Pitt’s endowment is fair game
I have a piece in The Pitt News arguing that Pitt’s endowment (specifically the $2.6 billion unrestricted “quasi-endowment”) can and should be tapped to avoid massive cuts due to the pandemic.
Happily, we have more than enough resources to avoid these disasters. At last count, Pitt has $2.6 billion in savings available to use however it wants, or however the trustees will approve — the quasi-endowment. Unlike Pitt’s $1.6-billion traditional endowment, which is made up of gifts that donors have contractually restricted to certain uses, the quasi-endowment has no such limitations. Pitt chooses to treat this pool of assets like an endowment, with restricted spending policies focused on maintaining the original amount of money. In reality, Pitt can use this money as it wishes.
But Chancellor Patrick Gallagher recently said he will not support using the quasi-endowment to avoid devastating cuts. He said this is because about two-thirds of the quasi-endowment is designated for student financial aid.
“Using it for offsetting these costs would have a negative impact on money going to students,” Gallagher said. “We think it’s sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Not to mince words: it is wrong that the Chancellor, who received a $669,738 base salary this year, would use sympathetic students as an excuse not to protect the jobs of the faculty and staff who support those students, often for wages less than one-twentieth of his. But even if we accept his terms, the numbers don’t add up. We can fully cover shortfalls of 10% using quasi-endowment funds with no serious impact on financial aid.
[. . .]
The question is not whether students or employees, Peter or Paul, are more deserving. It is whether a $4.75-million deficit in future years or a slight increase to the quasi-endowment distribution rate is a reasonable price to pay to prevent a $100-million deficit next year.
I tried to keep the focus on the financial impact of spending the endowment and why “student financial aid” is an unconvincing reason not to spend it. So there were some points I wasn’t able to make there that I think are also worthwhile.
To the point that we can find $4.75 million somewhere else in the budget if we don’t want to raise tuition on students, I’d add that we’ve already done that: last year the new provost announced a splashy new plan to match Pell grants for eligible students. That turned out to be a $40 million annual hit to the budget. They did a lot of creative accounting and found ways to pay for that program, including a 1.5%, or $12 million, cut. They also increased the endowment income distribution rate by 0.5% from 4.25% to 4.75% for that portion of the quasi-endowment, to help fund the pell-match program. As I said in the piece, those are exactly the sorts of things we could do now if we wanted to make up any reductions to the endowment distribution caused by spending some of the principal.
Chancellor Gallagher said last week that “nothing is entirely on or off the table,” but in the same meeting he took spending the unrestricted endowment off the table. I focused my Pitt News piece on his comments about financial aid, but more generally it is very strange how stubbornly university administrators refuse to even consider tapping into the resources they have. And its even stranger when we remember that universities like Pitt are a tiny minority that have such deep pockets to allow them to weather major crises. Most colleges and universities have few or no reserves and would desperately welcome any cushion against huge revenue losses.
It’s common to think of endowments as a “rainy day fund,” where the interest is valuable but the principal is also there as a cushion for hard times. University administrators are vehemently opposed to this common-sense view of endowments, but they have completely failed to communicate their position in a way that the public can accept, and really they barely try. Instead of actually justifying their business model, when asked they use thin talking points like “student financial aid” that are designed to change the subject rather than really explain why these resources can’t possibly be touched, no matter how extreme the consequences. (This excellent piece came out while I was working on my own, and does a huge service in working through these arguments.)
The main idea, as I take it, is that endowments are supposed to provide guaranteed revenues to ensure the university’s mission well into the long-term future. That’s a nice idea, but if the goal is preserving institutions for the long-term there are clearly going to be circumstances when immediate cuts are going to be much more detrimental to an organization’s long-term health than reduced future returns on investments.
When you add in that investments are already deeply uncertain, and even more uncertain during this unprecedented crisis, we know that the same $100 million that Pitt might spend to avoid a big cut this year (or about four percent of the total quasi-endowment) could disappear tomorrow. Right now that money has the real, tangible ability to preserve our institution’s basic functions while protecting the most vulnerable members of our community. Next month it could be gone. Endowment managers deal with that sort of risk all the time, so the idea that losing four percent from the principle is something to be avoided at any cost just isn’t plausible.
