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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 22, 2024

Faculty Senate hears presentation on faculty compensation, discusses need to improve faculty retention

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Ballou Hall and Goddard Chapel are pictured on Jan. 31.

Tufts administration and faculty are reviewing policies for faculty compensation and promotion, with a focus on hiring and retaining talented faculty members. Mike Howard, the executive vice president of Tufts, and Kim Ryan, vice president for human resources, delivered a presentation on the topic to theUniversity Faculty Senate at its February meeting.

Anne Mahoney, Senate secretary and senior lecturer in classical studies, explained what prompted the Faculty Senate’s discussion of retention in an interview with the Daily.

“We’ve been thinking about [faculty] retention for a long time. It’s hard to keep good faculty. There are so many other places that faculty can go,” Mahoney said. “And for some disciplines, for example, you can make a lot more money in a nonacademic job. Veterinarians, for example, can make much more money — and sometimes with less stress — in private practice than they’re going to make as professors at the veterinary school.” 

The cost of living in Boston has also presented a barrier to faculty hiring and retention, as Ellen Pinderhughes, faculty senator and Eliot-Pearson professor of child study and human development, emphasized at the Faculty Senate meeting. 

The university’s failure to increase faculty’s salaries proportionally with the rise in cost of living “has resulted in pay that … leaves Tufts vulnerable to faculty being — appropriately, through my lens — recruited to other institutions,” Pinderhughes said.

There was little faculty involvement in conversations about hiring and retention prior to the establishment of the Faculty Senate in spring 2017. Faculty members hope to become more involved in setting policies for faculty compensation now that the Faculty Senate exists. 

“The faculty of the university as a whole have only really been able to come together and discuss things in the last five years since we had a senate,” Mahoney said. 

In her presentation to the Senate, Ryan described the goals of the university’s merit-based faculty compensation policy. 

“First and foremost, it’s really to attract and motivate talent,” Ryan told the University Faculty Senate. “And what I mean by that is … that we have a competitive rate [of compensation] … for people to join the university.”

Mahoney acknowledged that the university sometimes struggles to offer competitive salaries to faculty with job prospects in nonacademic fields.

“We don't always have the resources to pay as much as we'd like to and as much as we think we should,” Mahoney said. “We try to stay close to the market, but it can be hard since again, [with] engineering or biology or veterinary medicine or human medicine, the market is so much broader than just what other colleges are doing.”

Ryan explained that at Tufts, decisions about hiring are made at the discretion of the relevant academic department, and decisions about salaries are made by the deans of the individual schools that make up the university

Mahoney said that most universities make hiring decisions at the departmental level because expertise in the relevant discipline is needed to determine which candidate is the most qualified. Tufts is unique in that salary decisions are made by the deans of the individual schools rather than by the central administration.

“Tufts is quite decentralized. Harvard has a similar structure. … But at other schools — the schools where I was a student or where I’ve had instructor jobs — things are much more centralized. The deans are less powerful, and more decisions are made centrally,” Mahoney told the Daily.

Mahoney said that there are advantages to this decentralized approach. 

“Advantages are that decision-making is closer to where things happen,” she explained. “If something needs to be done in [the School of] Arts and Sciences, we don’t have to coordinate with central administration, we don’t have to coordinate with the provost or the vice president for finances or any of that stuff. We just do it. Dean Glaser and his team do what needs to be done.” 

There are also disadvantages of decentralization, though, and Tufts is actively considering a move away from the decentralized model.

“If you’re not careful about it, you end up with a bunch of different schools all running off in different directions, and nobody’s looking at the big picture,”Mahoney said. “When times are good, when there are good returns on the endowment, when enrollments are healthy, [the decentralization] doesn’t matter that much because things just flow along smoothly. In times of crisis, things need to be a bit more centralized.” 

Senate President Jette Knudsen, a professor of policy and international business at The Fletcher School, expressed concern at the February senate meeting that there is little transparency under the decentralized model about how faculty salaries and promotions are determined. Mahoney later elaborated to the Daily that Knudsen has repeatedly received raises without knowing the criteria that determine when and by how much her salary was increased.  

Ryan replied to Knudsen’s concerns.

“There certainly is a gap in faculty expectations … and guidelines for merit increases, compensation, promotion and tenure,” she acknowledged. “This is something that [Vice Provost] Kevin [Dunn] and I are going to tackle in the provost’s office. … Actually, Mike Howard and I have also had a discussion with [University President] Tony [Monaco] about it.” 

Mahoney explained to the Daily how salaries are currently determined: Nontenured faculty such as full-time lecturers generally receive a standardized salary set in their contracts. However, department chairs have discretion to determine tenured professors’ salaries based on the work they publish, their teaching ability, their course enrollment and their collegiality toward colleagues, among other factors. 

Course evaluations play only a small role in salary decisions, Mahoney said, because research indicates that they reflect students’ implicit biases.

“This is not just a Tufts thing; this is universal,” Mahoney said. “Female faculty get comments about how cute and motherly they are. Male faculty get comments about how brilliant they are. And don't even get me started [on] faculty of color, who also tend to get slammed in course evaluations.”

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