Monday, June 15, 2009


Salaries – Public or Private (or both)?

The indefatigable Lesboprof has a thoughtful post up about whether salaries should be public information. She makes several great points in favor of publicity, including preventing discrimination and giving rookies a fair sense of the going rate.

I agree, but will take it even farther.

One really basic benefit of publicity is that it will frequently put the lie to the tiresome claims of 'bloated administrative salaries' that usually constitute the first salvo in academic politics. I make substantially less than my predecessor did several years ago, and that was true at my previous job as well. My counterparts here also make far less than you'd expect, given their qualifications, performance, and scope of responsibility. (This year's raise: 0.) Put that out there, and put the finger-pointing to rest. Structural problems are structural, not personal.

At colleges where that isn't the case – where the bloat is actually real – then shedding light can only help. It's a win-win either way.

(The only level at which this falls apart is with Presidents, since they typically get some substantial portion of their compensation in 'allowances' for housing, a car, etc. I'll admit not quite understanding this, since it seems bound to lead to issues. I'd rather take the equivalent in salary – even with the tax hit – to have the privilege of being able to stop for milk on the way home without filling out an expense report, or of being able to paint the flippin' living room without anybody's permission. But that's me.)

Public salaries also make it much harder for cowardly administrators to cut side deals. On behalf of those of us who are actually trying to do the right thing, this is good news. Yes, there are currencies other than money – course releases, office locations, travel money, etc. – but taking a really big one off the table can limit the abuses. Since public institutions aren't publicly traded, there's no issue of stock options substituting for salary, which is what led to so many abuses elsewhere. My cc doesn't, and couldn't, issue stock. What you get is what you see.

Public salaries can also serve as useful counterarguments to those in the popular press – I won't name any names here – who like to claim that academics are getting fat at the public trough. Look at what people actually make at the cc level. With a few exceptions in some very specific regions of the country, these numbers don't suggest any kind of boondoggle. If anything, including adjuncts in the overall list – I'd insist on that – should give a sense of just how inexpensively cc's generally are run. Yes, some of the four-year and graduate institutions might rather sweep that particular fact under the rug, but it's true. Cut our budget, and we start cutting functions.

At a more fundamental level, though, I'd love to get past the idea of academia as some sort of calling, and recognize that it's a job. Treat it as such. The 'calling' idea, I think, is part of why so many adjuncts allow themselves to be exploited for so long. They just can't imagine doing anything else, and/or don't want to admit defeat. (A calling is supposed to be deeply personal. If you can't get anywhere in your calling, what does that say about you? Rationally, that's crap, but psychologically, it's powerful.) As long as they hold pre-modern, romantic notions of the 'profession,' they're ripe for the picking. We need to disenchant the job, which means, among other things, putting it all out there. Yes, that may have a depressing effect on graduate school admissions. That would be a sign of success. The goal here is to stop talented young people from throwing themselves into the sausage grinder. Warning them upfront that even a 'win' – a tenure-track job – isn't all that much of a win economically might just dissuade some, which can only help.

I'll go farther, though. It's ludicrous that public institutions should be the only ones with open books. My modest proposal: open salaries by law for every employer in America. Let's see where the real bloat is. Hint: it ain't community colleges.

Lesboprof's arguments seem to me just as valid for the private sector as for the public. Rookies should be able to learn the going rate, and discrimination shouldn't be able to hide behind a corporate veil. In an era of government bailouts, the idea that professors making $45,000 a year are open to scrutiny but bankers making a dozen times that, aren't, is insane. Let's see where all the money is going – not just public sector money – before we start judging just exactly who's exploiting whom.

I've long suspected that the taboo against talking about salaries served certain interests over others. Here's a chance to see. How much does the talking head on Fox News get? How much does my functional equivalent at an HMO get? No more of this 'selective transparency' crap. Let's get it all out there, and have a real discussion about priorities.

Transparency is great, but not just for the public sector. I'm tired of uberwealthy commentators cherry-picking the occasional anomaly from the public sector for political purposes, while remaining immune from scrutiny themselves. Fair is fair. Open the books, and let the chips fall where they may. Let everybody get a sense of the going rate. Then let the real debate begin.

We'll see if IHE will post my comment about health care costs. They 86'd one about employee evaluation inflation.

I agree entirely with the objective of having those salaries be public info, but (as Lesboprof so eloquently put it) in America we tend to associate monetary income with job value - so many people might be justified in not wanting others to see how little their job is valued by the market.

