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September 21, 2009


B. Questions to the President.

Would you please clarify the specifics of your policy regarding faculty raises this year? I understand the need to reward faculty excellence and to deal with problems of equity and compression. But I have also heard that only one-quarter to one-third of the faculty will be allowed to receive raises. Is this information accurate? If that is the policy, I expect it will damage the disciplined culture of excellence you are encouraging. In many departments, it would mean that the majority of very productive faculty would not receive any raises. It would also increase existing tensions between raises based on “strategic competitiveness” and those based on equity issues. Finally, it looks to me like such a policy would preempt the mandated roles of budget councils who initiate salary recommendations (HOP 3.3.17)—Steve Friesen, professor, religious studies.

In response to Professor Friesen’s question, President Powers said the philosophy underlying the recommendation had largely resulted from competitive pressures at the margins in attracting new hires and retaining faculty who had received counter offers in a very competitive market. Another factor he mentioned was the variability in funds available for salary increases and how well that corresponds to each individual faculty member’s productivity. He said the money allocated for salary increases this year had been difficult to carve out, but this effort had been undertaken to address some of the structural problems identified due to gender inequity and salary compression that had developed over time. He said he wanted overall merit to be carefully thought about in terms of all aspects of the University’s mission. If an individual who ought to be at the top of the salary structure is not there, according to President Powers, then efforts should be made to rectify the situation; if that person is already at the top, then there is not a structural problem that needs to be addressed. He said he thought there would be variability in the extent to which these structural problems occurred across campus. He said the 25-30% recommendation regarding the proportion of those targeted for salary increases was meant to signal that “this is not a normal merit increase cycle,” but it’s purpose is to address underlying structural problems. He said he did not expect that the exact percentage would not be same in each department, but the philosophy behind the recommendation was to encourage departments to make an effort to address these structural inequities with the funds available this year.

Professor Liz Cullingford (chair, English) said that although she appreciated the thought President Powers had given to issues of competitiveness, gender equity, and compression, she was concerned about “the one size fits all” approach that seemed to be evolving from the recommendation regarding the proportion of faculty expected to receive salary increases. In her department, the recommendation, if implemented, would result in only 16 of 62 faculty members receiving quite large raises and that would not adequately address the three issues of competitiveness, gender equity, and compression that exist in the department. She said she was concerned that this approach would “produce new inequities” that would not be resolved if the policy implemented this year were not continued into future years.

President Powers said if structural problems exceed the recommended percentages, “that’s what we’re going to be looking for,” and then you are correct that “one size does not fit all.” However, he said that the effort this year was to prevent the normal pattern of determining merit raises from being utilized because that would result in no progress being made in addressing the underlying structural issues. Professor Cullingford replied that she thought the chairs were the individuals who knew the salary structure, and she was concerned that the plan being implemented could result in even worse morale problems if “too few very high raises” are awarded. President Powers said he thought if the department chair, budget council, or executive committee allocated its available funds to address the structural problems that exist in the department, using a process that is very well thought out, that would be what the administration wanted. He agreed that the recommended percentages would not necessarily be the correct ones for a particular department.

Professor Cullingford asked for privileges of the floor for two faculty members who were not on the Council. Chair Staiger asked if Professor Bill Beckner, a Council member, had a question, but he said he would defer his question and send it forward some other way. Permission was then granted to Professors Alan Tully (chair, history) and Martha Newman (chair, religious studies) to speak. Before Professor Tully spoke, President Powers again reiterated that the process underway would require a good deal of work on the part of the deans with their chairs over a couple of years to work out and implement.

Professor Tully expressed appreciation to the central administration for finding funds for salary increases. He said he agreed with Professor Cullingford that there was a range of variability within different departments. Although he acknowledged that inequities and salary compression exist in his department, he emphasized that the department’s method of assessing merit, which is based primarily on research productivity as measured by publications was “precise” and “incredibly transparent.” He said that there was support for issues involving gender equity and compression, and measures had been implemented to address these problems. He asked for flexibility to “deal with merit in a given year.” Professor Tully said he thought the three criteria were incompatible to a certain degree, and it would be very difficult to “decide what’s going to be first in line." If the criteria are changed this year, he said there were a number of faculty members in his department that would “lose out on what is essentially the contract of performance,” and he said this would seriously hurt morale. Professor Tully also challenged the idea that missing out this year for meritorious productivity could not really be made up in future years because the merit pool for future years is an unknown. He said he needed more freedom to take into account the merit structure already in place and coordinate it with the new criteria in some way. Saying he was perfectly willing to make public the process utilized to assess merit by the history department, Professor Tully closed by saying that this “centrally directed kind of mandate…replicates a kind of micromanaging, which it seems to me, is antithetical to the issue of giving chairs some ability to deal with the situations that they confront.”

President Powers said he was sympathetic to the idea of giving more decision-making responsibility to the chairs of departments as had been recommended by the Commission of 125. Although gender inequity and salary compression have been discussed for a number of years, President Powers reiterated his concern that progress has not been made in rectifying their impact. He said the decision could have been made to have no salary increases for faculty, but that would have been bad for morale. He said he thought gender inequity and salary compression problems were regarded as serious and therefore made a major effort to find funds to address these problems. He said the administration realized this would be a difficult process for department chairs to work through, and that is why the implementation of salary increases was delayed until January rather than being mandated to start at the beginning of the academic year. He said he felt strongly that if nothing was done differently this year and no progress were made on these salary inequities that would not be good for The University of Texas at Austin.

Professor Newman (chair, religious studies) said her department was very small in number of faculty, and she was concerned about the impact on morale if only one faculty member received a raise. She said it was helpful to hear the president discuss priorities and issues of equity and compression. She said she had become concerned that equity and compression might end up being pitted against strategic competitiveness. Professor Newman also thought flexibility was a matter that needed to be addressed because she felt it was also hard to determine which priority should take precedence. She concluded her remarks by thanking the president for discussing the intent of the recommendations and saying that he realized that “one size did not fit all.”

President Powers said he thought Professor Newman’s point about a small department, such as one with only five faculty members, was a reasonable one. He also said he thought any chair that thought there were not any structural problems in his or her department should give the matter a second review because this seemed to him to be the easy conclusion to make. He said some of the recommended merit increases he sees and approves both for faculty and staff members are broadly construed and result in perhaps a 3.25% increase for the best and a 2.8% increase for the worst in terms of productivity. He said he wanted those who might be inclined to make decisions such as this to ask if they were makeing the needed tough choices. He also said he hoped that chairs would not just apply a set algorithm that awards salary increases rather than do the hard work that is involved in deciding the best way to allocate these funds that were so difficult to secure and address these structural salary issues. He said the amount of money is not adequate to accomplish the entire objective this year and should be perceived as a first step or “down payment.” Saying again that he did not think that, “one size fits all, “ President Powers concluded his remarks emphasizing that the message he wanted to convey was, “this should not be a normal merit pay raise year.”

Chair Staiger said President Powers had a class to teach at four o’clock and therefore had to leave. She thanked him and he reciprocated. Chair Staiger then told the Council members that the Faculty Council Executive Committee would continue having conversations with the president and provost. She invited Council members to convey any questions or concerns to members of the executive committee so they could be included among the discussion items at those meetings.

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