, we would like to see a single phone number that consumers can call for whatever their particular problem is and this would usually be answered by an individual at Pitt who had specific training regarding our plan. That would be the main performance parameter on which the consumer advocacy program would be judged.”

• Baker reported that Faculty Assembly will be asked to review the University’s avian flu pandemic preparedness plan, currently in development by a group of Pitt officials and medical personnel. (See July 20 University Times.)

Senate secretary Ellen Cohn is the Senate’s representative on the work group. A draft of the plan will be ready for internal review this month, according to Jay Frerotte, director of Environmental Health and Safety and chair of the group.

• Assembly heard a report by Joanne Nicoll, associate director for instructional design and faculty development at the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education. Nicoll reviewed CIDDE resources for enhancing teaching. Those include instructional development (e.g., course design, syllabus revision, classroom activities), workshops on teaching, confidential feedback, teaching portfolio development and CourseWeb (Blackboard) training and support.

For more information, contact Nicoll at 412/624-7372 or via

• The Assembly held a moment of silence in honor of Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor, who died Sept. 1.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 2

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