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April 28, 2005

Regional faculty reaction to salary benchmark list varies

A controversy that has been bubbling beneath the surface for a couple months has resurfaced: What are the appropriate benchmarks for comparing faculty salaries at Pitt’s four-year regional campuses?

The issue was raised last summer by faculty leaders at the three regionals that are four-year baccalaureate institutions (designated as “IIB” by the American Association of University Professors) — Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown.

Pitt’s senior administration long has maintained that the appropriate salary benchmark comparison group for full-time faculty at 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 had maintained that there was no agreed upon list to benchmark faculty salaries at the regional campuses.

So Provost James Maher said his office, in consultation with the three affected campus presidents, okayed a list consisting of all 270 IIB institutions in three large geographic regions of the United States: Middle Atlantic, East North Central and South Atlantic.

Maher told the University Times yesterday, April 27: “It’s practically impossible to find appropriate benchmarking matches to any of our regional campuses individually, partly because they are relatively small to compare meaningful numbers.”

Faculty salaries at the three regional campuses would be compared as an aggregate to salary data from the list of schools, he said.

“This is a list, created nationally, that serves the general purpose of supplying a broad measure of comparison of relative progress over time,” Maher said. He gave the campus presidents discretion on how to disseminate the list, along with supporting documentation outlining the purpose of benchmarking, to their respective faculties.

“It’s my understanding that the respective campus presidents would present this [list] through their faculty senates to study it. We made a good faith gesture in response to multiple requests for a benchmark. [The campuses] don’t have to accept it if they don’t want to. We’ve gone long enough without a benchmark.”

Not everyone is content with the new list or how it was disseminated on the respective campuses.

This month, Dan Milberg of the Greensburg campus complained at a Senate budget policies committee (BPC) meeting that the new list was not an adequate benchmarking group. “It’s a good start, but some schools are obviously inappropriate,” Milberg told BPC. “Also, a second or third level of analysis of the data needs to be included,” covering such categories as teaching loads, class sizes and tenure requirements, he said.

At Milberg’s request, BPC sent a letter to the UPG faculty president, who forwarded the letter to his counterparts at Bradford and Johnstown, according to BPC member Phil Wion, who reported to the April 5 Faculty Assembly.

Wion said BPC’s letter expressed concern over an apparent lack of substantive faculty involvement in determining the benchmark pool. The letter also said there was a compelling need for further analysis of “such an amorphous group” of institutions, which includes a mixed bag of public and private schools ranging from religious-affiliated schools to the Albany College of Pharmacy to the U.S. Naval Academy to Swarthmore and Oberlin, he told Faculty Assembly.

“We are concerned that the list was not developed in consultation with the faculty,” Wion said. “Budget policies believes a more detailed analysis is needed and the faculty at the regional campuses should be involved in that process.”

Assembly member Herbert Chesler echoed those sentiments. “It is not the role of this Assembly to determine what the proper benchmarks should be,” he said. “But it appears an important element in the life of the faculty has been determined without the input of those most affected. They are expressing distress and alarm that their interests are being ignored, and Faculty Assembly should support our colleagues in this matter.”

The reaction to the announcement of the new benchmark list varied by campus from faculty passivity (Greensburg) to tacit endorsement (Bradford) to heated discussion (Johnstown), according to faculty leaders at the three campuses.


UPG’s faculty President Sayre Greenfield said that campus President Frank Cassell presented the list as fully approved at a March UPG Faculty Senate meeting. “I want to make it clear that I do not speak for all [Greensburg] faculty on this issue,” Greenfield told the University Times. “My sense, though, is that the issue may be overblown. When this was presented, a few people noted that it was a big list, but there was no discussion of faculty input into the list. I’m also not clear on how this issue applies to shared governance. I don’t understand the politics of what that concept implies as it relates to administrative decisions.”

Greenfield added that no more Faculty Senate meetings are scheduled this term. “Of course, I will be sounding out faculty here and would be happy to discuss this with any of our faculty.”

Cassell told the University Times last week that any misunderstanding may be diffused by clarifying the goals of the new benchmark list. “What we were seeking is an administrative measure for how to compare salaries vis-à-vis the general group of institutions we compete against for recruiting faculty, in a broad sense,” he said.

“There was the very limited goal to find a list acceptable to the presidents and the provost of a group of institutions to compare faculty salaries with. Over the years there have been many other formulations proposed, but no real agreement. This is an important first step.”

Cassell acknowledged that the 270 schools comprise an amorphous group of public and private institutions.