The best argument I can find against spending an endowment’s principal in a crisis is that endowments are often invested in illiquid assets that are difficult to sell to raise cash, especially in a widespread crisis where many asset owners are also selling. The Covid pandemic is not a financial crisis where everyone is trying to sell at the same time. But even if it were, this just raises the question of why university administrators are putting all their assets in illiquid investments? It seems like the depths of irresponsibility to have such deep pockets but not have made any contingency plans for major crises.
If Pitt administrators want us to accept the deeply implausible idea that large pools of assets can’t be touched in a crisis, and that endowments aren’t a rainy day fund, there’s a simple fix: they could create a rainy day fund. What if, instead of $2.6 billion in its quasi-endowment, Pitt had “only” $2 billion, and another $600 million in liquid assets in a special fund that everyone involved understood was there to help weather the next crisis. There would be a lot more willingness to accept that the $2 billion can’t be touched, and we all would be in a much better position right now to be ready to support our students, to jump into the hugely challenging project of figuring out how to educate effectively while social distancing, to double down on world-changing research, and to get to work doing what we’re all here to do—instead of worrying if we’ll be around in September to do it.
Right now we should all be speaking with one voice in support of emergency federal support for higher education across the United States, but this stubborn and obsessive hoarding in endowments undermines our ability as faculty, staff, and students to make the case to our communities that our work contributes to the public good, and to ask state, local, and federal governments, who are themselves struggling to fund a wide range of priorities with limited tax revenues, to continue supporting our work with appropriations, grants, tax breaks, and subsidies. University administrators are doing themselves, and the rest of us, no favors, and the backlash is entirely deserved.
Trying to think carefully about the 2000s in 2020 (I wrote a book)
It is trying to think carefully about the 2000s in the middle of a crisis that feels like maybe it’s the first thing in my lifetime that is actually not happening in the twentieth century/boomer time. But, for all that, I did spend the second decade of the twenty-first century trying to think carefully about what was happening in kids’ media during the first decade of the twenty-first century. I think the headline for this book is, you know, Miley! Taylor! Bieber! but for me this all came out of hanging out with kids in 2007 and having no idea what to make of the fact that pop music for kids was at the center of the universe at that moment. (The High School Musical soundtrack was the top-selling album in 2006.) And then also I had been reading a lot of Michael Warner, who seemed to offer some useful tools for thinking about kids’ media, and then The Female Complaint changed my life, and, I guess, here we are, I wrote a book about it. Which came out on April 3, but my family had spent the previous two weeks skedaddling from London where we were spending the spring term with a study abroad program, and we ended up holing up with family on the wrong side of the county from our actual home, and so having this book come out has been strangely uneventful.
Anyways, Duke has a 50% off sale through May 1, which is a pretty good sale! The book is here.
At my workplace the current question is how much the Koch Foundation is like Jeffrey Epstein. Everybody agrees they’re in the same category, the provost brings up Epstein without prompting in discussion of Kochs, it’s really a sight to see. (We’re still taking their money.)
Higher ed is an extractive industry
Haven’t seen this case made quite so clearly:
But their intentions are meaningless if they fail to address the fundamental power disparity between town and gown. “Community engagement” often presumes an alliance of equal power between the groups involved—at least, that’s what calling the relationships “partnerships” and “collaborations” implies—and that’s simply not the case. More often than not, universities are parasites.
Ten-year tenure clocks are bad
(Thinking about posting things I would otherwise tweet here. Gonna bring the mid-2000s back by sheer for￼ce of will.)
I think the case against ten-year tenure clocks is the same as the case against extending tenure clocks for parental leave (ie it’s far better than firing someone but far worse than just having standards that can be met by reasonable people in a reasonable period of time). Anyways my employer recently lengthened the tenure clock for all medical faculty to ten years, and now apparently they are considering expanding that further:
Already, Kirsch said, the School of Medicine has requested and received an extension of the tenure acquisition process from seven to 10 years for its entire faculty, where all but clinical faculty had previously had the shorter deadline. The provost’s office is considering letting other schools opt in to this extended “clock,” she said.
