UW-Green Bay Chancellor comments on Gannett’s salary database project

by Office of the Chancellor | January 11, 2013

What’s your salary?  How much do you make?

For most Americans, it’s impolite to ask. Many would tell you it’s nobody’s business but their own — a number known only to the individual, his or her employer, tax and loan professionals, and maybe a few others.

At UW-Green Bay, then, a measure of unease was to be expected last week when Gannett Wisconsin Media unveiled its public-salary database project. Although we respect the public’s right to know, some employees perceived a privacy issue. A few questioned the need to attach names to titles, or wondered why state employees seemingly were being “singled out,” again.

Personally, I believe any headline that references “lagging UW salaries” at least has the benefit of being true.  We have been talking about low salaries for years with nobody listening. This time might be different.

By and large, the numbers confirmed UW-Green Bay pay scales are low for an institution of our scope and level of performance.

If you saw the recent, full-page color insert in both the Green Bay and Appleton newspapers, you know that the year 2012 on our campus was filled with remarkable achievements. UW-Green Bay’s faculty and staff members — diligent and fully committed to student success — are exceptionally effective. They are also modestly compensated.

UW-Green Bay hires new faculty in some fields for as little as $44,000 per year — and that’s with Ph.D.s and college teaching experience. Our median faculty salary is about $54,100, and for academic staff (librarians, counselors and others) it’s about $44,100. Other support staffers earn various pay rates, mostly modest, with custodians starting at about $11.25 per hour.

All told, roughly half of current employees earn less than $50,000 per year, and many of those above that line are long-serving professors or those in high-demand fields.

My main objection to Gannett’s “What We Pay” coverage is that if the report had been more complete, it would have better illustrated the reality of UW-Green Bay’s hiring and retention challenges.

For example, the print newspaper published some names, but not all. Printing only those salaries greater than $50,000 presented an incomplete picture.

Additionally, the project title “What We Pay” is just a little misleading if it insinuates taxpayers alone fund UW System salaries. In truth, UW-Green Bay generates 80 percent of its budget through fundraising, outside grants, fees for services, tuition paid by students, and other sources.

Some would say these are relatively minor issues, and I don’t mean to complain. There is much to be said for offering students an opportunity for an outstanding college education at an affordable price. Yet, because we do not competitively compensate, our margin of excellence is at risk. And, I assume this is the case across the UW System.

Turnover is a growing concern. With the exception of a small number of market adjustments, most UW-Green Bay faculty and staff have had no raises for four or five years, and they have seen compensation decreases due to mandatory furloughs and increased health insurance and retirement contributions. For many vacant positions, we compete in national markets for specialized talent and find few, if any, takers with the quality experience we require.

Recently, the state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, conducted a “fact-checker” analysis and evaluated System President Kevin Reilly’s frequent assertion that UW System salaries are at least 18 percent lower than those in neighboring states and at peer institutions. The newspaper’s conclusion?  Reilly and the studies he references are absolutely “on target.” We are that far behind.

I understand what Gannett Wisconsin has set out to do with its public-employee pay database, and accept that they have the right to do so. Speaking on behalf of UW-Green Bay and its dedicated and accomplished workforce, I hope this series spurs much-needed awareness of the challenges we face with non-competitive salaries for faculty and staff.

Thomas K. Harden
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay