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In the United States, I think it is required by law in several states to make salary information at universities public. In general, in most western universities, it may not be very hard to find salary information, particularly the publicly-funded ones.

Is there any benefit to universities by making this information public?

I am interested in the kind of "active" benefits which universities that don't publish salary information (and are not required by law to do so), lose out on. Further, if universities were not required by law to make this information public, would there be any benefit (to them) in continuing to do so?

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    This generally isn't required by law for faculty in private universities. Aug 10, 2021 at 12:50
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    By "salary information", do you mean the current salaries of particular individuals, or do you mean the salary scales associated with broad job roles? Aug 10, 2021 at 15:23
  • @DanielHatton Individual salaries rather than salary scales.
    – user136193
    Aug 10, 2021 at 15:43
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    In that case, I'd be concerned that, if there's not a specific law requiring the salaries to be published, publishing them might be illegal under normal data protection laws. Can someone familiar with US data protection law confirm or deny? Aug 10, 2021 at 15:50
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    @AzorAhai-him- Right, but I think Ram's question is whether, in those states that don't have laws requiring academics' salaries to be published, it would be in universities' interest to publish them anyway. My thinking was that, if US Federal law has something equivalent to Europe's GDPR article 6 paragraph 1(c), then it's possible that publishing the salaries is forbidden in any state where it's not compulsory. Aug 10, 2021 at 20:53

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In every instance of which I am aware, the publication of salaries in US universities comes from a combination of two factors:

  1. Transparency laws that require publication of salaries of all state government employees, and
  2. State universities where every employee is technically a state government employee.

Publishing salaries is nice for transparency, but often creates management headaches (e.g., resentment between people with similar experience but different pay levels). As such, I would expect that if publication of salaries was not required, then most universities would either stop doing so or would drastically limit the number of people to whom it applied (e.g., only to higher level administrators).

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    Also, while it's public, it's not necessarily easy to access or find. And some 3rd party reporting on faculty salaries give quite inaccurate or misleading numbers (e.g., including benefits, award money, etc).
    – Kimball
    Aug 10, 2021 at 21:34
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    "Management headaches". Yeah, pretty much, if salaries are different for no clear reason it is the workers' interest for them not to be and to pressure for a raise. On Youtube: Why you should tell your coworkers your salary.
    – LoremIpsum
    Aug 10, 2021 at 23:33
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    @LoremIpsum I'm not arguing whether it's right or wrong, just observing the likely management perspective.
    – jakebeal
    Aug 11, 2021 at 0:52
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Is there any benefit to universities by making this information public?

Salary transparency benefits voters by informing them. They find out if politicians are using their tax dollars well. If public universities did not provide salary transparency, they might loose the support of voters, and subsequently their tax revenue.

Institutions not accountable to tax payers would often prefer that salary information not be public. The most wealthy universities might see public salary information as a hiring tool. Employees can disclose their salaries if they wish.

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  • I believe some employment contracts preclude salary disclosure on the part of the employee Aug 10, 2021 at 14:27
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    In the UK, there's a strong overlap between the set of people who support legislation requiring publication of the individual salaries of any particular group of workers, and the set of people who are already campaigning for those salaries to be reduced (sometimes to zero, i.e. for employees to be replaced by volunteers). Aug 10, 2021 at 15:31
  • @ScottSeidman Even for public universities in the US? Is there a reason for this, given that salaries are going to be published anyway?
    – user136193
    Aug 10, 2021 at 15:44
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    No, that would be a policy of some private companies. Aug 10, 2021 at 16:16
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    @ScottSeidman - there may be some edge cases, but in general, the National Labor Relations Act does not allow US employers to forbid employees from discussing their salary (during their "off hours"). And the trend has been toward making this stricter; for example, some states don't even allow employers to ask about current salary during an interview.
    – cag51
    Aug 10, 2021 at 22:04
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As others have said, universities and government agencies generally publish their salaries in order to comply with transparency laws. Nepotism, for example, is harder to get away with if all salaries are publicly posted. But from the university's perspective, this has the potential to:

  • Generate bad press, if a reporter feels (rightly or wrongly) that an employee is overpaid, and
  • Give employees more leverage during salary negotiations.

So I seriously doubt that most organization would release salary information if they didn't have to.

By the way, it may seem like universities' opposition to transparency laws are entirely selfish, but let me make one counter-example. If Dean Bob's salary is triple the market rate, it may seem self-evident to an outsider that the university is not "using their tax dollars well." But it may be that the university has already concluded that replacing Dean Bob with three market-rate deans would be a net detriment to the university; Dean Bob is "just that good." In this case, the public outrage at Dean Bob's salary would be entirely misplaced, and the university would be forced to choose between doing the right thing or doing what looks good. This interesting Ted Talk gives a good discussion of this phenomenon as it applies to charities.

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  • Indeed, "cheap" is not always "good". But/and popular appraisal of these things is usually not very astute, in my observation. Sadly. Aug 10, 2021 at 22:33
  • @paulgarrett “cheap” is rarely “good” when it comes to salaries of administrators - so say many administrators - but “cheap” is often “good” when it comes to salaries of employees, including faculty or support staff. It is a trend to hear administrators claiming there is no $$ to spend, except on themselves of course. Aug 11, 2021 at 11:40
  • I'll note that publishing salaries can also give employees less leverage during salary negotiations, on condition that the salaries are published in conjunction with a public wage scale formula. An employer can say to an a prospective employee, "If we hire you, we will pay $X based on formula Z. As we have made a public commitment to use formula Z when determining employee wages, we cannot negotiate this. However, you can earn an increase in pay by modifying the variables in formula Z."
    – Brian
    Aug 12, 2021 at 21:35

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