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September 12, 2002

Close gap between Pitt faculty pay & AAU average salaries

As Pitt prepares its state appropriation request for the next fiscal year, a University Senate committee is once again calling on the administration to close the gap between professors' salaries here and the average faculty pay among Pitt's fellow members of the Association of American Universities (AAU).

In a Sept. 6 letter to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, the Senate's budget policies committee (BPC) recommended increasing the pool of money for faculty salaries by at least 4 percent for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1, 2003.

"For more rapid improvement in our comparative standing [within the AAU], an increase of 5-6 percent would be desirable," BPC members wrote.

"For several years," the committee noted, "average faculty salaries at Pitt have fallen well short of the University's stated goal of at least the median, for each academic rank" within the AAU, a group of prominent North American research universities that includes public institutions (Pitt and Penn State among them) as well as private schools such as Harvard and Stanford.

"This goal had been attained, at least for some ranks, in the early 1990s, but the salary freeze in FY96 and comparatively low increases in recent years have caused a significant deterioration in Pitt's salary rankings with respect to our peer institutions," BPC wrote.

Last, year, average salaries among full professors at the Pittsburgh campus trailed the AAU median by $6,000, associates by $4,800 and assistants by $2,900. Faculty librarians ranked near the bottom of their comparison group (AAU schools that also belong to the Association of Research Libraries) and trailed the AAU/ARL median by $6,400. The gap between average salaries at Pitt regional campuses and at AAU branch campuses ranged between $800 and $6,800.

"We appreciate Chancellor Nordenberg's recognition that the recent history of salary increases has put the University at a comparative disadvantage, and we welcome his decision to support a 3.5 percent increase in this year's salary pool, despite a 3.7 percent reduction in Pitt's state appropriation," BPC's letter stated.

The University faces a Sept. 20 deadline for submitting its FY 2003-04 state funding request to Harrisburg. The annual request includes, among other things, Pitt's proposals for salary and tuition increases next year. Senior administrators have not decided on those proposals yet, said Arthur G. Ramicone, vice chancellor for Budget and Controller.

BPC gives the chancellor its own recommendations early each fall, in the hope that the committee's advice will figure into the administration's decision.

Harrisburg officials are projecting a state budget shortfall this year of $1.25 billion-$1.5 billion, Ramicone cautioned.

BPC acting chairperson Stephen Carr said the best that Pitt probably can expect from the state next year is to avoid another cut in funding.

Given the near-impossibility of predicting accurately at this time how Pitt's 2003-04 state appropriation will shape up, BPC's salary recommendation "has exactly the same level of realism" as the one that Pitt's administration will submit later this month, Carr maintained.

BPC members seemed ambivalent toward their own recommendation. Of the five voting members who attended the Sept. 6 meeting, two endorsed the recommendation, one voted against it and two abstained.

Afterward, education professor Sean Hughes would not tell the University Times why he voted against the recommendation. But during the meeting, Hughes noted that Pitt's administration awarded double-digit salary raises twice during the years he's worked here — in 1976 and 1991, when Pitt faculty were about to vote on whether to unionize. (In both elections, pro-union forces failed to garner enough votes to form a faculty union here.)

Responding to the BPC recommendations, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg told the University Times: "What I can say at this point is that salaries will again be one of our priorities, and the [4 percent] salary recommendation of the Senate budget policies committee seems to be reasonable. Certainly, an even larger raise pool would be desirable, but I think we do need to be realistic in that this is likely to be another challenging year."

For several years, administrators have argued that Pitt should benchmark its faculty salaries against those of public AAU schools only. They maintain that the private AAU schools' large endowments, high tuition, specialized curricula and freedom from state government regulation enable them to pay higher salaries than public AAU institutions, and that the disparity of wealth is growing each year.

During the 2001-02 academic year, the average salaries of Pittsburgh campus full professors ($95,800), associate professors ($65,400), assistant professors ($56,600) and faculty librarians ($48,600) continued to rank among the bottom third among 61 AAU schools surveyed.

Comparing Pittsburgh cam-pus salaries with those at the 34 public AAU schools only, Pitt ranked 19th in average salary for full professors, 21st for associate professors and 19th for assistant professors. The average salary of a Pittsburgh campus faculty librarian ranked 30th among 32 AAU/ARL schools.

BPC chairperson Carr suggested that it probably would be more realistic for Pitt to shoot for a new AAU comparison goal — say, raising Pitt's faculty pay to the top one-fifth among AAU publics.

But he and other BPC members said Pitt professors should continue to press for meeting the original goal of raising faculty pay to the median for the whole AAU, until Senate groups and the administration formally agree to change that goal.

Pitt's current health insurance contract with UPMC Health System ends June 30. Administrators and Senate leaders alike have warned that Pitt's premiums may increase by 25 percent or more under a new contract.

Administrators, faculty and staff involved in planning Pitt's 2003-04 budget are expected to consider whether employees — especially lower-paid ones — would be better off if Pitt paid a larger share of their health insurance premiums in lieu of salary raises.

But BPC won't push for that approach to compensation.

Carr said: "In the long run, given the state funding situation, it may well be that it makes sense to put more money into benefits rather than salaries because then it's pre-tax compensation. But that's a case that would have to be made by the administration to the faculty."

Faculty are unlikely to agree among themselves on the issue, Carr said.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 2

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