As I’ve said before, if the only way you can think of not to fire good people is to keep them precarious and subordinate for several more years, that is bad. Please don’t do this.
I wrote another book
This is happening. April 2020.
New chapter about the Kindie Movement in Music in Early Childhood
I have a chapter about taste discourses in the independent children’s music movement in the US since 2000 in this exciting new book about music in early childhood, edited by the always brilliant Susan Young and Beatriz Ilari. (I had a whole back and forth with Springer about retaining rights to use this material in a future book, which was as challenging a negotiation on these issues as I’ve ever had but achieved the very positive and unexpected outcome that I retained copyright of the piece altogether, which is much more than I was asking for but I guess a lot easier to implement in the contract, and anyways I’m very happy about that and it seems to mean that I can post this pdf here.)
How well does the University of Pittsburgh pay non-tenure-track faculty?
tl;dr: Not well. The best information we have puts non-tenure-track faculty salaries significantly below those of all our peer institutions.
(Updated with Fall 2019 data here.)
I teach at Pitt, where as of this year I have tenure. I have also been active since 2014 in the campaign to organize all the faculty at Pitt—across ranks, schools, and campuses—into a union affiliated with the United Steelworkers. Since 2015 I have been a member of Pitt’s Senate Budget Committee (BPC), which receives reports about faculty salaries and other budget-related issues. For the last two years I’ve been the secretary of that committee.
This post is an effort to lay out what I know about my non-tenure-stream colleagues’ salaries as accurately and honestly and comprehensively as I can. I’ll try to link directly to reports, policies, and other data everywhere I can, and to flag if I make any claims without linking directly to supporting information.
A few notes to start: Pitt uses “tenure-stream” and “non-tenure-stream” (T/TS, NTS) rather than the more common “tenure-track”/”non-tenure-track” (T/TT, NTS), and I’ll follow Pitt’s usage here. This post will only discuss full-time NTS faculty, since that is what we have access to decent salary information about. Part-time NTS faculty (colloquially, “adjuncts”) also have urgent salary concerns, and I’m sorry I can’t speak more directly to those. This post will also focus only on full-time NTS faculty at the Pittsburgh campus, and not at Pitt’s regional campuses in Johnstown, Greensburg, Bradford, and Titusville. I think the numbers we have access to for the regional campuses are less reliable, given the smaller total number of faculty at the four regional campuses, the significantly larger and more diverse benchmarking group Pitt uses to evaluate those salaries, and the significant differences in the regional labor markets where the four regional campuses are located. For those reasons I don’t feel as confident making strong and accurate claims about those salaries, and my goal in this post is to try to be a clear and accurate as possible.
The question “How well does the University of Pittsburgh pay non-tenure-track faculty?” takes on a specific institutional form within the university. Of course we can accept or reject the validity of the university’s framing, but it is a place to start. Pitt’s longstanding official policy for evaluating faculty salaries at the Pittsburgh campus reads:
To assure competitiveness in attracting and retaining qualified and productive faculty, the University has set a goal of ensuring that average faculty salaries at the Pittsburgh campus are at or above the median (for each rank) of AAU universities
The Association of American Universities (AAU) is an organization of 62 universities in the United States and Canada whose members define themselves as “leading research-intensive universities.” Although Pitt’s written policy identifies all 62 AAU members as the comparison group, in practice there is an informal agreement among all participants (to my knowledge) that the more appropriate benchmarking group is the 34 AAU institutions who are also public universities in the United States. Public universities generally pay less than privates, so excluding privates from the comparison group improves the relative standing of Pitt’s salaries. Private research universities compete for faculty with public research universities like Pitt, and given that the policy is written to prioritize market considerations (“attracting and retaining” faculty), it would be equally reasonable to use the full AAU comparison group. But I agree that the AAU publics are an appropriate comparison group, and that’s what I’ll refer to here. Pitt provides reports using both comparison groups, but in practice everyone involved treats the AAU publics as the relevant benchmark. So the salary target that Pitt officially holds itself to in practice is that average faculty salaries at the Pittsburgh campus should be at or above the median (for each rank) of AAU public universities.
