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February 19, 2009

Regional faculty approve salary benchmark peer group list

A proposal for a common faculty salary benchmark list for three of Pitt’s regional campuses — something that’s been a thorny issue for several years — cleared a hurdle recently.

Faculty senates at the Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown campuses each voted to recommend a list of 128 peer institutions in three surrounding geographic areas as a comparative list to track faculty salaries.

Faculty at the three four-year campuses have struggled for years to agree on a common list, which has been one prerequisite to seeking the approval of the Provost’s office.

(Benchmarking faculty salaries at Pitt-Titusville is considered separately because UPT primarily is a two-year institution.)
According to Robert Pack, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, the next step is to have the regional campus presidents endorse the list before the Provost’s office considers it.

Pitt’s senior administration long has maintained that the appropriate salary benchmark comparison group for full-time faculty on the Pittsburgh campus is the Association of American Universities public institution members. That group of 34 public universities is said to be like Pitt in basic mission, aspiration, programming and competitiveness.

But the administration also has maintained that there was no agreed-upon list to benchmark faculty salaries at the regional campuses. Provost office officials also have said that salaries at the three campuses would be considered as an aggregate in any benchmarking analysis.

Various benchmarking lists have been proposed since 2004, but have fallen by the wayside due to a number of objections, including being too unwieldy; incorporating institutions with radically different missions, such as religious-based schools, and using faulty or questionable methodology. Proposed lists have varied in the number of institutions from 18 to 270.

The most recent recommendation emerged from a task force studying the history of previous proposals. The task force was appointed last May by Pitt-Greensburg President Sharon Smith, at the request of Beverly Gaddy, president of the UPG faculty.

Gaddy said that following discussions of the task force’s report, last September the list of 128 schools — which became known as the Greensburg list — was endorsed unanimously by the UPG Senate Council and Faculty Senate. The Greensburg list then was forwarded to the other two regionals’ faculty groups.

The Bradford campus Faculty Senate unanimously endorsed the Greensburg list in December, according to that group’s president, Don Ulin.

Pitt-Johnstown faculty president Karen Lee said her group endorsed the list last month.

Earlier this month, Smith forwarded the list to the Provost’s office. Smith said she has had ongoing conversations about this issue with her counterparts at Bradford and Johnstown, but the three regional campus presidents had not yet endorsed the Greensburg list formally.

The 128 institutions on the proposed regional campus benchmark list were drawn from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) list of IIB public and private-independent schools from the Mid-Atlantic, North Central and South Atlantic regions. Category IIB schools are four-year institutions characterized by an emphasis on undergraduate baccalaureate-level education, as opposed to graduate degrees.

Of the 128 institutions on the proposed list, 41 are public and 87 are private-independent; the list does not include the 127 AAUP IIB church-related institutions in those regions.

The proposal recommends employing data available from the federal government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), rather than the data compiled each year by the AAUP, which is the source for the Pittsburgh campus faculty salary comparison reviewed annually by the University Senate budget policies committee (BPC).

In the “Pitt-Greensburg Salary Benchmarking Task Force Report,” a copy of which was obtained by the University Times, the task force recommended the IPEDS database as “objectively more appropriate” because “the AAUP survey is voluntary while the IPEDS survey, if not mandatory, is certainly less voluntary than the AAUP’s. The IPEDS is larger, contains more types of data about faculty and staff salaries, includes additional data about schools (enrollments, degrees granted, etc.) and is more consistent from year to year.”

BPC long has advocated for an approved regional campus faculty salary benchmark list to fulfill the committee’s charge to monitor trends in Pitt faculty salaries. Committee members over the years have been adamant that BPC should not be involved in defining which comparison group should be used to rank the regionals, but that an approved comparison group was highly desirable.

The committee annually reviews an internal report, prepared by Pitt’s Management Information and Analysis office, following the AAUP’s release of salary data in the March-April issue of Academe.

In the absence of an approved list for the regionals, for the past several years BPC has examined salaries based on data from the group of 18 Association of American Universities public institutions that have branch campuses, the most parallel list to the one employed for Pittsburgh campus faculty.

—Peter Hart

(For coverage of discussions of previously proposed lists, see University Times Oct. 28, 2004; Nov. 11, 2004 (letter); Nov. 24, 2004 (letter); Dec. 9, 2004 (letter); April 28, 2005; April 27, 2006; May 25, 2006; May 17, 2007; May 29, 2008.)

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