Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salaries: Private or Public?

There is a discussion on the Chronicle Jobs blog about whether salaries should be disclosed at colleges and universities. I come down STRONGLY on the side of disclosing salaries, and, if you are on the job market for a job at a specific institution or working as a faculty member, researching/keeping up with salaries where you (want to) work. I have taken a lot of heat for my perspective in my real life, but I stand by it anyway.

Every year when the salary book comes out, I go and photocopy relevant sections. I think it is useful to have this information. Now, I have to say that I do not personally believe that a person's worth, or the worth of their work, is quantifiable, nor do I think it is represented by one's salary. I think this in the same way that I think scores on standardized tests don't really predict success. Just because I make less money or have a lower score doesn't mean that I am a less valuable contributor, a worse teacher, or a poorer administrator.

Now, if I made a great deal less than my colleagues, I might have a problem looking at the salary information. But you know what? I looked at the salary information for every job I took, and I negotiated a salary that put me close to or at the top of the range for those of my classification (Assistant/Associate) and years of experience... Knowing the salaries allowed me to negotiate from a position of strength. And I am happy with the salary I got intitially and where I am now. That said, I don't take some weird sort of pride in my salary--it is a means to an end, a way to pay the mortgage and other bills, and hopefully have some cash for vacations and other things. It doesn't mean anything about who I am.

I use the salaries of my colleagues to raise the bar for me. If someone else got a better raise, perhaps I need to write a little more! So far, each year I do what I need to do in terms of teaching, research, and service to get the raise that I deserve (back when we used to get raises). And I don't get too irritated when people are hired making more money than me--ultimately, it raises the bar for all of us.

I have to admit, though, that my attitude about the salaries may be the consequence of not feeling bound to a certain job or locality. I have not stayed at one job longer than 5 years (so far), and I am not shy about going on the market if the current job isn't working out. I would never pretend to hunt for a job just to get a counter-offer; the field is too small and professional relationships too important to alienate people by exploiting the search process. I have served on too many search committees to want to muck up someone else's search.

Perhaps the best reasons for transparency in salaries and, I would argue, raises are: (1) it reduces potential for abuse and discrimination, (2) it actually recognizes when someone is excelling in their work, and (3) it allows new hires and ongoing faculty to negotiate for a fairer salary.

4 comments:

Daisy said...

I could not agree more. Transparency in salaries would arm faculty (both t-track and non-tenure-track) with the info we need to negotiate--particularly important in the face of continued pay inequity for women.

Don Heller said...

I agree, Lesboprof. My university is one of the few public universities where salaries of all faculty and staff are not available. One of the excuses often provided is that publicizing the salaries would make it too easy for better-resourced institutions to poach our best faculty.

This may in small part be true, but somehow many public universities which release salary info. manage to attract (and retain) top-notch faculty. Yes, well-endowed private institutions are the ultimate poachers, at least they were before the economic downturn. And Ron Ehrenberg at Cornell has demonstrated the increasing salary gap between private and public institutions. But universities should stop using the poaching argument as the basis for a refusal to release salary information.

The AstroDyke said...

Thanks for blogging about this again. On my last TT job interview, I followed your advice by asking the reference librarian for the salary book. Turns out, there was a public database.

I don't see how women can overcome the pay gap unless we know our male peers' salaries. Call it the Ledbetter effect.

vishnuprasath said...

It's useful information
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