To evaluate whether salaries are meeting this goal, every year the university produces a report comparing salaries of Pitt faculty by rank with the salaries of the benchmarking group. To produce this report Pitt’s Office of Institutional Research uses data about faculty salaries at the AAU member institutions published in the AAUP’s Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession. (Inside Higher Ed makes the AAUP data available as a user-friendly searchable database here.) The most recent report is available as a PDF from the University Times here and is based on 2017–18 faculty salaries. In general we get information about salaries from the previous year.
The primary function of these reports is to assess whether the university is meeting its official salary target. The university produces other salary reports for other purposes. For example as part of their reporting requirements to the state they produce a report of mean and median salaries for faculty and staff by rank and unit. They also produce reports analyzing salary increases for staff and faculty cohorts over 15 years. There is also a report on faculty salaries adjusted for cost-of-living. The point of the peer group salary report is to determine if our salaries are meeting our goals according to the standards that are set out in written policies and widely agreed upon through a longstanding iterative shared governance process. Which is to say, in the context of shared governance at Pitt, if you are asking “how well are faculty paid?” this is the report that answers that question using agreed upon standards and data.
The peer analysis report organizes its results by rank: full professor, associate professor, assistant professor, lecturer, and instructor. For 2017-18 the report found that full professors’ salaries at Pitt were 16th of 34, or just above the median of the comparison group of public AAU institutions, which meets the policy target. (I’m posting screen grab images of the tables, but these are all taken from a machine readable PDF here.)
Associate professors’ salaries were 23rd of 34, below the median:
Assistant professors’ salaries were 27th of 34, well below the median:
Instructor salaries are 17th of only 20 institutions that report data for this category:
And lecturer salaries are at the bottom of the comparison group (28th of 29 AAU publics who report information for this rank):
If we’re reading this report to learn about NTS salaries, I think our best bet is to focus on lecturers. Like the other categories lecturer is not a perfectly defined title, but at most of these institutions it is a teaching-oriented position that is not eligible for tenure, which is what it is in almost all cases at Pitt as well. The report defines lecturer as:
the unduplicated combined total of “Primarily Instructional” and “Instructional/Research/Public Service,” excluding clinical or basic science faculty, medical faculty in schools of medicine, and military faculty, regardless of whether they are formally designated as“faculty” who have titles such as “lecturer” or “visiting lecturer.”
All of the other categories include both tenured/tenure-stream and non-tenure-stream faculty at Pitt, though we don’t have a breakdown of how many T/TS and NTS faculty are in each. I would expect that of the “professor” ranks, assistant professor would include the largest proportion of NTS faculty, because Pitt employs many people as research assistant professors, clinical assistant professors, and in similar untenurable assistant professor positions. Pitt has only recently begun to implement promotion tracks for NTS faculty, but until very recently many or most NTS assistant professors had no path to promotion, so people would remain in that title for a long time. NTS full and associate professor positions are less common, though they are not wholly uncommon especially in the health sciences schools, and their numbers may increase in the future as NTS assistant professors move through new promotion tracks. (From the 2018 Fact Book, I think it is possible to determine that about 45 percent of “professor” ranks outside the School of Medicine are NTS. Subtracting non-SoM instructors and lecturers on p84 from the total number of non-SoM NTS on 87 leaves you with 795 NTS professors, associate professors, and assistant professors, of 1778 total. I don’t think we can tell how those are distributed among the professor ranks.) Whether the presence of large numbers of NTS assistant professors increases average assistant professor salaries because the group includes many people with several years in rank, or decreases the average number because NTS salaries are usually lower than T/TS salaries is something we don’t have any data to evaluate.
