The Senate Source

November 2011

Interview with Vice Provost Susan Carlson

Susan CarlsonThe Senate Source recently sat down with Vice Provost for Academic Personnel Susan Carlson to get her take on some of the most significant academic personnel issues facing the University—including faculty salaries and competitiveness, the APM revisions currently under Academic Senate review, diversity, and shared governance. Vice Provost Carlson joined UC in 2010 after a 30 year career as a faculty member and administrator at Iowa State University. She also holds a faculty appointment in the English department at UC Davis.

Senate Source: What does the systemwide Department of Academic Personnel do, and how did your previous experiences prepare you for the job of Vice Provost?

Susan Carlson: The main responsibility of my department is to steward the UC Academic Personnel Manual and the salary scales; more generally, we address all issues pertaining to faculty as employees—recruitment, retention, promotion and tenure, and diversity, among others. Our main goal is to ensure that our work in the Office of the President supports and adds value to campus activities, and because all UC campuses share the same core polices, the best example of how we add value is our policy initiatives.

I don’t think I would have been able to do this job without having spent 30 years as a faculty member at an AAU research university. I was also an associate provost and interim provost for 10 years at Iowa State, where I maintained a similar, but even broader, portfolio of responsibilities. I always viewed UC as a national leader in progressive, faculty-centered academic personnel policies, and marveled at how those policies and best practices have helped make it a magnet for the world’s best educators and researchers. I saw this position as a chance to use some of my knowledge and experience to make a difference for UC and maintain its status as a national leader in higher education policy. The opportunity to think creatively about how to enhance the faculty experience, but on a larger scale than just one campus, was very appealing.

What is the status of the joint Senate-Administrative Task Force on Faculty Salaries? Are they continuing to meet, and if so, can you summarize their discussions?

In March 2011, Provost Pitts charged a joint Senate-Administration Task Force with making salary recommendations for both the short and longer term. The Task Force submitted its first set of recommendations to him in June, which helped shape the 3% increase effective October 1. We also met at the end of August to discuss the design of a long-term plan. We were asked to make recommendations for the allocation of 3% salary increases over the next four years, and are now developing scenarios. Of course, while such a plan is highly desirable, it is complicated by uncertainty about where we would find money for raises. No one can forget the recent four-year faculty salary plan that was derailed by the budget crisis after only one year. The Task Force believes that the salary scales are central to UC’s merit and promotion process, but is exploring how to allow greater flexibility in how campuses use them. We have found that salaries are already different by campus, even though the scales are not.

The Senate has spoken frequently about the need to improve the competitiveness of the published salary scales and to bring the majority of faculty back on-scale, and it has consistently urged that any money available for faculty salary increases be directed to the salary scales. However, the 3% merit-based salary increase for UC faculty that took effect on October 1 was applied to both the base and off-scale components of salary, as well as to above-scale salaries. Why was more of the increase not put into the scales?

First, let’s remember that the scales did increase by 3%. The total payroll for ladder rank and equivalent faculty is roughly $1 billion, which includes $867 million of on-scale dollars and $133 million of off-scale dollars. We applied the 3% increase to both, and we calculated that had the same dollars been applied only to the scales, the scales would have increased by about 3.5%, which is not a huge difference. That said, it was a tough decision that did divide the faculty and administrators on the Task Force.

I value the scales’ critical importance to the UC tradition and identity, as well as their foundation to the merit review system. They also play a central role in sustaining the amazing productivity of the faculty through post-tenure reviews. The UC merit system has been so successful because it is based in peer review done at regular intervals, and is transparent and tied to real rewards. At the same time, it is clear that the scales are not as meaningful as they once were because they have not been nurtured for a decade or longer. The Task Force is trying to find ways to make them work better and increase their relevance without abandoning them, which nobody wants.

How do you respond to the argument that if the increase had not been applied to off- and above-scale components, the gap between scale and non-scale salaries would have been reduced, also reducing some inequities affecting long-serving faculty?

One option forwarded by the Task Force was to put the funds available into on-scale dollars only, and it was a viable solution. The President chose, however, to award the increase based on the total current salary.

Does it hurt the system to have large salary differentials by campus?

