Monday, November 14, 2011

Public Salary Information

While visiting Wisconsin last week (enjoying very pleasant company and conversation), various issues came up.

For one, I was reminded (or recalled) that as a public university, University of Wisconsin-Madison salaries are available online.  I can understand why salaries of elected public officials, and the people they hire, should be public information.  Transparency in politics is a valuable thing.

But I don't see that professor's salaries should be public.  Perhaps this is merely a personal bias;  I wouldn't want MY salary to be public information.**  I also don't use Facebook, so perhaps I'm just a 20th century privacy-desiring relic.  Perhaps more reasonably, I don't see university faculty as political employees, and therefore think they -- as well as the university -- should enjoy the same privacy for salary information that other employers and employees enjoy.

Perhaps, however, I'm just wrong, and transparency of salary information is good for all.  I'm willing to entertain that thought.  Certainly I think the Taulbee survey that aggregates salary information is useful and good information, for both universities and faculty, as I think there's a shortage of accurate comparative salary information for faculty positions (as compared to other jobs), and the Taulbee survey provides an important information baseline.  Is it so far to go from there to individual's salaries? 

How do those of you at schools where your salary information is public information feel about this?  And the rest of you?

** Although perhaps in some sense it is.  I don't believe my NSF grant budgets are publicly accessible information, but at some point, I was informed by my university that a Freedom of Information Act request had been made for one of my funded proposals.  (I don't know why, though I have some suppositions.)  The university filed paperwork to hopefully make sure that personal information, including my salary, would be redacted. 


Mikko Särelä said...

In Finland the tax records are public information. Hence, everybody's total yearly salary and capital gains are public information. It does breed certain amount of afternoon news, but it's also quite useful for salary comparisons.

Anonymous said...

Would you agree that the books of the state should be completely open to the public? Given the extent to which corporations have been able to exploit accounting practices, I personally shudder to think what governments could do if they were not required to disclose everything.

So it seems to me that salaries of state employees being public is just a necessary consequence of a necessary means of government oversight. Maybe it's not ideal, but it's a tradeoff I (as faculty at a state school) am willing to accept if it keeps governments in check. None of the alternatives I can think of off the top of my head seem viable.

Anonymous said...

I do not understand why in the US one's salary is such a sensitive issue; I wouldn't mind revealing my salary whether high or low! (On the other hand I mind revealing my identity while commenting on blog posts :-) )
In any case, in the case that someone's salary is supported by tax-payer's money (if that's the case for profs at public universities) then I believe it should be public information.

Sasho said...

I wonder if some of your NSF grants were inspected for one of those notorious reports on budget waste at NSF. You know, like the one report that tried to frame Jon Kleinberg's work as a joke.

Daniel Lemire said...

I'm not sure why this is a big deal.

I'm a full prof. (scale 4) and I supposedly have 19 years of experience.

You can then read my salary off these charts:

It is a bit complicated and I never really know for sure how I am supposed to earn. I am not a very good capitalist.

I really don't care much about it. Do you?

Anonymous said...

Your employer has a right to know what he is paying you.

If you choose to work for a public institution, then the public is paying your salary. They have a right to know what they are paying for your services.

Most of the top 10 public employees in NY were professors. #1 was a basketball coach at a SUNY who was paid over a million bucks. He was also paid over a million to leave quietly after ethical issues were raised. I don't know if he also had the title of "professor" but I don't know why his status as professor should give him confidentiality privileges unavailable to others.

Public salary transparency is very important given flagrant abuses of overtime provisions resulting in some public workers bringing home pay entirely out of line with what the public thinks it is paying.

Grant funding is arguably different from an employment relationship, but even so I think the public is entitled to know what it is paying.

Anonymous said...

It is typical, BTW, for these state numbers to be reported as total dollars funneled through the university, including money from research grants, but not including outside income. It also does not typically indicate a percentage so someone on sabbatical or at a reduced percentage gets reported in the same way.

It used to be the case that the local papers and TV stations would notice that some of the highest paid state employees were a few senior faculty including some in engineering but this has changed:

Now it is the football coach, followed by the university president, followed by some med school clinical faculty who have less than 50% appointments and make most of their income outside.
(The football coach's salary is only reported as the state dollars and does not include items such as automatic TV show income paid directly, which typically more than doubles the state salary.)

