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May 14, 2009

TAFC rejects proposed med school tenure clock changes

A proposal to change the tenure clock for basic science faculty in the School of Medicine from the standard seven years to 10 years has been rejected by a University Senate committee.

Senate President John Baker at the May 5 Faculty Assembly reported that the tenure and academic freedom committee (TAFC) has recommended not altering the tenure clock.

“If the medical school’s administrative officers decide to push forward with their request to change the tenure clock for basic science faculty in the medical school, the issue will come to Faculty Assembly,” Baker said. “Many factors need to be considered to discuss the issue intelligently. Does the job description for basic science faculty in the medical school differ from the job description for basic science faculty in other schools that have a seven-year tenure clock? I don’t think so.”

However, Baker noted, the medical school differs significantly in its financial configuration from other Pitt schools.

Baker polled the 40-some Assembly members in attendance:

• “How many of you are aware that the medical school’s budget is separate from the budget for the rest of the University?” he asked. The majority of members replied in the affirmative.

• “How many of you are aware that the University’s raise policy does not apply to the medical school?” About half the group said they knew that.

• “How many of you are aware that tuition income covers only about 5 percent of the salary budget for the School of Medicine Division?” Only three Assembly members said they were aware of that fact.

“Every other school in the University has more tuition income than salary expenses. The medical school is highly dependent on soft money to meet its budget. That is why their budget is separate from the rest of the University and why the University’s raise policy does not apply to the medical school,” Baker said.

However, there are implications for this exempt status, he maintained.

Baker cited some relevant questions: “Who determines the raise pool for medical school faculty and is there any [non-administrative] faculty participation in the process? Are faculty in the medical school even told what their raise pool is and how it is distributed?

“Clinical departments in the medical school are excluded from the salary analysis that the Senate budget policies committee conducts each year,” Baker continued.

“I have had complaints from tenured faculty in clinical departments in the medical school that their raises are well below the raises that are given in other schools at the University. I can only tell them they are not covered by the University’s raise policy and we have no information about how raises are distributed in the medical school,” he said.

Many tenured faculty in the medical school have been told that their salaries will be cut 20 percent next year if they do not have the equivalent of 50 percent of their salary coming from a funded research grant, Baker reported.

“This would appear to be a violation of University policy and the medical school’s own policy that establishes a so-called ‘minimum University salary’ for tenured faculty who have no clinical income. This raises the issue as to what it means to be a tenured faculty member in the medical school,” he said.

Assembly member James T. Becker of the medical school’s Department of Psychiatry said the issue of medical school salaries should be examined by Faculty Assembly regardless of how the tenure-clock issue is resolved.

“Historically, it’s very nice that [Arts and Sciences] and the other departments are doing better, but the medical faculty are falling behind,” not only regionally, but nationally, Becker said. “I think that the University, if it’s to allow the place to be called the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, ought to exercise proper oversight.”

Baker said, “Part of the problem is information. The budget for the medical school is separate. It’s something I’ve never seen. The fact that it doesn’t go through budget policies [committee], I don’t know how it’s done. It could be an issue, with regard to the salary reduction threat. So much of the funding is soft money and soft money is variable. At this time, if you’re given tenure, you’re pretty much guaranteed a salary. And you cannot do that if your tuition or hard revenue budget doesn’t cover your salaries.”

Therefore the temptation exists to grant tenure to fewer professors, Baker said, stressing that this deduction was strictly his own interpretation.

The medical school’s Becker responded, “The threats are quite real. There also are non-tenured faculty in the full professor rank who are being told every dollar that you don’t bring in to cover your salary is a dollar less that you are paid. Those are realities of signed contracts.”

But Baker noted, “It’s very difficult for us to deal with issues of non-tenured faculty salaries that are done on a contract basis. But the tenured faculty is another story, because there are regulations and policies. We will continue to follow this. If you have any information you’re welcome to contact me or TAFC.”

Assembly member Philip Wion said, “It’s clear that the faculty in the medical school are members of the University Senate, and therefore this body and Senate Council and the Senate committees do have jurisdiction to look at this issue and to request information on how salary decisions are made in all the departments. It might be that the dean or the chair makes the salary decision, and that’s that. But we don’t know that.”

In addition, Wion pointed out, medical school departments under University policy are supposed to have a planning and budgeting committee that includes a majority of elected members.

“Faculty therefore in the School of Medicine in each of the departments ought to have that avenue to raise questions,” he said. “Now, institutional apparatus doesn’t guarantee that people feel secure enough to raise questions, especially those who are non-tenured faculty, and maybe even those who are. Nonetheless, faculty in the School of Medicine do have ways to pursue these issues.”

Baker also discussed the medical school tenure and pay issues at the May 8 Senate budget policies committee meeting.

He reiterated that faculty in clinical departments were complaining that their pay raises were significantly below what others in the University receive. “It’s well below what the rest of the University gets. Consistently. Year after year,” he said.

Pointing out to BPC that basic science faculty in the clinical departments are not included in the annual continuing faculty salary analysis prepared by Pitt’s Management Information and Analysis office (see April 2 University Times) Baker noted, “That’s hundreds of people.” He suggested meeting with the medical school’s planning and budgeting committee as a way to clarify how the school’s pay raises are decided.

BPC member Wion suggested BPC might consider asking Management Information and Analysis for different information in upcoming faculty pay raise reports. “What form it would take needs to be explored,” he said.

