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In the US, many (most?) states have laws which require the publication of full salary details for all employees of state universities. For example, California has a full online database of all state workers it seems which includes UC Berkeley amongst others. Salary details to varying levels of approximation are also available for public university employees in some countries outside the US. In which countries are academic salaries published? has more details .

What effect on state (or public) universities has this publication of academic salaries had? Specifically,

  1. Have they had to pay more on average in salaries because private sector competitors (including private universities) now know exactly how much to offer someone to entice them?
  2. Have they found it more difficult to recruit people from the private sector (including private universities) who might not want their financial details to be public?
  3. Have there been any other negative or positive side effects?
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    I am not sure knowing how much someone makes in academia tells you all that much about what will take to lure them to the private sector. – StrongBad Dec 27 '14 at 14:47
  • Are these figures for real? Professors at UC berkeley in the biology department make $180k a year? Or does this also include total income outside of the UC salary? – Herman Toothrot Dec 27 '14 at 15:20
  • @StrongBad You are right although I was including private universities in the private sector. – felix Dec 27 '14 at 17:08
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Have they had to pay more on average in salaries because private sector competitors (including private universities) now know exactly how much to offer someone to entice them?

I've occasionally heard of these lists being used to identify woefully underpaid faculty members who might therefore be disgruntled and easier to recruit. However, I don't think this has had a substantial effect overall on salaries at public universities. Most faculty members don't inspire bidding wars between universities, and recruitment is based on many other factors beyond just salary.

For context, note that average salaries vary substantially between universities, and these differences are sometimes pretty widely discussed in the community. Even in the absence of data on individuals, that's potentially useful information for recruitment. However, there seems to be no trend towards salaries evening out. Instead, they tend to end up balanced with factors like desirability of location.

Have they found it more difficult to recruit people from the private sector (including private universities) who might not want their financial details to be public?

Not to a noticeable extent, at least for ordinary faculty positions. This could be more of a factor for mid-level administrators, whose salaries might come under greater scrutiny. (By contrast, the salaries of top administrators are public information for every non-profit university in the U.S., public or private, because they must be reported on IRS Form 990.)

Have there been any other negative or positive side effects?

Transparency about salaries has a weird mixture of effects. On the one hand, it makes the overall patterns clearer, and anyone can judge for themselves whether the results are fair. For example, it's easy to gather data on whether women are being paid less, whether there's salary compression or inversion, whether different people receive comparable salary increases upon achieving tenure, etc. I don't know of any formal studies (which could be interesting), but there's at least a fairly widespread belief that this transparency helps cut down on abuses.

On the other hand, it can also increase disgruntlement. The actual salaries are almost guaranteed not to align perfectly with what would seem just to any given person (because of course different people have different visions of what would be appropriate). I've certainly looked on occasion at salary lists and wondered why on earth X was being paid 15% more than Y, and I once talked with a friend who had discovered that he was Y in such a case.

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    Thank you for this great reply. I am very interested in a few things you said. Can you explain to this non US person why only senior administrators have to report on IRS Form 990? Also, for the first question, if we narrow it to academics on over 180,000 dollars say, so very successful ones, would the answer be any different? – felix Dec 27 '14 at 19:42
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    Form 990 requires tax-exempt organizations to list the compensation for trustees, officers, directors, and the five highest paid other employees (above a certain salary threshold). I think this is intended to balance employees' right to privacy with the public's interest in making sure non-profits aren't using donations to pay outrageous salaries. For example, Harvard in 2011-12 listed four medical school/public health faculty and a law professor making over $500k, in addition to a number of deans. – Anonymous Mathematician Dec 27 '14 at 21:13
  • How high the threshold is for what would attract attention varies a lot between universities, so it would depend on the context. At a cash-strapped public university, a 180k salary for a professor might stand out as offensive, while at Harvard it would be average at best. (Nevertheless, not everyone chooses Harvard given several offers. Many other factors are relevant, and one is that some people find working for a public university more fulfilling than making more money at a private university.) – Anonymous Mathematician Dec 27 '14 at 21:20
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The UC system has made a concerted effort to keep salaries at its flagship schools (UCLA, UCB) competitive with those at other R1s (including private ones) in order to attract and retain top faculty. They haven't always succeeded. If you look at AAUP faculty salary data, UCLA and UCB salaries are close to but are rarely higher than their peer private institutions (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Caltech, etc.).

That being said, this has largely been possible through the large scale shift in funding at the UC from the state to private funding sources (tuition+alumni gifts+research administrative overhead+endowment+sports franchising).

Other state schools have not privatized as much as the UC system and have kept salaries and tuitions modest.

Now as to whether the publishing of salary data of individuals has had an effect, this is unclear and to my knowledge no one has analyzed it in great detail. However, there are some side effects to publishing faculty salaries:

  • Greater legislative and voter scrutiny of faculty salaries (i.e., "why does a professor at a public school make $180,000"?) puts pressure on chancellors to either reduce salaries and risk faculty flight or to move towards privatization of income
  • Salary compression between ranks becomes much more visible
  • Salary inequity between genders and disciplines becomes more visible
  • Thank you. What is "research administrative overhead"? It sounds like something that comes from grants but that wouldn't be private funding would it? I find it interesting that you don't seem to regard having your salary published as something that would put off even highly paid faculty. – felix Dec 28 '14 at 10:27
  • Here's a link to info on research overhead. I'll link it into the answer as well: research.usc.edu/for-sponsors/frequently-asked-questions – RoboKaren Dec 28 '14 at 16:15
  • It might if you understood your school to not be willing to match external offers from private schools; but otherwise it might actually increase salary inflation as if you are anything but the highest paid, you know what the highest wage possibility in your bracket is. – RoboKaren Dec 28 '14 at 16:17
  • Thank you. I didn't quite understand your last point though. What I meant to ask was whether there are people who choose not to go to a public university just because they don't want their salary to be released. – felix Dec 28 '14 at 21:01

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