We want to begin by thanking University President Mark Schlissel for taking faculty concerns around transparency and fairness seriously enough to commission a review of executive pay on campus.
The University hired Sibson, a private consulting company, to carry out that review and its report was released last week. The main finding of the report is that the University’s top administrators receive pay and other compensation that’s at the very top among peer public institutions and at the median of top private universities.
This contrasts sharply (something the report does not point out) with the salary and compensation for faculty and staff, which mirrors those prevailing at our public research university peers, such as the University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Virginia. Moreover, unlike most of our public-university peers, but like most private universities, the University does not disclose the extent of the supplemental pay employees receive.
We would like to provide some historical context for this trend toward a widening gulf between compensation for the top layers of the administration and ordinary faculty and staff. In April 2014, a group of faculty published an open letter questioning the runaway growth of both base and supplemental executive pay (bonuses) at the University. This letter documented not only the discrepancy between executive pay and the salaries of ordinary faculty and staff, but also the disproportionate growth in executive pay vis-à-vis staff pay over the previous decade.
Between 2005 and 2013, base executive pay (that is, without factoring in bonuses) grew at almost twice the rate of that of faculty and staff. That disparity resulted in base compensations for top executives that by 2013 were between 30 percent and 40 percent higher than at top public research universities such as UCLA, Berkeley, UVA, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Meanwhile, faculty salaries at the University were almost perfectly aligned with those institutions. Compounding the already high level of administrative pay was (and is) a culture of bonuses common among the highest layers of the administration. The letter focused on four main categories of supplemental pay and found that those categories had more than quadrupled between 2004 and 2013. These bonuses were not reserved for top executives, but they were granted much more generously in some offices than in others. The conclusion of that letter was not to request an increase in faculty compensation, but rather to call for greater transparency and more sensible management of the executive pay scale in times of escalating tuition costs and shrinking state support.
It is thus with great regret that we have learned that Schlissel had decided to accept Sibson’s recommendation to preserve the status quo. We acknowledge that the University remains at the same crossroads as many other top public institutions, which are also facing pressures toward the adoption of corporate practices in the name of competition. Nonetheless, we hoped that our school would claim its place as a leader in forming a new future in public higher education.
In that spirit, we continue to ask that the University to disclose the full extent of executive pay as a gesture of good faith. By the report’s own reckoning, 50 percent of the public universities with which Sibson Consulting compared the Univeristy disclose both base pay and bonuses. Another 15 percent disclose the total pay, not differentiating between base and supplemental compensation. The University is therefore with the remaining 35 percent of peer public institutions that do neither and disclose only the base pay.
We should be leading in the process of the renewal of public higher education. Increasing pay transparency is a small gesture, but small gestures can send powerful signals.
John Carson, Associate Professor, Department of History
Dario Gaggio, Professor, Department of History
Anthony Mora, Associate Professor, Departments of American Culture and History