“Are we like all these schools programmatically? Of course not,” Cassell said. “These are gross figures. But this is information I did not have beforehand, and it’s useful for when we’re working through preparing budgets each year, for example.

“If our goals were different,” he continued, “if we were looking at schools that are like us programmatically, with similar curricula, course loads, how well we rank, what schools we would hope to be like — that would have to be done by regional, by [faculty] rank, and with participation and input of the appropriate faculty and committees and so forth. It would take a lot of thought. It should not be the presidents on their own doing that.”

He added that the latter goal of developing a campus-specific benchmarking group is valuable. “Each campus ought to be doing that. But that’s a task for the future. This [benchmarking list] gives us a departure point to compare the regionals vis-à-vis what roughly is our competition for recruiting faculty. It is not designed to set specific salary targets.”

Of further benefit is that salary data from schools on the new list is acceptable to the campus presidents and the provost. It also is annual and easily obtainable, Cassell said. “There is virtue in simplicity and ease of access. We can look each year to see if something is out of whack. Then there are some things we can do on each of our campuses in order not to lose faculty and to be able to competitively recruit faculty or, in certain cases, we can go back to the provost with the data for his help.”


UPB faculty President Don Ulin said that Bradford President Livingston Alexander presented the new salary benchmark list at a February Faculty Senate meeting. “He did present it as a fait accompli. But before he did that, he and I met privately,” Ulin told the University Times last week. “He told me this list was accepted by the other [two] campus presidents and the Provost’s office. He further suggested that we include the data to establish salary goals and a time-line in our strategic plan.”

Ulin explained that the strategic planning process involved committees from the major divisions at UPB, such as Academic Affairs. “These committees are all headed by administrators, but they do have faculty representation in the development of the final plan that is sent to the provost for approval. So, in a way, I guess you could say that our faculty lent some credibility to the list [by taking Alexander’s suggestion].”

Alexander told the University Times this week, “The three presidents have been aware for quite a while that there was a need to have a benchmarking list. I can tell you that at least on our campus there was discussion [of the list] with the faculty beforehand. I invited faculty to react to it. And when I invited them at a faculty meeting to endorse this list as is, they embraced it,” he said.

Alexander confirmed that he had suggested that the benchmark list be incorporated into the campus’s strategic plan. “I see this list as a baseline against which over the next five to seven years to benchmark our salaries,” Alexander said. “[The presidents] felt using the entire IIB list — which is a constant, it’s above board, it’s reputable, it’s printed each year in Academe — was a good starting point.”

Alexander added that there were no plans on his campus to refine the list.


UPJ faculty President Richard Ulsh told the University Times last week that the mood on his campus among faculty is anything but calm.

“I first learned that a list had been [approved] at a meeting Feb. 26 in Bradford” of faculty leaders from all five Pitt campuses, Ulsh said. “When I pressed President Etheridge about this, we agreed that the list and the [explanatory] materials should be sent to all faculty, not just announced at a meeting where everyone might not get the message.”

In a March 7 letter to all UPJ faculty that included an attached three-page regional benchmarking rationale, Etheridge disseminated the list of 270 schools. Ulsh shared the materials with the University Times.

Subsequently, at a March meeting of the UPJ Faculty Senate Council, which is a group of elected leaders from the Faculty Senate, the issue was discussed with the campus president, Ulsh said. “I would describe that discussion as heated,” he said.

Among the objections that faculty raised, according to Ulsh, were that the list was “not rationally prepared”; that there were no specific salary goals; that the comparison was “too convenient,” in that the latest salary figures had the Pitt regionals coming out about even or a little higher than the average salaries in the faculty ranks of the 270 schools; that relevant issues were being overlooked, such as course load, class size and requirements for research, and that shared governance had been ignored.

“I made the point a couple of times that we [faculty] should be at the table,” Ulsh said. “I take umbrage at the three-page summary and the implication of the cover letter that this is open to discussion, when, apparently, it is not.”

Ulsh is in the process of developing a counter set of salary benchmarks, “so we will be prepared to have a rational discussion if and when we are approached.” To that end he is enlisting the aid of two UPJ faculty volunteers familiar with statistical software who will attempt to drill into the data from the list of the 270 IIB schools, examining relevant comparison categories, Ulsh said.

“I also expect that the campus [faculty] leaders across the five campuses will continue to meet on these issues,” he said. “I think that’s very important.”

Pitt-Johnstown President Albert Etheridge did not return phone calls from the University Times.

—Peter Hart

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