It depends upon whom you ask. I am a pragmatist on this issue. Differences exist, but the money does not exist to equalize salaries across the system. We have to recognize this but find a way to move forward that begins from where we are and that enables us to recruit and retain excellent faculty.

What is your understanding of the total remuneration lag for UC faculty in relation to the “Comparison 8” group of universities?

According to the most recent (March 2011) CPEC data, the salary lag increased from 11.2% to 12.8% last year (this figure does not include the October 1 salary increase), and that gap is even greater compared to the private institutions that are UC’s main competitors for faculty. In terms of total remuneration (cash compensation and benefits), UC is between 4% and 7% below the market average. The Task Force discussed the state’s defunding of CPEC and decided that they did not want to abandon the CPEC methodology. As long as we continue to have access to the data, we plan to conduct salary studies of the Comparison 8 that result in the composite comparisons.

Are you concerned about the lag? What can UC do to improve salary competitiveness in a time of severe fiscal constraints?

I am very concerned, because we know from recruitment and retention data that cash compensation is critical in our efforts to attract and retain excellent faculty. But while pay is important, UC’s family friendly policies also emerged as important factors in those data, and this is an area in which UC leads the nation. Two examples are our Active Service-Modified Duties policy for new parents and our part-time appointment policy. We need to continue to advertise and enhance such polices to ensure that we have a flexible, inviting workplace climate. We also have to work harder to help the public understand the value of well-paid research faculty. The chancellors and President emphasize this all the time, but it is a tough sell, particularly to Californians who have seen their own wages shrink and unemployment increase. But we have to have competitive salaries to maintain a first-rate research institution. I’m sure you know that the latest Nobel Prize in Physics gives UC a total of 58 Nobels (including 25 since 2005), an extraordinary accomplishment that we could never have achieved without the resources to build an intellectual community that fosters brilliant minds and keeps them here.

UCOP’s proposed APM 668 would allow general campus faculty to supplement their income with non-state resources such as grant funds, endowment earnings, and professional degree supplemental tuition. Is the policy consistent with UC’s tradition of linking salaries to peer review through the salary scales, and how do you respond to critiques that it would empower deans and department chairs too much?

APM 668 is an important component of the toolbox of options we need to confront our current fiscal challenges. It will take some of the pressure off of state general funds by allowing campuses to use other funding sources to supplement faculty salaries in certain situations. It regularizes practices that already exist, and I always prefer creating policy rather than acting on an ad hoc basis. I agree that it will change UC culture, but I do not think it will be as radical as some people imagine. We wrote APM 668 expressly to ensure that review of the negotiated salary may include review by the Committee on Academic Personnel (CAP) on campuses where CAP has input into salary recommendations. I agree it would add new responsibilities for deans and chairs in most situations, but I think that is appropriate, because the policy is tied closely to recruitment and retention where deans and chairs already play a big role.

To address the salary lag, administrators are using off-scale supplements to attract and retain faculty, which has widened inequities, made the scales less relevant, and led some departments to “cannibalize” FTE. Beyond APM 668, are there ways to address this?

I agree that addressing salary issues only through faculty recruitment and retention, actions that occur on an individual, ad-hoc basis, is not a long-term solution. I see APM 668 as an improvement over where we are now, since it creates a process that is transparent and that will help us address salary issues for some faculty. But we need to continue to pursue comprehensive solutions to our lack of salary competitiveness—the Task Force is focused on such issues.

A new Pay Equity Study suggests that UC is out of compliance with Title IX with respect to salary equity for female faculty. What can the University do to rectify this?

Provost Pitts has distributed the study to administrators on campuses for their input while the Senate collects feedback from faculty. I expect the administrators will compare the study to any they may have conducted locally, so that we have more complete information that will help us understand the findings. This issue is very serious, and if we conclude the process convinced that there is clear evidence of pay inequity, the University must address it.

Studies have shown that women are less likely than men to ask for money or to move for their own careers, so those could be factors. But we also have evidence counter to this. Berkeley posted a faculty satisfaction survey last spring showing that more women than men had seriously considered taking outside offers. There is also anecdotal evidence suggesting that all new faculty, both men and women, are more aggressive in salary negotiations than in the past.

Do you think the UC faculty is sufficiently diverse, and are there things we can do to improve recruitment and the pipeline to increase diversity?