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Anon #2: I can't say I've formed a complete opinion, but as devil's advocate, let me suggest that perhaps one can disagree as to what level of the tree should be open to the public. So, for example, yes, the books of the state should be open so that one can see how much money is going to the school, and if that money is budget to various activities (such as "salaries") then a line item on the amount that is sent by the state for salaries should be public. It's not clear to me that this necessitates that individual salaries be given to the public.

Also, I might quibble with "completely open". It's one thing that that data is accessible in some way to those who might need it; it's another that in 30 seconds on the web I can find the salary of anyone at Wisconsin I talked to the other day.

Anon #3: Tax money, as you say, "supports" faculty salaries. It doesn't pay all of them -- more and more these days that comes from tuition and other funds. I'm not sure that the state paying 1/x of a salary should justify the salary becoming public information.

Tax money pays for lots of things from lots of companies. Should all of those salaries become public information also?

Daniel: I suppose I care about it more than you do. But surely there's some information of yours you feel is private that shouldn't be shared? Try imagining that being on an open website.

Anon #6: I question your argument. Again, "the public" doesn't pay the full salary; they pay 1/x of it. "The public" should know how much they pay to the university; I question whether that means they have the right to know how much each individual is paid. Also, consider the argument that "the public" pays for lots of things from many companies; should all salaries of those employees then be made public?

Anonymous said...

I am at Oregon State University and my salary is public information (though, I think it is not online - so it's not too accessible). I think it is a great idea. I wish it weren't just public employees whose salaries were public. Maybe we should take a note from Finland. Perhaps we would be a little more guarded when we say things like "I just want to be comfortable" as we reach for jobs with salaries that are double the median household income. It isn't just the 1% that is a problem. It is also us. The 20%.

On the other hand, I am generally in favor of privacy (and have long closed my facebook account as a result). But perhaps this is a place where Zuckerman is right. If everyone's salary is public, perhaps we would gain something. Perhaps we would be more aware of the inequity of wealth and would make strides to change it.

Anonymous said...

In Canada the salary of all public employees (including university professors and administration) who earn more than $100,000 is publicly available online.

Anonymous said...

If it is released for some people and not others, then I can understand feeling awkward about it. When it is released for everybody, though, it really helps employees (and hurts employers) in negotiations. So if you are a department chair, then I can understand wanting to keep faculty salaries private and as low as possible. For everyone else, I think it helps.

JeffE said...

Speaking as someone whose salary is published once a year in the student newspaper (along with everyone else who makes more than $30,000 a year): I'm all for it. Sunlight makes the best disinfectant.

But I don't think individual faculty salaries are necessarily the best target. Why not the first few levels the university budget, down to the income and expenses of individual colleges, departments, and other units? Why can't I just *look up* how much Computer Science, or Central Administration, or Intercollegiate Athletics takes from/contributes to the overall university budget?

And why are teaching evaluations *less* public than salaries?

Anonymous said...

My SO is a professor in a discipline that doesn't have a Taulbee survey. He periodically checks the open-records states entries for some of his peers to cross-verify his own salary. Very useful - not everyone is as rich in public data aggregation as we are.

Anonymous said...

You receive public funds for example when you get a summer salary through the NSF. People have a right to know how much you are paid.
If I had a vote and if we lived in a real democracy, I would not vote to use tax money to pay anyone whose salary is not public. Also, non public salaries add to discrimination because people who do not want to negotiate like women get paid less because they do not know how much their peers are making.

Anonymous said...

If you work for a private university that receives public funds, I think your salary should be public. However, at the very least, the exact amount from your salary that is due to public funds should be public.

So if x% of your 9-month salary is due to NSF grants plus 100% of summer salary is due to NSF, then at least that amount should be public.

Anonymous said...

It was very strange when I discovered recently that all my professors' salaries were published online. I have an MS and am now in my third year as a software developer, and I am making more money (usually substantially more) than all but one of my professors I had in graduate school (and the exception has since moved into administration).

Admittedly, the cost of living is much higher where I live than where I went to school, but it's all very surreal. I find it hard to believe that I'm generating more value to society than my professors are, and I'm sure most of them could be earning more than me if they so chose.

Anonymous said...

Previous Anonymous: There's a simple economic explanation. Like acting, media, and videogames, academia is a "prestige" industry where the job is highly sought, and so salaries are lower than jobs requiring comparable skills. People aren't paid just by the value they create, they're paid in accord with the supply-demand balance.

Anonymous said...

academia is a "prestige" industry where the job is highly sought,




as a professor!

hehehehe hahahahaha




Good one. Thanks for the laugh.