Professor John M. Lee

Mathematics professor John M. Lee was one of the chief architects of the proposed salary policy that failed to be ratified in June.

A faculty salary plan designed to implement new pay grades for senior UW professors failed to pass the UW faculty senate following a vote June 10.

Of the 2,742 ballots received, 1,328 (48.43 percent) were in favor of the resolution while 1,356 (49.45 percent) opposed it and 58 (2.12 percent) abstained. A record 57.85 percent of UW faculty participated in the vote, the highest percentage of faculty members since 1999. 

The plan received significant opposition for its complex language and numerous revisions. The complaints were outlined in a letter signed by 10 UW professors who encouraged their peers to vote against the plan.

“The plan was so broad that we weren’t sure what we were voting on and who would get what kind of raises,” said Marcie Lazzari, professor of social work at the UW’s Tacoma campus and chair of its Faculty Assembly.

Having failed to pass, the plan will not be sent to UW president Ana Mari Cauce for approval.

Based on the University of California’s “step system,” the plan was written to increase opportunities for raises by creating additional “tiers” within the faculty rank system. 

These tiers were intended to alleviate problems of salary compression, in which newly hired assistant professors earn close to that of associate and full professors. 

Assistant professors at UW Bothell currently make $96,700 annually, while associate and full professors make an average of $98,800 and $119,700. Assistant, associate, and full professors at UW Tacoma make $80,400, $98,300, and $118,200, respectively. Seattle campus professors make $98,100, $104,800, and $133,800, respectively.

Under the UW’s current system, faculty are guaranteed two pay raises of 7.5 percent over the course of their academic careers at the university, in addition to annual “merit” raises of 2 percent based on the quality of teaching, research, and scholarship.

For tenured faculty, there would have been several tiers each for assistant and associate professors and nine tiers for full professors. Non-tenure-track lecturers and artists in residence also would be eligible for various tier raises. Such raises would vary, but would have been capped at 8 percent of the average professor’s salary.

According to the proposed plan, professors could apply for a promotion to a new salary tier every four years, which would be subject to review by a committee of that faculty member’s peers.

John Lee, professor of mathematics at the UW, was one of the six-member faculty salary policy working group appointed by former UW president Michael Young. 

“A large chunk of that money comes through retention rates controlled by chairs and deans,” Lee said. “We were trying to create a system where most of that money came through faculty review.”

Kate O’Neill, a professor at UW Seattle’s School of Law, believed the plan was poorly written and hastily reviewed.

“The final language had not been subject to review for very long,” O’Neill said. “They had kept tweaking it until the very last vote.” 

Professors who opposed the plan further criticized its opt-out mechanism for academic units that chose not to follow it as a source of conflict between faculty and department heads.

“Every year, the provost declares what the merit pool is going to be and if you look over the last 15 to 16 years, that merit pool has averaged 3 percent per year,” Lee said. “Meanwhile, entry level salaries for brand new assistant professors have been going up at about 4.5 percent per year. You cannot run a competitive system with those numbers.”

Gautham Reddy, a professor of radiology at the UW School of Medicine, opposed the plan on the basis that it undermined newer UW campuses like in Tacoma and Bothell where fewer faculty members are retiring and the proposed salary increases would not be sustainable.

Reddy still hopes that other departments continue to come up with solutions that work for them.

“We should support individual schools or academic units that don’t feel the current policy is working for them,” Reddy said. “I want to empower them to make changes that will benefit them.”

Norman Beauchamp, a professor and chairman of the department of radiology at UW Seattle, believed there is further debate to be had regarding the faculty’s salary policy. 

“To get this right, it’s going to take a broad constituency from all colleges and all campuses to figure out what are some of the things that we can put in place incrementally to make improvements,” Beauchamp said. “I think, if anything, it greatly demonstrated that shared governance is alive and well at the University of Washington.”

Lee cautioned that the UW will need to make significant reforms to its faculty salary policy sooner rather than later.

“If we end up with a Band-Aid, we’ll be back here 15 years from now with exactly the same problems that we have now and trying to figure out another way to fix them,” Lee said. “I have not seen and can’t really imagine any small tweaks to the current policy that will make much of a difference.”

Reach reporter Tim Gruver at Twitter: @T_TimeForce

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