Robert Pack, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, advised allowing the School of Medicine, through Health Sciences budget director Richard Henderson, to address the questions.

“There are not going to be any raises this summer, so the urgency of these issues is fairly minimal,” Pack noted.
Committee members agreed more information is needed and Henderson, a chancellor’s liaison appointee to BPC, agreed to look into the questions in order to discuss them further at the committee’s May 29 meeting.

Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, declined to comment for this story.

Levine, who did not attend either the May 5 Faculty Assembly or the May 8 BPC meeting, stated in an email response to a synopsis of Baker’s remarks: “We will respond to John Baker’s comments and queries through the appropriate medical school channels.”

The thorny issue of reaching agreement on an acceptable salary benchmarking group for three of Pitt’s regional campuses also was discussed at the May 5 Faculty Assembly.

President Baker reported on the latest developments. In a written response to a proposal from the faculty senate presidents at the Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown campuses, Provost James V. Maher clarified the process to be followed to reach agreement on a salary benchmark standard for Pitt’s four-year regional schools.

The provost explained, Baker said, “that the regional faculty senates are advisory to their campus president, so the proper process is for them to work with their campus president to develop a benchmark standard that is acceptable to all three regional campuses and the central administration.

“The regional senate presidents are trying to do this,” Baker said. “Their goal is to reach a common agreement soon on a salary benchmark standard for the regional campuses that will be acceptable to all parties.”

While regional campus faculty are members of the University Senate, each campus also has its own faculty senate, Baker noted. Last winter, faculty senates at the Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown campuses each voted separately to endorse a list, developed by a Pitt-Greensburg task force, of 128 peer institutions in three surrounding geographic areas as a comparative list to track faculty salaries.

But the three regional campus presidents have not yet endorsed the list. (See Feb. 19 University Times.)

“I have extended an invitation to the regional campus senate presidents to come to a future Faculty Assembly meeting to update us on their progress in establishing a faculty salary benchmarking standard for the regional campuses,” Baker said. “Hopefully, they will have reached common agreement with their campus presidents on a new standard when that occurs.”

The issue of an appropriate regional campus salary benchmark group surfaces every spring when the Senate budget policies committee reviews an internal Pitt-specific report, prepared by the Management Information and Analysis office, following the American Association of University Professors’ release of salary data in the March-April issue of Academe. (See April 30 University Times.)

For the past several years, BPC has examined salaries based on data from the group of 18 (with the Penn State branches considered as an aggregate school) Association of American Universities (AAU) public institutions that have IIB-designated (baccalaureate) satellite campuses, the most parallel list to the one used for Pittsburgh campus faculty comparisons.

Wion, a long-time member of budget policies, told Faculty Assembly, “That’s been the form of the report for many years. To look back, there was some dissatisfaction with that report as it applies to the regionals that was expressed by the administration and a process was begun, in which the Senate had some role, in trying to come up with a new benchmarking group.”

More recently, Wion said, BPC urged the faculty senates at the regional campuses to work out an agreement with the senior administration.

“That’s the process that’s been going on. I had hoped it would be completed last year; I hoped it would be completed this spring. Now I hope it will be completed by this time next year. Hope springs eternal, for some of us anyway,” Wion said.

“But it is discouraging that the parties involved have not been able to conclude this process,” he said. “So when BPC reviews the report [at its May 29 meeting] it will still have the same old AAU regionals as part of the report to compare the regional campuses. And as far as I understand it, it will continue to have that there until there is another list put in place.”

Baker confirmed that the official comparison group remains the 18 AAU public IIB schools until a alternative is approved.

He said, “As you indicated, there is some dissatisfaction with that list, that it doesn’t really represent the regionals very well, and that’s the reason we’re trying to develop a new list. But the process right now is for the regional faculty to go through the campus presidents. The process is working. I am optimistic.”

In other Faculty Assembly developments:

• The Senate’s fall plenary session is set for noon-3 p.m., Oct. 21 in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room. The Senate student affairs committee, co-chaired by Patricia Tuite and Scott Mark, is organizing the program, “Interacting With the 21st-Century Student.” Kathy Humphrey, dean of students, will be the keynote speaker.

• Baker reported on the recently completed elections for Senate officers and Faculty Assembly positions. (See April 30 University Times.)

“The vote totals for the election were disappointing. In 2007, the first year of the electronic ballot, 23 percent of the faculty voted in the election. That percentage dropped to 19 percent in 2008 and to 13 percent this year,” Baker said.

“In 2006 with the paper ballot, 23 percent of the faculty voted. The electronic ballot was supposed to increase voter participation by making it easier to vote, but it has not worked out that way. It is possible that having elections the week before and the week of finals hurt voter turnout.”

He asked that suggestions of how to increase voter participation, other than changing the timing of the election, be forwarded to the Senate office, 1212 CL.

• Voting by Faculty Assembly members for openings on the Senate’s 15 standing committees continues until May 15.

• Faculty Assembly observed a moment of silence in honor of Ralph J. Cappy, chair of Pitt’s Board of Trustees, who died May 1.

• Baker said June 2 would be the last Faculty Assembly meeting until the fall.

One agenda item will be discussion of the Pitt-specific salary report, requested annually by BPC, drawn from data published in Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors, he said.

—Peter Hart

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