Instructor is a complicated and unreliable category. My understanding is that at Pitt it is a title primarily used for faculty without terminal degrees in teaching-oriented positions (though faculty with other titles may also not have terminal degrees). It is also sometimes considered a tenure-stream rank, and according to a comment in the minutes of this Budget Policies Committee meeting, “most of the time, instructors at Pitt are tenure stream hires who have not yet finished their dissertation.” (I think this is unlikely—in 2016-17 humanities instructors averaged $38,138, which doesn’t look like a starting TS salary.) My understanding is that in general instructor is a poorly defined title across US higher ed. Adding to these challenges, last year the AAUP changed how it defines the instructor category and now asks institutions to report all faculty with “visiting” titles as part of this group (except visiting lecturers, who remain in the lecturer category). That includes visiting professor, visiting associate professor, and visiting assistant professor. The average salaries for instructors increased by 23% from 2016-2017, which is clearly the outcome of packing in all of these visiting positions. (This is reflected in table 8 of the peer analysis report, which shows that the average individual increase for people in the instructor category was only 3.9 percent, nowhere near 23 percent.) Lumping visiting professors in with instructors does seem to make this category a pretty useless catchall, and it is too bad that the AAUP decided to change their survey instructions this year.
So, how well does Pitt pay NTS faculty?
Well, the most secure answer is that last year the group that is most clearly composed of NTS faculty was paid worse than all but one of our peer institutions. Which is to say, very poorly.
And this has not changed in six years:
In 2016-17 lecturer salaries were also 28th out of 29. (PDF from me)
In 2015-16 they were 27th out of 28. (PDF from me)
In 2014-15 they were 28th out of 29. (PDF via archive.org)
In 2013-14 they were 27th out of 27. (PDF from me)
In 2012-13 they were 29th out of 29. (PDF via archive.org)
Those links go to University Times stories, which originally linked to the reports themselves, but those links are broken. A couple are available via archive.org. I have posted the PDFs for the others to my pitt.edu filespace. I don’t believe there is any issue there, since they were originally shared publicly through the University Times, which is how I got them.
I believe Pitt only started reporting on salaries for lecturers and instructors in that 2012-13 report. The University Times write-up of the 2011-12 salary benchmarking report does not mention lecturers or instructors.
The other two categories that include substantial numbers of NTS faculty, assistant professors and instructors, are also very poorly paid relative to the comparison group. I think we can assume that the majority of instructors are NTS and that the majority of assistant professors are probably probationary tenure-stream faculty. But the latter assumption is pretty uncertain—there really are very many people at Pitt in untenurable ranks like research assistant professor or clinical assistant professor, and to my knowledge there is no information available that would help us sort out how many of these different groups there are. It seems at least relevant to the question of NTS salaries that assistant professors’ salaries are also ranked so low. (That said, while assistant professors are low ranked, the salaries of peer institutions above them are pretty closely bunched. So Pitt assistant salaries are just under 95 percent of the median salaries of the comparison group, while lecturers are a little over 80 percent of the median in their group.)
It might be more clear just to say that Pitt pays faculty at lower ranks poorly across the board. Lecturer, instructor, and assistant professor salaries are all consistently very low in their comparison groups, while associate professor salaries are consistently moderately better, and full professor salaries are the only group to actually meet the university’s own targets. But I framed this question in terms of NTS salaries (and I’m mostly writing this out of pique at being accused of dishonesty about NTS salaries), so I’m trying to sort this specifically out as clearly as possible.
It has been suggested to me that there are other ways to interpret these data that might give a more optimistic picture, and that focusing on these numbers is wrong somehow. I think that is wrongheaded, especially since there is longstanding institutionalized agreement about what it means to ask this question, which only allows one interpretation (you either meet the goal or you don’t, and by how much). But I’ll explore some other approaches to these questions in what follows.
Cost of living
The university also produces a report analyzing faculty salaries adjusted for cost of living variations by region. Pittsburgh’s cost of living is right at the median of the cities where AAU publics are located. That means our salaries are worth more than if we lived in very high cost areas (Seattle, the Bay Area), but less than if we lived in lower cost areas (Indiana). Really the distribution is less smooth than that, and the bottom two-thirds are all very close, while the top ten regions are significantly more expensive.
Pitt faculty salaries do improve relative to other AAU publics when adjusted for cost of living.
Full professors improve from 16th to 12th.
Associate professors improve from 23rd to 15th.