But since I've learned and worked in states where that info has been public for decades, I don't see how that public info has ever helped get that knowledge into the hands of students heading to grad school. That is a different problem, one that my profession handles through its national organizations.

That public info did, however, help me in negotiating my salary at various times in the past.

In any case, those data rarely include fringe benefits. They should. Many people have no idea how much their health care costs their employer, or how rapidly that hidden tax is increasing. I've gotten a substantial, but entirely invisible and tax free, pay increase even when I've not had a "real" pay increase.

The entire discussion of health plans by the chattering classes this past weekend did not include a single example of a Congresscritter or "think tank" expert telling us what hir insurance package costs, or if they have ever tried to buy a comprehensive health insurance package on the open market.

Transparency would tell us if a UAW health package is more or less expensive than the one given to auto executives and engineers, and how both compare to the one given to staff at the Heritage or Petersen foundations, not to mention Canadians or elderly Americans.
I agree, let's get it all out there, including perks, 'fringe benefits' etc. Public, private, everyone.
I work at an Ontario university so, as a public employee, I'm subject to the provincial "sunshine law" that only reports salaries of over 100,000CDN. I think that all salaries should be public because it's good information but also because a lot of very hard-working and critical staff positions are paid, in my opinion, obscenely low wages for their work. If we knew the full range, we'd have a lot more information instead of just the annual run of outrage over the university and gov't fat cats!
One additional thought that just came to me... If we made these salaries public, we might have fewer folks becoming PhDs, especially in the humanities where t-t jobs are scarce and candidates are plenty. If they knew how much we *didn't make*, they might choose another avenue.
Those "extras" that presidents get (housing, cars, etc.)? They are supposed to be taxable income. If they're not reported that way, institutions (and individuals) can get in huge trouble. Like, for individuals, bills for back taxes, penalties, and interest.

I'm also at an institution at which salaries are public. In fact, I can see anyone's salary at any of our campuses on a website. So making it public isn't a big deal for me. (For example, I just looked. Our campur VP-equivalents make between $110K (student services) and $150K (academic affairs)).

While it's common for people not to know the cost of their benefits, my university sends each of us a letter annually detailing it. I regard that as good management practice and would recomment it everywhere.
DD said: "We need to disenchant the job..."

Absolutely. What we really need teaching in our universities are a bunch of time-clockers, not people with silly romantic ideas about there being more to their jobs than maximizing their income. Don't academics know that kind of personal satisfaction in what they do is...pre-modern? Too uncool. Anyone with a clue knows that this century it's all about the paycheck.

And hey, why should academics get any special satisfaction from their jobs that lawn care workers don't? There's got to be a social justice angle in there somewhere. Maybe we can get some stimulus money to have a conference on it in Las Vegas.
More information is better.
If it's my money taken out of my pocket at gunpoint, then sure, I have a right to know how it's spent.

If it's my money spent by me in the form of private transactions between willing partners, then no, I don't think that information should be posted in the public square.

[This whole "transparency" thing smacks of "Well, if you aren't guilty of doing something wrong, you should have no objections to state surveillance" type of thinking. It's wrong when fascists at either end of the "political spectrum" advocate it.]
If it's my money taken out of my pocket at gunpoint, then sure, I have a right to know how it's spent.

We'll have to pass a law immediately letting muggers know that they have to file a report on how they spent your money.
The information about the value of what Congresscritters health plans are worth is pretty easy to find. Or at least what the government contributed to the cost of the plan. They get the same plans that the other federal employees get. If you look at the Office of Personnel Management ( under Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan all the information is there. In 2008, I paid $1,956.76 and the government paid $3,771.04 for an plan that was an HMO and covered one adult. Not the most basic plan the offered, but not the fanciest either.

I have no idea what is disclosed to the general public, but federal employees get a statement of benefits every year that includes the value of total compensation including fringe benefits. I would imagine that information is available for hypothetical employees at different pay grades.
Shorter yacp -- if you work for the government, you have no privacy rights.

Don't abbreviate TOO Much. I am not positive, but I believe YACP was saying we should know where the government's money goes (i.e., we pay Pundi $45K/year) but NOT that, once you received the money, you bought 5 KitKat bars, and two porno mags.
Thanks, Kate.

A total of around $5700 per year is somewhat more than our plan costs for a single person in our State-funded HMO, but significantly less than it costs to buy individual private insurance for that same person in this area.

That is why a common business plan for a small start-up in our town is to have the owner-operator have health insurance through a spouse that has group insurance.
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