WORKING TOWARD EQUITABLE SALARIES
Higher education generally isn’t known for its rational and consistent compensation systems. As a rule, university systems contain far more room for management discretion and individual negotiation than, for example, the formula-based “steps-and-lanes” approach common in K-12 education. Traditionally, many American universities argue that the level and variety of expertise required among university faculty requires administrators to exercise a very large measure of flexibility in setting individual salaries. Whatever the merits of that argument in particular contexts, high levels of management discretion in the salary setting process inevitably provide opportunities for extraneous factors and incomplete information to influence decision-making, often unconsciously.
Through decades of collective bargaining, the IFO and MnSCU have struggled to address concerns regarding inequity in salary placement. MnSCU maintains its right to determine the initial salary offers made to prospective faculty. (See Article 11, Sec. D.) The Agreement limits this initial discretion in a number of ways. Salary offers must correspond to a step on the salary schedule. They must meet minimum salary step placements required for each faculty rank. (Article 11, Section L.) In turn, degree and experience criteria determine initial rank placement. (Article 21, Section D.) However, the employer retains wide discretion to exceed the modest minimums established by these provisions when making initial salary offers. Over time, thousands of individual salary placement decisions will result in a degree of inequity in compensation among similarly-situated faculty members.
In an effort to further limit that unfairness, the union and the employer have developed a joint “salary equity” review process. Article 11, Section I, of the IFO Agreement outlines that process, and years of practice have refined it, but its details often remain obscure to folks on campus. The salary review process is labor-intensive and involves several inter-dependent components. Those characteristics make the process particularly vulnerable to the development of a “snowballing” backlog, and, unfortunately, it fell very fair behind in recent years. This article will briefly describe the process and the progress which the parties have recently made toward bringing its work up to date.
The IFO Agreement establishes a joint, IFO/MnSCU Salary Review Committee (SRC) which “may propose to both the IFO and MnSCU procedures and processes which reduce the likelihood of inequitable salaries.” (Art.11, Sec I, Subd.1) The SRC includes one representative of the faculty and one representative of the administration from each campus, faculty representatives from both IFO equity committees, and staff representatives from both the IFO and MnSCU—twenty people, more or less, drawn from throughout the system. A roster of the SRC’s current members with their contact information is linked below this update.
In order to have an objective basis for its work, the SRC periodically commissions a multiple regression analysis of faculty salary levels throughout the State Universities. This salary study examines salaries in light of agreed-upon, independent variables including campus, program, rank, experience in the State Universities, and relevant prior experience. The study also looks for indications of bias on the basis of gender and ethnicity. View presentations of the results of the most recent salary studies below.
Following the completion of an SRC salary study, the SRC may recommend a remedy for faculty members whose compensation level falls significantly below that of their similarly-situated peers. The IFO and MnSCU then engage in collective bargaining over the implementation of those recommendations.
MnSCU also employs the results of the salary studies to construct spreadsheets it uses in the administrative process for setting initial salaries. These “salary guides” allow campus HR departments to input the relevant criteria a prospective faculty member and receive a predicted compensation level as well as a “salary range” roughly corresponding to 5% above and below that level. Campus administrators have discretion to hire new faculty at a salary within that range. If a campus wishes to hire someone at a salary above the range, MnSCU requires administrators to justify that decision to the System Office on the basis of CUPA data or some other persuasive evidence, such as a failed search.
In addition to overseeing the salary studies, the SRC is authorized to review the individual salary placement decisions made when faculty members are hired, receive a terminal degree, or are promoted. (Art.11, Sec.I, Subds.1-3.)
IFO staff examines each new hire’s file to determine whether that person received proper credit for prior experience in the salary setting process. If MnSCU staff agrees that an error has been made, the new faculty member’s file is corrected. If the staffs disagree, the question is referred to the SRC for resolution. If a person appears to have been hired below the salary range required by MnSCU procedures, that matter is also referred to the SRC, and the faculty member’s salary may be adjusted with back pay.
