Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Academic Council Rejects Proposed New Compensation Plan

The UC Academic Council (the system-wide faculty senate) has rejected the new proposed compensation system (APM 668) , which would “allow academic departments to use non-state funds to provide additional salary for general campus faculty, similar to the health sciences compensation plan.” The Council declared that, “All ten divisions and five committees (CCGA, UCAP, UCFW, UCORP, UCPB) responded. Academic Council discussed the proposal at its meeting on December 14 and concluded that it cannot support adoption of the proposed APM 668. While many members expressed support for the goal of finding creative ways to better compensate faculty and improve retention, Council agreed that the proposal as written is fundamentally flawed and strongly opposed its implementation.”

This news is very welcomed because the proposed plan would have created incredible inequality within the senate faculty ranks. According to the report, “While a minority of individuals and two divisions (UCSD, UCSF) welcomed the proposal as a way to offer competitive salaries to retain faculty, the majority found it deficient because: 1) it undermines UC’s tradition of setting salaries through peer review based on a common salary scale and cedes too much authority for setting salaries to deans and department chairs; 2) it exacerbates inequities by rewarding only those achievements that receive external funding; 3) it is likely to cause conflicts of interest and faculty effort; and 4) it does not anticipate or provide mechanisms for addressing unanticipated consequences.” This new compensation system would have allowed faculty to increase their base pay through external grants and departmental revenue, and this would undermine the salaries of faculty in the humanities and the social sciences, while it would increase the salaries of the highest earning professors. Moreover, this system would circumvent the peer review system and would increase the collusion between faculty and administrators.

What this report does not say is that a large number of professors are already gaining large salary increases through retention offers and private negotiations with individual administrators, but this rejection of the new system is a step in the right direction. As my research has shown, the major problem that senate faculty face in regards to compensation is the growing disparity between the stars and everyone else. While the report does recognize this issue, it actually dismisses the role played by off-scale salaries in creating huge compensation disparities: “Off-scale salaries are not arbitrarily determined; they reward exceptional merit through the regular academic personnel review process (UCSB). If implemented, the policy should require that deans consult with CAP to validate salary decisions (UCI).” Although the people from UCSB argue that the current retention system does not circumvent shared governance and the peer review system, a past report revealed that a large majority of UC professors have negotiated individual deals with administrators, and while merit reviews do go through peer review, retention offers are handled by administrators.

The Council did point out that the new compensation system could “worsen gender and racial salary equity issues, and that it would “reward only some forms of faculty effort and accomplishment (UCPB).” Moreover, the Council report states that this system “could provide incentives for faculty to shift their effort toward revenue-producing research activities and away from other types of research and teaching and service, producing a “conflict of effort”.” Once again, it is important to stress that we already have a system that does incentivize research over teaching, but it is good to know that the Council is aware of this issue.

Another important point in the report is that the new policy “is an ill-considered step toward increasing privatization of the University, absolving the state of its responsibility to support the institution in the name of entrepreneurship.” While this process of privatization is also already happening, it is vital that the Council is thinking about this ongoing issue. Furthermore, some of the campuses have rightly pointed out that the new plan could also hurt the ability of grants to cover their full costs by decreasing the Indirect Cost Recovery (ICR): “first, since ICR does not fully cover the cost of research, an increased number of grants could worsen the university’s fiscal situation (UCLA, UCSB). Second, ICR could be reduced due to the diversion of research funding to salaries (UCORP).” As I have been arguing for years, one of the central problems still facing the UC system is how to pay for the full cost of research.

Another concern is that by stressing the generation of entrepreneurial revenue, the university would be undermining its public nature: “Some fear that it would negatively impact the public character of the university by encouraging the creation of more high-fee, self-supporting programs that drain faculty resources from core programs (UCLA).” In fact, I have feared that this new compensation plan would push faculty to accept the move to online courses because departments have been told that these high-tech classes will generate extra revenue for professors.

In this new privatized and corporatized university, increases in compensation inequality could create a culture of resentment, and therefore the Council warns that, “the proposal may benefit a small number of faculty but that it will not solve systemic compensation problems.” Unfortunately, the solution proposed by the Berkeley campus would only increase the current problem: “Berkeley suggested that allocating revenues, when available, to provide additional off-scale salary increments, would be a better way of funding increases, without the problems associated with the proposed negotiated salary program.” This emphasis on off-scale salaries will not reduce compensation inequalities and the circumvention of the peer review policy. What the senate faculty need is a new and improved salary scale.


  1. Thank you for this post. I work in a large (over 50 senate faculty) STEM academic department. I see all the salary data and its much as you say. Most faculty are paid between 90-120K and some senior people are in the 120-150K range. But then there a few much higher salaries, ranging from above 150K to over $300K. Some faculty got these through retention packages; others were senior people we hired (stole) from other institutions. The latter tend to get paid the most astronomical salaries. AS you say the normal review process plays no part in setting these kinds of salaries, they are bestowed by Deans/Provosts. Once a person is brought in at a salary $100K larger then another faculty the gap tends to be maintained through all subsequent merits.

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