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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Aca-drama, or life in the executive's seat

Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle, not to mention the New York Times and the appropriate local and state newspapers, are all having a field day with the scandals at North Carolina State University, University of Illinois, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In each of these three settings, the public university leaders are embroiled in pretty bad scandals. While they all are bad, NC State's scandal has the most fallout.

Chancellor Oblinger of NC State has been shown as a liar who misrepresented his work behind the scenes with the head of the state's Board of Trustees and the Governor Mike Easley's staff to create a job for the Governor's wife, Mary Easley. He also was part of the discussion to reorganize her job at the end of her first 3-year contract for $80K-$90K to secure her a larger job with an $88 raise to $170K a year for 5 years. A quick read of some of the MANY documents released to the US Attorney General's Office (as part of the investigation of the ex-governor) and posted on the university's website made me think that the decision was based partly on the hope that Mary Easley would continue to raise a ton of money for the university. A well-connected politico, Easley actually raised money from several state business folks WHILE her husband was still in office.

To make matters worse, it also looks like Oblinger got his Provost to fall on his sword and take a deal to resign his position and return to the faculty. In return, Oblinger sweetened the Provost's severence deal for resigning. The Greensboro News and Record notes:

[Provost] Nielsen resigned on May 14, citing "intense public attention and criticism" of his hiring of former first lady Mary Easley. Oblinger said in a news conference at the time that Nielsen resigned on his own. But officials would not release the terms of his separation.

Then, last week, Oblinger and other university officials said that Nielsen would keep his provost's pay for six months while he had a six-month study leave. Oblinger said the payout to Nielsen was part of his original contract and was "very standard." The documents now show otherwise.

On Saturday, officials disclosed that Nielsen would actually be paid over 18 months — then later said it would actually be over three years.

A university policy says such deals should be for a maximum of a year.

So, the Chancellor breaks the rules to hire the governor's wife, breaks the rules to create a new, higher-paying job, and breaks the rules again to pay off the Provostm and lies about each decision along the way. One bad decision begets another.

As a result, Chancellor Oblinger, Provost Nielsen, BOT Chair McQueen Campbell, and Executive in Residence/Instructor Mary P. Easley are all gone from their respective positions--all resigned except for Easley, who refused to resign and was eventually fired.

As Inside Higher Education somberly notes:
David Ashley at UNLV and B. Joseph White at Illinois still have their jobs,
but the heat is turning up on both of them. Ashley has taken criticism for his
communication style -- not to mention his wife’s harsh treatment of staff -- and a university regent recently said “Nobody’s really happy with David right now.” As for White, a Chicago Tribune exposé about the influence lawmakers and other powerful
figures have on admissions at Illinois has prompted at least one legislator to call for the president’s resignation.

Basically, President David Ashley and his wife have run into culture clashes with the folks at UNLV. His wife, who gave up an $80,000/year actual job to play (volunteer-wife) hostess on campus ran into troubles when she got frustrated that staff didn't want to report to her or accommodate her complaints. She wrote nasty emails and pissed off everyone, as far as I can tell. The President ran into similar problems in not building good relationships on campus. It also didn't help that he brought in someone who some are characterizing as a friend to do his "objective" evaluation, a move that made some of the faculty and governing board members a little uncomfortable. Then, notified by the university system Chancellor that his job was on the line, President Ashley left for China with his wife, leaving one regent to note, "Nobody's really happy with David right now." (UPDATE: President Ashley returned home ahead of schedule to meet with the Chancellor and address the brewing crisis.)

President White is in trouble for a "clout list" that was created to identify applicants to U of I who are connected to important politicians, donors, alumni, and other VIPs. According to an exposee by the Chicago Tribune, the clout list seems to allow folks who aren't quite making the grade to get the little extra they need to get into the university. It starts feeling even grosser when the headline reads, "Clout goes to college: Rezko's relative is among those admitted to U of I in shadow of system influenced by trustees and other insiders ." The Tribune notes:
Though documents obtained by the Tribune show that admissions officers worried
about the "terrible" and "weak" academic records of some applicants, the university redacted their academic qualifications, preventing analysis of just how far below U. of I. standards prospective students fell.

The governor of Illinois has established a panel to examine the U of I's admissions process.

As a bawdy and loud Jew from NJ, I am less appalled by the issues at UNLV regarding tone and communication--hell, that could be me!--than I am by the "clout list" that gives some applicants for Illinois an unfair advantage getting into the school of their choice. It is a public school, for goodness sake. As the product of big, flagship, public schools, I am disgusted. If those of us everyday people cannot get into the state school on our merits, our strengths, our abilities and our promise, what is the damn point of having a state school? It is like the state of Illinois is so freaking politically corrupt that they have to bastardize the university application process as well. How privileged and entitled do they think they should be? It makes me crazy.

Sometimes the best thing one can take away from all of the Aca-drama in the news these days is a primer on "what not to do when I am running something." The gf and I have made a deal that if I ever get into a position of power (unlike the little administrative job I hold now, where the only power I wield is over students and the occasional adjunct instructor), she will help me be careful and thoughtful in my actions. The ugliest messes seem to have to do with spending university money on personal things, poorly managing up and down, and moving too quickly on one's personal agenda and leaving the joint visioning behind. I am likely to follow the model of the new interim Chancellor at NC State, former UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Jim Woodward, who had charged his staff at Charlotte with pointing out anything that seemed awry or improper in his actions. He also insisted on paying for his own travel and kept receipts vigilantly. Sometimes I wish they would profile more successful administrative leaders, but that just doesn't keep us tuning in and logging on.