UC is doing many things to diversify the faculty, but everyone agrees that we are not making the progress we should; the data show that UC is hiring both women and underrepresented minorities at lower rates than the availability pool in many fields. UC also plays a major role in defining that pool since we award so many Ph.D.s. Part of our job then, is to make sure we are training a diverse set of doctoral students. UC hires 20% of its faculty from our own institutions, so we can have a very direct effect on our own faculty diversity. My office administers the President’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program (under the direction of Sheila O’Rourke), which continues to have a big impact on UC faculty diversity by encouraging recent women and minority Ph.D.s to pursue academic careers here. UC should be a national leader in establishing best practices for diversity because we live in an incredibly diverse state and have the population base to do it better than anyone else.

I am also excited that UC recently received four grants from the NSF ADVANCE program, out of 13 awarded nationwide, to recruit, retain, and advance women faculty in STEM fields. One grant will support a study of systemwide data about faculty searches to help us identify both best practices and where problems in recruitment are located. The grant will also fund a series of campus-based round table meetings for faculty, administrators, and experts to discuss specific faculty diversity issues such as providing women and underrepresented minorities with access to mentorship opportunities. The other three grants were awarded to UCR, UCSD, and a research team from UCB and Hastings.

Do recent faculty recruitment and retention data show any negative trends that may be the result of budget cuts? What would you say to faculty who are so discouraged about the budget situation that they are thinking about seeking opportunities elsewhere? Why should they stay loyal to UC?

We do not have final numbers for last year, yet, but UC is clearly recruiting fewer faculty than in the past—a direct result of budget cuts. However, I think faculty will remain loyal because they realize that UC has a tradition of excellence that does not exist anywhere else; we attract the world’s experts in every field. Additionally, UC’s unique merit review system allows faculty to be judged by their peers and rewarded accordingly, and explains UC’s quick rise to international prominence. UC is dedicated to its public mission, and to access and diversity. All public institutions are struggling now, but if you want to work at a great public institution with great traditions, this is the best place to be.

Are there any other initiatives or issues you are working on or would like to comment on?

I think faculty workload will be a major issue in the coming years because there are fewer faculty and more students. If we don’t talk about this, faculty will continue to take on more and more, affecting the quality of their work and their morale. I also want to explore more flexible and innovative career paths for tenured faculty. The model we currently use for academic appointments comes out of the mid-twentieth century and may not be as relevant as it once was for all faculty. Some may wish to work part-time due to family issues, for example. We can create a more diverse, inclusive environment for all faculty if we rethink structures of appointments and reward systems. UC could be a national leader in this area.

In addition, the faculty is aging. There is no mandatory retirement age for faculty, and we have senior faculty who continue to be major contributors late in their lives. We need to think about how to better support late-career faculty, and to ensure that they are fairly and competitively compensated, and that there is a good match between what they want to do and what the University needs. I look forward to developing these ideas with the faculty over the coming years. Finally, we need to ensure that our personnel policies accommodate and support new modes of faculty scholarship—digital publishing, for example—and the shift in academia toward more collaborative, multidisciplinary research, so that our campuses can continue to be leaders in a changing academic world.

Some have suggested modifying the APM to increase its emphasis on Senate service. What do you think of this idea?

I am supportive of a review of Senate service, as well as other contributions to university governance and administration. I would like to see this review include broader questions about whether the full range of faculty activities, including community outreach and teaching, are rewarded appropriately.

How would you describe the condition of shared governance at UC? In your view, what comprises good consultation with the Senate? And how can the Senate best help you in your important work?

One of the most interesting aspects of my job is working with the Academic Senate. I consider it crucial to understand the faculty point of view and to ensure that the faculty and administration hear each other’s concerns. I regularly attend meetings of UCAP, UCAAD, UCFW, and other systemwide Senate committees, as invited. Shared governance operated much differently at Iowa State, but there is almost nowhere like UC with its strong systemwide Senate. That said, it is possible to be isolated at UCOP, so I try to visit campuses as often as possible. I attended two new faculty orientations this fall, which I found to be a great way to connect with faculty and hear what issues concern them. I am hoping to build channels of communication to the faculty and I would be delighted to visit campus Senates. If Senate members let me know what the issues are, I will do what I can to address them.