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UC should maintain competitive salary system to retain professors

By mary clark

March 7, 2012 2:32 a.m.

A recent proposal to raise University of California faculty salaries could help the UC maintain a competitive salary system to retain professors who otherwise might be lured to higher-paying posts at private institutions.

The proposal, issued by the Senate-Administration Task Force on Faculty Salaries to each campus in late February, outlines a new plan for faculty payroll.

The university’s current salary scales system guarantees professors of a certain rank at least a certain salary. But because most UC professors ““ including 80 percent of UCLA professors ““ are paid more than their rank requires, a large gap appears between base salary and what professors are actually being paid.

The new system, which would do away with the salary scales system and guarantee professors the average salary of everyone else of the same rank, should be recommended for approval by the Academic Senate. Regardless of a professor’s initial salary, the proposed changes would guarantee professors a larger base salary as they rise in rank than they are guaranteed now.

This process would encourage loyalty and decrease the need for so much salary negotiation before a professor is hired.

The opportunity for rank advancement comes frequently for professors. Ranks are evaluated every three years for full professors and every two years for assistant and associate professors, said Linda Sarna, vice chair of UCLA’s Academic Senate.

By basing salaries on what other professors are actually being paid, faculty compensation would continue to increase across the board, said Susan Carlson, UC vice provost for academic personnel.

Because the vast majority of professors’ salaries are higher than the current scales require, today’s system is nearly irrelevant and paints a misleading picture of the university. The proposed system is more realistic and transparent than the current one.

In order for the UC to compete against private universities, offers above base salaries will still have to be made. The university will still have the freedom to offer higher salaries to the most sought-after professors, but because professors will be paid at least the average of other professors at the same rank, the discrepancies between these offers and the average UC salary would decrease.

Certain inherent differences between campuses, like the cost of living in different cities, are reasons for professors to be paid above the base salary, and those variables would still be considered.

As usual, these plans are contingent on the amount of funding the state will give the university, which is currently unknown. But when the amount is given, this proposal should be given high priority.

The Academic Senate for each campus will submit a recommendation stating whether or not it is in favor of the proposal, said Andrew Leuchter, chair of UCLA’s Academic Senate.

The question of state funding remains central to each senate’s decision.

If the UC Office of the President decides to implement the new system, but state allocation of funds proves insufficient once again, each campus will be left to seek their own avenues of funding.

While building projects like new dining halls, research centers, dorms and classrooms are vital and useful ways to attract new students, faculty remain the backbone of any academic mission and the core of the UC’s strength as a highly-regarded public university system.

In today’s competitive higher education market, buildings and other tangible improvements are highly valued, if not higher, than the actual education being offered. But that shouldn’t be the case, and those offering the education, the professors themselves, should be valued above any property or equipment a school can buy.

Email Clark at [email protected]. Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBOpinion.

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