How well does the University of Pittsburgh pay non-tenure-track faculty? (Updated for 2019–20)

tl;dr: Not well, and with no improvement from last year! The best information we have puts non-tenure-track faculty salaries significantly below those of all our peer institutions.

I teach at Pitt, where as of last year I have tenure. I have also been active since 2014 in the campaign to organize all the faculty at Pitt — across ranks, schools, and campuses — into a union affiliated with the United Steelworkers. Since 2015 I have been a member of Pitt’s Senate Budget Committee (BPC), which receives reports about faculty salaries and other budget-related issues. I am currently the co-chair of that committee, and for the prior two years I served as the committee’s secretary.

This post updates a report I produced last year about non-tenure-stream salaries at Pitt with new data made available in fall 2019. If you’ve read that one, this one is all but identical, just with the numbers updates for this year.

The report from last year was based primarily on data from 2017–18; this post is updated with data for 2018–19. As of this summer, the university’s Institutional Research office has made these reports going back to available to people with a Pitt login in a dedicated Box folder, here. (The other salary reports the BPC receives from Institutional Research, on year-to-year salary increases and mean and median salaries by rank and unit, have also been made available in the same way, and can be found on the BPC website, under Documents, here. Increasing the accessibility of these reports has been a priority for the BPC recently.)

The headline here is that salaries for lecturers, which I argue below are the most relevant category for our purposes, remain at the very bottom of the comparison group, ranked 28th out of 28 peer institutions that report data. (Last year Pitt lecturers were 28th out of 29, but Texas A&M, which was 29th, did not report data for faculty salaries at any rank this year.)

A few notes to start: Pitt uses “tenure-stream” and “non-tenure-stream” (T/TS, NTS) rather than the more common “tenure-track”/”non-tenure-track” (T/TT, NTS), and I’ll follow Pitt’s usage here. (Supposedly Pitt is changing that to “appointment stream” soon, but I don’t think that’s official yet.) This post will only discuss full-time NTS faculty, since that is what we have access to decent salary information about. Part-time NTS faculty (colloquially, “adjuncts”) also have urgent salary concerns, and I’m sorry I can’t speak more directly to those. This post will also focus only on full-time NTS faculty at the Pittsburgh campus, and not at Pitt’s regional campuses in Johnstown, Greensburg, Bradford, and Titusville. I think the numbers we have access to for the regional campuses are less reliable, given the smaller total number of faculty at the four regional campuses, the significantly larger and more diverse benchmarking group Pitt uses to evaluate those salaries, and the significant differences in the regional labor markets where the four regional campuses are located. For those reasons I don’t feel as confident making strong and accurate claims about those salaries, and my goal in this post is to try to be a clear and accurate as possible.

Longstanding salary targets

The question “How well does the University of Pittsburgh pay non-tenure-track faculty?” takes on a specific institutional form within the university. Of course we can accept or reject the validity of the university’s framing, but it is a place to start. Pitt’s longstanding official policy for evaluating faculty salaries at the Pittsburgh campus reads:

To assure competitiveness in attracting and retaining qualified and productive faculty, the University has set a goal of ensuring that average faculty salaries at the Pittsburgh campus are at or above the median (for each rank) of AAU universities

The Association of American Universities (AAU) is an organization of 62 universities in the United States and Canada whose members define themselves as “leading research-intensive universities.” Although Pitt’s written policy identifies all 62 AAU members as the comparison group, in practice there is an informal agreement among all participants (to my knowledge) that the more appropriate benchmarking group is the 34 AAU institutions who are also public universities in the United States. Public universities generally pay less than privates, so excluding privates from the comparison group improves the relative standing of Pitt’s salaries. Private research universities compete for faculty with public research universities like Pitt, and given that the policy is written to prioritize market considerations (“attracting and retaining” faculty), it would be equally reasonable to use the full AAU comparison group. But the AAU publics are a reasonable comparison group, and that’s what I’ll refer to here. Pitt provides reports using both comparison groups, but in practice everyone involved treats the AAU publics as the relevant benchmark. So the salary target that Pitt officially holds itself to in practice is that average faculty salaries at the Pittsburgh campus should be at or above the median (for each rank) of AAU public universities.

