Budget Transparency Ignites Conversation About Equity

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Budget Transparency Ignites Conversation About Equity

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

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Unlike public institutions, the salaries of Seattle University employees are not public information. As a result, Seattle U’s budget is known solely by those in administration. Over the past several years, faculty, staff, and student groups’ have called for greater transparency, coming to a head last month when Associate Professor of history David Madsen took action. Madsen, nearing retirement and feeling he had “nothing to lose” decided to share the only part of the university budget he knew for certain—his salary.

Madsen sent an email to all faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences on Nov. 15, in which he cited faculty’s desire for budget transparency to encourage them to make their own salaries public. He believes that budget transparency at Seattle U must start with action on the behalf of faculty, as there is little action occurring on the administrative level.

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR
TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

“I am hoping that others will feel emboldened to open up as well, in order that we can demonstrate in a very powerful way that we want the University to take seriously our call for shared governance, which, to my mind, is founded upon transparent budgets,” he stated in the email.

Chris Paul, chair of the communication department, was aware of Madsen’s intention to send this college-wide email and prepared his own email.

Paul’s email included both his own salary and a link to a shared Google document where others could input their salaries. The spreadsheet allowed for respondents to remain anonymous if they so desired. The spreadsheet received 28 responses in total, from a mix of faculty and staff within the College of Arts and Sciences.

The spreadsheet generated a discussion among colleagues, centered around the fact that not everyone is comfortable or able to share salary information—specifically non-tenure track faculty, staff, and minoritized faculty.

Sharon Suh, a professor in the theology and religious studies department, replied to the calls for faculty to share their salaries with her own college-wide email.

“I was glad that they did it,” Suh said. “But the expectation that every faculty would do it on a voluntary basis to me created a kind of pressure where some folks might not feel that comfortable putting forward their salary. Especially for minoritized faculty.”

Suh has been an advocate for both budget and salary transparency for years. While she did not add her salary to the spreadsheet, she did share the spreadsheet with some of her colleagues within her department.

“We need it because it seems to be the way to demonstrate that we are in fact equitable across the college and taking into consideration gender, race, and sexuality, and making sure, even though we say we are, where’s the proof?” Suh said.

Paul recognized these concerns and said he does not feel relying only on an opt-in system is a complete solution to the lack of budget and pay transparency.

“The point is more to raise the issue and get us talking about the issue than to solve the issue,” Paul said.

According to Paul, Seattle U has been hiring new faculty members with salaries higher than those of current faculty with years more experience, due to increased cost of living and other market factors. However, he said the solution is to adjust the salaries of those current faculty so that everyone is paid an appropriate salary.

Paul further noted that in his 10 years at the university he has not seen a raise or wage pool increase that matched the rapidly rising cost of living in Seattle and that this was the source for other types of inequity.

Issues such as these are usually addressed by an equity adjustment, but the most recent equity adjustment conducted by the College of Arts and Sciences began in 2011 after faculty pushed for review of salaries.

“I think the thing that bothers me the most is that when the original equity adjustments were made, the university said that this was going to be an ongoing process and that they would revisit this frequently,” Senior Instructor of English Hannah Tracy said.

Tracy chose not to add her salary information to the spreadsheet, citing her non-tenured status as the primary reason.

Paul has since spoken with Provost Shane Martin, Associate Provost Kathleen La Voy, and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Powers.

Martin said that he is a proponent of shared governance and does believe transparency on some level is something that should be looked at.

“The faculty, and especially their elected body which is the Academic Assembly, need to have the information on where we stand with the budget and on regular intervals, they need these updates,” Martin said.

Martin also said that the university’s human resource department is currently undertaking a market analysis of faculty salaries university-wide, which is expected to conclude in March of 2019.

Dean Powers noted that having this data from other institutions similar to Seattle U is crucial in ensuring equitable pay.

“It helps me a lot to have that information when I’m looking at what’s fair and what’s going on across the university and especially in our college and comparing them to other places that have the departments that we have,” Powers said.

Paul said that he would like to see Seattle U make an affirmative choice to increase transparency.

“It doesn’t have to be fully public and it should certainly not be voluntary opt-in public, but [I hope] that we can find a path that works best for SU where folks can have faith that they’re being equitably paid.”

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