Assistant professors improve from 27th to 15th.
And lecturers and instructors (treated as a single group in this report) improve from 30th to 26th.
I’m not sure why this report groups lecturers and instructors together, or how it gets lecturer and instructor salary data for all 34 AAU publics when only 29 AAU publics report lecturer salaries and only 20 report instructor salaries in the regular peer analysis report.
Somehow despite dramatic gains from cost-of-living adjustment for other ranks, lecturers and instructors remain in the bottom quarter of salaries even after these adjustments. The big improvement for assistant professors may be because their salaries are more bunched up, while lecturer salaries are significantly lower, so cost of living adjustments have more distance to overcome.
It is fair to say that Pittsburgh’s reasonable cost of living improves the value of faculty salaries relative to our peers in high cost regions. It is also clear that salaries for NTS faculty remain low even when adjusted. For Pitt shared governance purposes it is important that the official policy remains the unadjusted numbers, and this is publicly reiterated frequently by administrators (eg).
Lecturers and instructors are 58% women. Full professors are 26% women. We’ve already established that full professors are paid well, or at least adequately, while lecturers and instructors are paid poorly using the university’s own criteria. This is a significant issue for gender equity among faculty at Pitt. That linked story reports that women’s salaries are within a few percentage of the salaries of men at the same rank. What it doesn’t say, but is included in the underlying report, is that among all faculty the ratio of women’s salaries to men’s salaries is 79%. (I’m not posting the report because to my knowledge the complete reports have never been published in their entirety.)
So the gender equity problem at Pitt, from a financial perspective, is less that individual women are being systematically discriminated against compared to their same-rank male peers, than that the university as a whole is employing disproportionate numbers of women in low-paid mostly untenurable positions that have significantly less job security, lower status within the university, and no path to move into ranks that might allow them to be paid better.
This seems crushingly unjust and intolerable to me and I don’t understand why people think it is enough that the handful of women full professors make close to what male full professors make.
It has been suggested to me that it is dishonest to describe this situation without also acknowledging other progress that has been made in NTS faculty salaries. This is confusing to me because, as I think I just demonstrated at length, there has not been any progress in NTS faculty salaries since 2012-13, using criteria set by the university. But are there other ways we could evaluate NTS faculty salaries that would show more progress?
One colleague on twitter says “faculty at the lower end of the pay scale have receive higher raises in recent years.” I think this is correct. In 2015-16 and 2016-17 the annual salary pools included special funds targeted at faculty and staff with the lowest salaries. Specifically, the salary pool for 2016-17 included “an additional 0.5 percent for employees with satisfactory performance who make $45,000 or less,” which repeated a program from the year before. Many non-tenure-stream faculty would be included among those making less than $45,000. (For example the 2016-17 mean and median salaries report says the median salary for humanities lecturers was $47,643, while the average salary was $46,278, which suggests quite a few people below $45,000 pulling the average down.)
The University Times interpreted this as a small increase for individual faculty and staff members:
That extra 0.5 percent provides up to an additional $225 per year for employees at the lower end of the salary scale. At the $45,000 threshold, a 1 percent increase equals $450 per year.
This would clearly be inadequate, but I think the University Times reporter is off base here, and the individual increases would have actually been higher than this. As I understand it the whole salary pool is increased by half a percent, and that increase is then used for people below the salary cutoff, which according to the CFO at the time was about 40 percent of workers. That allows much higher increases for people in the targeted group. At least that is how the percentage increases for all the other targeted pools are calculated, and it would be a significant divergence from standard practice if that’s not what they meant here. [Update August 30, 2019: I’ve since learned that my guess here is not correct. When Pitt implements programs like this, the increase applies only to the pool of salaries below $45,000. So the University Times calculation is correct.]
I can’t find the actual dollar numbers for these increases, which don’t apply to staff covered by union contracts or to faculty and staff in the School of Medicine (and possibly others). In 2016-17 Pitt budgeted $949 million for salaries and wages, but that number is for everyone, including the med school, unionized staff, and anyone else not included in the salary pool. So the .5 percent increase targeted to low-paid workers would apply to a smaller total pool than that, and I don’t know where to find the size of that pool to evaluate what the total size of the increase would be, and I don’t know where to find the total number of faculty and staff who made less than $45,000 in those years to determine what their average increases might have been.