To evaluate whether salaries are meeting this goal, every year the university produces a report comparing salaries of Pitt faculty by rank with the salaries of the benchmarking group. To produce this report Pitt’s Office of Institutional Research uses data about faculty salaries at the AAU member institutions collected as part of the AAUP’s Faculty Compensation Survey. (Inside Higher Ed makes the AAUP data available as a user-friendly searchable database here.) The most recent report is available to people with a Pitt login here and is based on 2018–19 faculty salaries, and was written up by the University Times here. In general we get information about salaries from the previous year.

The primary function of these reports is to assess whether the university is meeting its official salary target. The university produces other salary reports for other purposes. For example as part of their reporting requirements to the state they produce a report of mean and median salaries for faculty and staff by rank and unit. They also produce reports analyzing salary increases for staff and faculty cohorts over 15 years (there is a more recent 15-year cohort report from 2018, but I’m not sure it’s available anywhere online). There is also a report on faculty salaries adjusted for cost-of-living. The point of the peer group salary report is to determine if our salaries are meeting our goals according to the standards that are set out in written policies and widely agreed upon through a longstanding iterative shared governance process. Which is to say, in the context of shared governance at Pitt, if you are asking “how well are faculty paid?” this is the report that answers that question using agreed-upon standards and data.

Pitt faculty salaries compared to peers, by rank

The peer analysis report organizes its results by rank: full professor, associate professor, assistant professor, lecturer, and instructor. For 2018–19 the report found that full professors’ salaries at Pitt were 16th of 33 institutions that report data, or just above the median of the comparison group of public AAU institutions, which meets the policy target. (I’m posting screen grab images of the tables, but these are all taken from the machine readable PDF report available on Box.)

Associate professors’ salaries were 21st of 33, below the median but up two positions from the year before. Pitt associate professor salaries overtook Michigan State and Penn State. PSU dropped from 14th to 24th, I think as a result of reclassifying hundreds of lecturers as “teaching professors” (paywall). In 2017–18 PSU reported 517 lecturers, to only 210 in 2018–19, and at the same time went from 550 to 693 associate professors, which almost certainly reflects a large new influx of non-tenure-track professors, which appears to have brought their average salaries down by almost 5%.

Assistant professors’ salaries were 25th of 33, well below the median but up two positions from the year before. (There is a lot of noise with assistant professors, who are grouped more closely. PSU dropped 14 positions while adding over 300 assistant professors, like with their associates. Pitt also overtook Florida and Rutgers and lost ground to Oregon and Iowa State, while Texas A&M didn’t report. All of which is to say there’s a lot of noise here.)

Instructor salaries were 15th of only 20 institutions that report data for this category:

And lecturer salaries are at the bottom of the comparison group (28th of 28 AAU publics who report information for this rank):

What do these ranks actually mean?

If we’re reading this report to learn about NTS salaries, I think our best bet is to focus on lecturers. Like the other categories lecturer is not a perfectly defined title, but at most of these institutions it is a teaching-oriented position that is not eligible for tenure, which is what it is in almost all cases at Pitt as well. The AAUP survey defines lecturer as:

the unduplicated combined total of “Primarily Instructional” and “Instructional/Research/Public Service,” excluding clinical or basic science faculty, medical faculty in schools of medicine, and military faculty, regardless of whether they are formally designated as“faculty” who have titles such as “lecturer” or “visiting lecturer.”

Basically: primarily instructional employees with lecturer titles. Some institutions don’t report lecturers, and may classify faculty with similar roles with different titles. But I think it is unlikely that any institution is reporting salaries for faculty in this category that don’t broadly fit within “non-tenure-track faculty with teaching-focused positions.”

All of the other categories include both tenured/tenure-stream and non-tenure-stream faculty at Pitt, though we don’t have a breakdown of how many T/TS and NTS faculty are in each. Of the “professor” ranks, assistant professor include the largest proportion of NTS faculty, because Pitt employs many people as research assistant professors, clinical assistant professors, and in similar untenurable assistant professor positions. Pitt has only recently begun to implement promotion tracks for NTS faculty, but until very recently many or most NTS assistant professors had no path to promotion, so people would remain in that title for a long time. NTS full and associate professor positions are less common, though they are not wholly uncommon especially in the health sciences schools, and their numbers may increase in the future as NTS assistant professors move through new promotion tracks.