Ah, well. Tune in next week... same bat time, same bat channel.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Frothing faculty

I have been amazed once again at the vituperative abuse that faculty can spew at those who stand in our way, ruin our day, or otherwise mar what must be acknowledged as a pretty good gig. I have heard two stories recently where faculty members wrote emails to people in which they attacked the email recipient and insulted other faculty and administrators. And the amazing part to me is that the purpose of these emails was to ask for something. Where is the logic in that? And aren't we educated lot supposed to be a bit more logical? I mean, did we faculty somehow miss the folk lesson that we attract more flies with honey than vinegar? Or perhaps we missed the day where we learned to write a professional email?

One of my favorite senior university administrators once told me she received 3-5 "What the hell is wrong with you people?" emails a week from dissatisfied faculty who felt empowered to vent their spleen to the central administration. Perhaps this is the reason that administrators, university counsel, student services staff, human resources staff, and even janitorial staff are known to complain about "the faculty."

I know that we faculty are an entitled lot. We complain about poorly ventilated classrooms, students who cannot use good grammar, textbooks that don't arrive in time for the beginning of class, colleagues who don't appreciate our work, and merit systems that fail to reward all of our hard work. These actually are stressors that make our days more difficult. I get that, and I admit to engaging in my own fair share of complaining. What I DON'T do is write crazy, angry notes, calling people names and casting aspersions at my colleagues and administrators!

I must be incredibly naive and/or somehow feel less privileged than these colleagues, because I cannot imagine writing an insulting email to my boss, colleague, or someone high up the administrative food chain. Yes, I have been very angry related to work. I have had times where I felt that I have been "wronged" by one or another colleague or boss. I have even written an email complaining about this mistreatment once or twice. My emails have always been professional in tone, though, because I wanted them taken seriously by the reader. I also don't want some rant of mine displayed as Exhibit A in a grievance or in a court case, should my complaint have to go that far. Especially now, in the days of the internet, when such a rant can be accessible to everyone in perpetuity!

So, for you faculty who are tempted to write the "What the hell is wrong with you people" email, may I make the following suggestions?

  1. If you must write a rant email, put it in your drafts file for at least 24 hours, or until you know you have calmed down enough to read it over. You may think twice about sending it.

  2. If you find yourself addressing the recipient as "Dear fathead/jerk/selfish prick/some other mean name," go back and put in their proper name and/or title.

  3. Write the letter like you are writing it to someone's kindly grandmother/grandfather. Imagine that they will be offended by harsh words and curses.

  4. Try sticking with the dictum: Just the facts. Don't embellish and don't presuppose the reasons for other people's actions ("He wanted to punish me, so he gave me a small raise.")

  5. Make your case--provide evidence, persuade, and lead the reader to your conclusion as the most obvious interpretation.

  6. Re-read the email and imagine that you are the recipient, not the author. How would you feel reading it? If it makes you angry, it needs to be re-written. (If you can't be dispassionate enough to read it this way, ask a trusted friend to review it.)

  7. Snide, petty, and mean comes off just as it is intended, and it hurts your cause. (As an administrator, I can tell you that snide, petty, and mean emails don't work for me. They make me want to delete them; they don't make me want to accommodate the sender.) Just adopt a tone of clarity and rationality, and your point will be better received.

So, here's hoping that we faculty can decompress over the summer and come back to campus with a new attitude...or that we can keep our attitudes (and our insults) to ourselves.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Lessons for summer productivity

Here are my guidelines (I don't believe in rules) for summer productivity:

1. Have a list of projects, with deadlines, goals, and expected products for each. For those of you who write grants, the same planning matrix that you give to funders can help you with your own work. How much time with that R&R take? How about the grant proposal--what steps have to happen before submission? Plan it all out for yourself, and be sure to revise and update it as things change. You can also write it on your calendar, blocking out specific hours for specific tasks.

2. Don't work in front of the TV. Seriously, I know it is summer and you haven't had a chance to catch up on your movies, but save it for one week or watch them at night.

3. If you get stuck, move your workspace to somewhere new. Try a coffee shop, the guestroom in your house, the park, the local public library, or even your (now quiet) work office.

4. Turn off the internet for a while. Facebook will be there when you get back, as will all those blogs you have been meaning to read.

5. Need a break between projects, trying to think of a new project, or feeling stuck on your topic? Use break times to peruse journals in your field. Most everyone can access their university server from their computer and read the e-journals online. Find out what your friends and colleagues are writing about in your field. Nothing like new literature to get you thinking. Just give yourself a time limit--2-3 hours, tops.

6. If you are teaching summer school, remember to limit the time you give over to course prep and grading. Don't let the summer slip by and your projects (and your the restoration of your soul) fall by the wayside.

7. Take frequent breaks to go swimming, go for a walk, have lunch with friends, surprise a special someone at work and take them out to lunch... Remember that summer has to be both restorative AND productive.

8. Try to build a vacation into your schedule. Even a few days (preferably a week) of uninterrupted relaxation time can make a BIG difference when the academic year rolls around.

These are my 8 guidelines. I actually am writing this post, with the hope of following these guidelines myself. I know what works for me, and I hope to get (back)into the swing of summer productivity myself.