GoGo Days

Henry Kissinger wrote, “University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.”

Although often correct, the stakes are a bit bigger in the schools and colleges around Vermont right now. The University of Vermont faculty union claims the school pays female professors less than male professors.

I worked for Harris Corp. back in the grand and glorious run up to the GoGo 80s. On the Fortune 200 list with money to burn, Harris had transferred a bunch of us from Pennsylvania to meet and mingle and work with the staff of the former Sheridan Iron Works in Champlain, New York. We flatlanders made up part of the engineering and sales departments of the then pre-eminent global printing press and book bindery manufacturer. Harris wanted to consolidate us all under the 100,000 square feet of new roof the corporation had built at the venerable factory.

It was an interesting blending of cultures.

We engineers were once taught to be closed-mouth about their salaries. Some, I think, were embarrassed that the guy at next desk might be worth a little more. A few were expected to hide that they were the guy at next desk. The truth came out when a local secretary making $5/hour discovered she sat side-by-side with another secretary from “down south” making $10.

Fur flew in the boss’ office.

Harris did a nationwide search to determine what a secretary should earn. As well as someone in almost any other job classification.

With the stroke of a pen, the company changed our culture from valuing people for the way they applied their makeup to valuing people for the job they did. In developing the plan, Harris took the best practices from all areas of the industry and learned from the experiences of other R&D and manufacturing companies.

This stuff ain’t rocket science. Engineering managers usually classify employees in one of about 12 overlapping “pay grades” that range from a Level 1 “Engineer-in-Training” through a Level 12 or 15 “Technical Fellow.” Other disciplines have other titles and ranges. Administrative Assistants might range from a Level 1 “Entry Level Clerk” or Level 2 “Clerk-Steno,” through a Level 6 or 8 “Executive Assistant.” Teachers might range from a Level 1 “Teaching Assistant,” Level 2 “Adjunct,” through a Level 8 or 10 “Distinguished Professor in a named position.”

Meeting or exceeding goals triggers pay raises within any given level. Taking on significant new responsibilities triggers promotion from one grade to the next.

Any of those categories, from International Space Station designer, to Introduction to Computers teacher, to Advertising Creative Director to janitor, can be assigned to one of about 15 salary grades within a company, governmental agency, or school. The well-known Federal General Schedule (GS), for example, assigns every job a grade level from 1 to 15, according to the minimum level of education and experience its workers need. Jobs that require no experience or education are graded a GS-1. A full professor might be in GS-9 or 10. The system both promotes a feeling of kinship among employees and reduces successful litigation for the employer.

As a new hire, you start in a position based on job worth. You advance based on merit and performance.

At UVM, the teachers’ union has accused the university of discriminating against five female assistant professors. Their grievance cites as proof the salary of a man hired for a similar position. The male professor had similar education and credentials but started at a higher salary than the more experienced women already on the faculty.

For the record, Columbia University pays dermatology professor David Silvers $4.33 million.

A number of parity-equity models and studies of rational and nonrational factors on faculty salaries exist. Rational equity usually includes professorial rank, years in rank, years of experience, and publications. Marketplace equity measures average faculty salaries by rank, by school, and by department.

In one multiple regression analysis, just one percent of the variation in faculty salaries was explained by the nonrational equity factors of sex and years at university which certainly undermines any arguments the school could present.

UVM could use any of those studies to craft equitable pay grades.

This good idea gets better.

Every elementary and high school board in Vermont could use similar studies to write pay grades for their own union or professional faculty and staff. They could dump the taxpayer-maligned step system in favor of job categories that range from Level 1 “Teacher in Training” for a fresh graduate to, say, Level 8 “Senior Teaching Fellow.” If it works for engineers who are notoriously difficult to herd, why can’t it work for teachers?

The Vermont Labor Relations Board will hear the UVM grievance on Thursday.

Schools could learn a bit from industry, I’m thinking.

5 thoughts on “GoGo Days

  1. The problem is not unique to UVM or even to academia. Women with MBAs lag behind men in job level and salary from the first day on the job; they never catch up, no matter how much experience they gain according to new research from Catalyst.

    Since companies began implementing grade levels and salary ranges, they have gotten good at managing parity within the ranks but it does rely on the hiring manager. If a new hire comes in the door in the wrong range, no system can cure the imbalance.

  2. “If it works for engineers who are notoriously difficult to herd, why can’t it work for teachers?”

    1. It will be perceived as costing the teachers money (and indeed it might, and perhaps should, in the long run.)

    2. Teachers are unionized, engineers nearly never are.

    3. If it costs the teachers money, it will CERTAINLY cost the union leadership money…. It may also be seen as undermining the leadership’s power. BOTH factors will make them fight like hell to avoid this.

  3. Bob lists those objections like they are bad things…

    Some teachers probably are worth less than they are paid, some more. We don’t need to micromanage the worth of individual performers. Or nonperformers. Most HR systems that implement a pay grade system grandfather existing employees if those people happen to be paid “above grade.” The combination of increasing cost of living and attrition tends to bring the salaries paid to the grid within a few years.

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