Upon promotion, a faculty member moves up two steps on the salary scale. (Art.11, Sec.B.) At that same time, the salary equity provision directs the campus administration to review a newly promoted-faculty member’s step placement to ensure that it compares well to that of a similarly-situated new hire. The Agreement requires the same sort of review when a faculty member submits proof of the completion of a terminal degree in the faculty member’s primary field of instruction. The administration should notify the faculty member of the results of these equity assessments and submit those results to the SRC for its review.
Members of the IFO and MnSCU staffs review the salary placement of every faculty member who is promoted or who receives a terminal degree. When a faculty member’s placement appears anomalously low, compared to that of their peers, the matter is referred to the full SRC for further review.
The SRC meets in person and operates through discussion and consensus. The committee examines information submitted by the administrators who conducted the on-campus reviews and data concerning the qualifications and compensation of other faculty working in the same program as the person under review. The representatives from the campus of the person under review play a particularly important role in these discussions. Occasionally, a case will be held over to the next SRC meeting, so that additional information can be gathered. If the members of SRC agree that a faculty member is under-compensated, they then reach consensus on a specific, higher placement on the salary schedule. The recommendations of the SRC on review of promotions and terminal degrees are incorporated into a memorandum of agreement between the IFO and MnSCU. Faculty members given an increase in salary receive back pay from the effective date of their promotion or terminal degree.
In recent years, the SRC’s work fell far behind. At the beginning of FY 2016, the committee had not yet completed its review of the salary placements of faculty members hired in FY 2010, hadn’t finished reviewing promotions effective in FY 2009, or reviewed the terminal degrees from FY 2008. Article 11, Section I, Subd.5 of the Agreement requires the SRC to update the empirical basis of its work through a new salary study every five years, but the committee hadn’t overseen a study since the one which analyzed salary data from FY 2006. In order to have the database required to review individual salary placements made after FY 2011, a new salary study was needed.
Last year, the IFO Board responded to this situation by dedicating new resources to the SRC, including a portion of a newly created staff position. MnSCU dedicated new staff resources, as well. Both parties committed to a plan to bring the SRC’s work up-to-date over the next several years. Our goals for FY2016 are to complete the reviews of all individual salary placements made through FY 2011 and get well underway on conducting a new salary study. Since the beginning of the academic year, staff members have review hundreds of salary placement decisions in a process which sometimes required the reconstruction of missing or nonexistent documentation. Staff flagged ninety-two of these decisions for review by the SRC. Over the course of three day-long meetings, the members of the SRC examined each of these cases and reached consensus on the need for a salary increase in more than seventy of them. These recommendations will be implemented by a memorandum of agreement now under preparation. When it’s complete, the faculty members receiving an equity increase will be notified. Salary increases will be implemented and back pay checks issued soon thereafter. Total back-pay is expected to exceed $1 million.
The SRC has also recommended a plan to conduct a single salary study to analyze both FY 2011 salary data and FY 2015 data. The FY 2011 data base will be used to review individual salary placement decisions from FY 2012 through FY 2015. The FY 2015 database will be used to review salary placements made during the current and following fiscal years. The analysis of the FY 2015 data will also provide the foundation for SRC recommendations regarding salary equity remedies for faculty members, generally, which will then be referred to collective bargaining.
The IFO and MnSCU staffs will be working through the spring and into the summer to field the new salary study. When it’s completed, the results will be presented and the work of reviewing individual salary decisions will resume. During FY 2017, we hope to examine salary placements from FY 2012, FY 2013, and FY 2014. By the end of FY 2018, the SRC intends to complete the review of salary placements made in FY 2015, FY 2016, and FY 2017 and bring work up to date.
The IFO thanks all of the members of the SRC for giving so generously of their time and insight to this critical project. The IFO Board also thanks all faculty members for their support of this work and for their patience. If you have questions about the salary equity process, please contact Dick Kaspari at email@example.com.