We do get information about the size of salary increases for individual faculty and staff, so while we can’t see how much of an impact those targeted salary pools would have made, we may be able to see evidence of it in this report. (Unfortunately I can’t find a report for 2016-17 that covers the second year of targeted increases. I have the reports for 2015-16 and 2017-18. The 2017-18 report was delivered to the Budget Policies Committee in March 2018, and the 2015-16 report was delivered the year before in December 2016, which I think means that there must not have been a continuing faculty salary increases report prepared for 2016-17.)
The 2015-16 report includes the first year of targeted salary pool increases for low-paid faculty and staff. I have a paper copy of this report, which on page 28 shows the pay increases that year for full-time continuing faculty across the university, excluding the School of Medicine:
If faculty below $45,000 received a targeted pay raise this year, it really doesn’t jump out here.
I can’t find a publicly available copy of the most recent 2017-18 report, so I’m posting my copy here, because previous such reports have been made available through the University Times, and I think they just happened not to write about it last year. Page 28 again shows the pay increases from the year before for full-time continuing faculty across the university, excluding the School of Medicine:
Salary increases for the lowest paid faculty do not stand out as especially high here. The $45,001–$50,000 group is doing better than most—about the same as people making $100,001–$120,000.
So I’m not sure that these reports bear out claims of higher raises for lower-paid faculty.
Another approach is to ask whether faculty salaries have actually increased meaningfully over their careers. According to a cohort analysis of faculty who were employed here in both 2002-03 and 2017-18 (either continuously or having left and returned), 67 people were instructors or lecturers in both 2002-03 and 2017-18. Among those, the salaries of 97% exceeded the annual salary pool “maintenance” components. The salaries of 93% increased more than inflation (CPI). The salaries of 90% exceeded the total salary pools (maintenance plus mer it/market/equity). 82% exceeded the total salary pool plus academic initiatives funding. (I can’t find an online version of this report, and I don’t think is normally distributed publicly so I won’t post it here.) That is an improvement over the cohort analysis of faculty employed in 1999-2000 and 2014-15. I’m not totally sure what we can say about this, but it seems fair to say that more NTS faculty employed in 2003 and again in 2018 had salaries that kept up with or exceeded various indexes than those employed in 2000 and again in 2015.
You can also see how much faculty at each rank in each unit make, if you want to evaluate whether those salaries are good according to your own standards, using the Mean and Median Salaries of Full-Time Employees report.
Personally, I would feel dishonest if I were to evaluate all of this and say that NTS faculty salaries have made meaningful progress.
Pitt has made other changes in the working conditions of NTS faculty in recent years. They are now eligible to participate in the Faculty Assembly and other shared governance institutions. Most schools have begun to implement promotion tracks for NTS faculty who previously could have been stuck in positions with the same title and no possibility of promotion for decades. (Lecturers can be promoted to lecturer II and then to senior lecturer. Each of those ranks, to be clear, is grouped together within the lecturer category in salary reports.) In my department within the last decade large numbers of people who had been working as “visiting” lecturers for years, sometimes decades, were converted to regular, renewable, “permanent” lecturer positions, with (I believe) higher pay, new possibilities for promotion within the lecturer track, and added service responsibilities. There are also efforts being made to combine multiple part-time positions into regular full-time NTS positions. For example my department has been approved to hire several new lecturers this year. I think there were also resources directed toward improving part-time faculty salaries in the last few years after the Budget Policies Committee convinced the administration to begin collecting data on their pay. (This is not an exhaustive list. Some of these are the initiatives mentioned by senior administrators when asked about shortcomings in the salary targets, eg here and here. Pitt is pretty decentralized, and there is a lot of variation in policies around NTS faculty in different schools and departments, and good things are certainly being done in different ways around the university.)
