Seattle University’s Human Resources (HR) Department recently conducted a study on the salaries of faculty and staff, comparing them against “benchmark” salaries, which are based on similar positions both nationwide and within the city. This study concluded that while staff salaries were relatively close to benchmark, faculty pay was, on average, 95 percent of peer institutions.
Some faculty raised concerns with this study. They were upset by this result in a city as expensive as Seattle. According to PayScale, Seattle’s cost of living is 49 percent above the national average, so it was concerning for them that Seattle U fell below benchmark. Further, they questioned the liveability of the “benchmark pay” and whether faculty at other institutions are struggling, as well.
HR Director of Total Rewards and Institutional Programs Matt Philip said that the university chose to compare faculty salaries across the nation, but the study was heavily weighted toward the “Peer 11” institutions. These universities are of similar size and mission, such as Loyola Marymount University, University of Denver, and Gonzaga University.
Many of these universities are in similarly expensive cities—Santa Clara University, University of San Francisco, and University of Portland. Because the study was heavily weighted toward the Peer 11 institutions, Philip believes that it accounted for the high cost of living in Seattle.
That being said, because many faculty may move to different cities for teaching jobs, Philip said that HR aimed to make faculty pay competitive across the nation, as opposed to tailoring salary to the cost of Seattle.
Given these study results, however, some faculty believe that the study should have taken into consideration that Seattle has a much higher cost of living than most cities in the U.S.
“If the market is broken, the benchmarking only does so much.”
Christopher Paul, the communications department chair, said that the university has not raised faculty salaries to accommodate this increasing cost of living.
“It is increasingly expensive to live in Seattle, as everyone here knows, and pay simply wasn’t keeping up. Since I’ve been here, we basically haven’t had any raises with the cost of living, so that means each year you’re getting a pay cut,” Paul said.
He thinks it’s good that HR is collecting these data to inform pay decisions. However, he would like to see more detail published regarding the methodology used in this study.
“The benchmarking this time was done in house, it was done by HR. And it makes sense to me that you need some sort of data to start to make decisions. I won’t reject data informed decisions on face. At the same time, how you put that data together matters, and sharing that data with people so that they can review it and see what makes sense and what doesn’t, matters,” Paul said.
One of the key issues he sees with this market study is that it doesn’t take into account whether or not the faculty at peer institutions are surviving on their competitive salary.
“I also have some concerns with using the market as a guide for this because of course, it doesn’t show us if all of these professors that we’re comparing ourselves to are also struggling to make ends meet,” Paul said. “If the market is broken, the benchmarking only does so much.”
Julie Harms Cannon, a professor in the department of anthropology, sociology and social work, said that her low pay makes it difficult to provide for her family.
“We couldn’t live on my salary, my family. I can only do my job here because my husband works in the tech industry and he makes much much more than I do,” Harms Cannon said. “My undergraduates from Seattle U expect to make more than I make, and I have a PhD.”
Harms Cannon is a part-time adjunct professor, meaning that she is paid per course, as opposed to receiving a yearly salary.
“Jesuits take a vow of poverty. We didn’t.”
While Seattle U has found the market pay benchmark for full-time faculty, they have not yet identified the average pay for adjunct professors. However, Vice President for HR Michelle Clements said that she has worked with Provost Shane Martin to create a faculty salary committee to see how to best study market pay for per-course faculty.
“Part of it for us is to get a better understanding of the per-course faculty members—are there different market comparators that we should be looking at by school or college?” Clements said. “There might be better measures than those ‘Peer 11’ that we just described.”
Martin said that Seattle U works to provide additional benefits to help care for the whole person. He said the university offers competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits.
“It’s what we have been working on, in a quite focused way, certainly since I arrived and started my position last June. But I would say the university was already working on this. So the last time that Seattle University did a compensation study for faculty was in 2011, and then our Human Resources department began this work prior to my arrival,” Martin said. “Our goal is to have all of our faculty, the average faculty at 100 percent of the market.”
In the meantime, many faculty continue to be frustrated with their low pay. As adjunct faculty continue to ask for fair pay and unionization, they feel undervalued by the university administration.
“I think it’s unfair that the university, specifically Father Sundborg, talks about his world class faculty – and we are a very good faculty, right? But he doesn’t pay the faculty fairly. So there’s a lot of faculty in my position who aren’t making a living wage, but he gets credit for us being world class faculty,” Harms Cannon said. “Jesuits take a vow of poverty. We didn’t.”
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