I think everything in this list is basically good. I can feel a bit jaundiced sometimes, and I think the details do and will matter a lot. Regularizing NTS faculty can add more to their workload than their salaries or status. New promotion tracks with “transparent” criteria can in practice impose onerous requirements and risky oversight for little financial benefit. Participation in shared governance can be a way of amplifying normally unheard voices, but the reality of contingent contracts can mean that NTS faculty may feel at risk sharing their honest perspectives in meetings with administrators or senior colleagues, and may end up being forced to sign off on and give “NTS” credibility to decisions they privately disagree with. Replacing part-time positions with full-time positions, if not done with care and attention, can force long-term part-time professors out of their jobs, or force them to accept full-time work and service obligations just to keep working with students who depend on them. Given what we know about the pay and gender composition of NTS faculty currently, it seems valid to be concerned that efforts to address the problem of exploitation of part-time faculty are working to further entrench a a permanent second-tier of low-paid women with no job security who will be first to be laid off in a financial emergency. It also does not seem unduly cynical to worry that focusing on refining policies and procedures can be a way of shifting attention away from financial concerns. And given the lack of progress made on the financial concerns of NTS faculty, even as a lot of time and effort has gone into refining policies and procedures around NTS faculty the last several years, it seems reasonable and honest to prioritize these financial issues in our rhetoric and actions.
One more very important, unqualified success of shared governance at Pitt related to NTS faculty salaries is the simple fact that we have all of this information in the first place, as imperfect as it is. I respect and appreciate the hard work of the people involved in those committees (especially my predecessors on the BPC) for persistently requesting this data, and I respect the administrators who were willing to greenlight these reports that show persistent shortcomings in a sensitive area. It reflects a real commitment to shared governance and collegiality that is admirable.
The question now is whether having this data will motivate successful efforts to change the facts they reveal, and so far there has been no progress toward meeting the salary target for lecturers. Whatever my colleagues in the senate leadership may say, hopefully it is clear to everyone reading this that this claim is plainly true, accurate, and honest.
What would it take to pay NTS faculty well?
This is not really a hard question. The University of Pittsburgh defines “well” as “at or above the median of AAU publics for that rank.” In 2017-18, the median salary for lecturers at AAU publics was between $66,000 and $67,100 (the average reported salaries for lecturers at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the 15th and 14th ranked universities of 29 reporting). The average salary for lecturers at Pitt was $53,400. Last year we would have needed to be paying lecturers $12,600 more on average to catch up with the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. For 230 lecturers identified in this report, that would have cost about $2.9 million. In 2017-18 Pitt’s operating budget was $2.2 billion, and Pitt budgeted just over $1 billion for salaries and wages.
So last year an increase of a little more than one tenth of one percent of the overall budget, or about three tenths of one percent of total salaries and wages, would have brought lecturers salaries up to the target. I don’t want to be glib here: of course $3 million is not just laying around, even in a $2 billion budget. And we’d also need to catch up to salary targets for assistant professors and instructors. That would be about $1.5 million for lecturers and $2.5 million for assistant professors, so another $4 million total (that is, taking the difference between the Pitt salary and the median salary and multiplying it by the reported number of workers at that rank). Which means $7 million would have gotten us to the target for all three categories in 2017-18. That’s .7 percent of total salaries and wages, or .3 percent of the overall operating budget. Increasing total salaries and wages by one percent would be more than enough to have brought all instructors, lecturers, and assistant professors up to the target in 2017-18. It would cost more to do it this year, and more again next year, as peer institutions increase their salaries too, but this gives a sense of the scale. Again, $10 million isn’t just laying around, and other workers have reasonable demands as well, but this gives a pretty clear sense of what it means to say Pitt is underpaying NTS faculty, and of the scale that Pitt would have to be directing new resources if the administration were really committed to meeting their goals.
I wrote a book
My book, Schooling New Media: Music, Language, and Technology in Children’s Culture, was published by Oxford University Press in May. I started the research for this book in the fall of 2007, so this is just about ten years in the making. Learning about and with and from kids changed my life, and I am so grateful to the kids who were a part of this project. I hope it offers an honest reflection of their values and experiences of being kids in 2007 and 2008. There’s a preview on google books, and also here.