From Pitt’s Fact Book, we can determine that in 2018–19 about 43 percent of faculty with “professor” ranks (assistant, associate, full) outside the School of Medicine were NTS. On page 85 (“FULL-TIME FACULTY BY SCHOOL AND ACADEMIC RANK”) we can see there were 428 Instructors and Lecturers outside the School of Medicine (563 total minus 135 from SoM). (As I discuss below, some instructors may be in an unusual position on the tenure track, but I think this is an extremely small number.) On page 88 (“FULL-TIME FACULTY BY SCHOOL AND TENURE STATUS”) there are 1194 NTS faculty outside the School of Medicine (2979 total, minus 1785 in the SoM). Subtracting 428 from 1194 gives us 766 NTS faculty with “professor” ranks (all the NTS faculty excluding those with Instructor or Lecturer titles leaves only have assistant, associate, or full professor titles). There are 1779 total faculty with “professor” ranks outside the School of Medicine, so those 766 NTS “professor” faculty represent 43 percent of the total. I don’t think it’s possible to break that down further between assistant, associate, and full professor ranks, but for reference there are 531 non-SoM full professors, 538 non-SoM associate professors, and 710 non-SoM assisant professors. It’s a reasonable guess that half, and possibly a lot more than half, of the non-tenure-stream faculty with professor titles are assistant professors, which suggests that assistant professor is very probably a majority NTS rank.

Whether the presence of large numbers of NTS assistant professors increases average assistant professor salaries because the group includes many people with several years in rank, or decreases the average number because NTS salaries are usually lower than T/TS salaries is something we don’t have any data to evaluate.

Instructor is a complicated and unreliable category. My understanding is that at Pitt it is a title primarily used for faculty without terminal degrees in teaching-oriented positions (though faculty with other titles may also not have terminal degrees). It is also sometimes considered a tenure-stream rank, and according to a comment in the minutes of this Budget Policies Committee meeting, “most of the time, instructors at Pitt are tenure stream hires who have not yet finished their dissertation.” (I think this is unlikely — in 2017–18 humanities instructors averaged $37,840, which doesn’t look like a starting tenure-stream salary.) My understanding is that in general instructor is a poorly defined title across US higher ed. Adding to these challenges, for 2017–18 the AAUP changed how it defines the instructor category and now asks institutions to report all faculty with “visiting” titles as part of this group (except visiting lecturers, who remain in the lecturer category). That includes visiting professor, visiting associate professor, and visiting assistant professor. The average salaries for instructors increased by 23% from 2016–17 to 2017–18, which is clearly the outcome of packing in all of these visiting positions. (This is reflected in table 8 of the 2017–18 peer analysis report, which shows that the average individual increase for people in the instructor category was only 3.9 percent, nowhere near 23 percent.) Lumping visiting professors in with instructors does seem to make this category a pretty useless catchall, and it is too bad that the AAUP decided to change their survey instructions.

So, how well does Pitt pay NTS faculty?

Well, the most secure answer is that last year the group that is most clearly composed of NTS faculty was paid worse than similar faculty at every one of our peer institutions. Which is to say, very poorly.

And this has not changed in seven years — as long as Pitt has been tracking this information:

Those links go to University Times stories, which originally linked to the reports themselves, but those links are broken. A couple are available via archive.org. I have posted the PDFs for the others to my pitt.edu filespace. I don’t believe there is any issue there, since they were originally shared publicly through the University Times, which is how I got them, and now they’re available on that Box folder for Pitt-affiliated people. Pitt only started reporting on salaries for lecturers and instructors in that 2012–13 report.

The other two categories that include substantial numbers of NTS faculty, assistant professors and instructors, are also poorly paid relative to the comparison group, and significantly undershoot median-of-AAU-publics policy target. But these are harder to interpret. The instructor category is just too messy to be meaningful. And even if assistant professors are majority non-tenure-stream at Pitt, that proportion likely varies significantly from school to school, and there are probably big discrepancies between TS and NTS assistant professor salaries, so the average salary will end up obscuring a lot, and it’s not clear what’s being compared from school to school. Additionally, assistant professor salaries are pretty closely bunched within the peer group: Pitt assistant professor salaries, despite being ranked 25th out of 33 peers, are about 95 percent of the median of the comparison group. By contrast, lecturer salaries are only 80 percent of the median in their group.

It might be more clear just to say that Pitt pays faculty at lower ranks poorly across the board. Lecturer, instructor, and assistant professor salaries are all consistently very low in their comparison groups, while associate professor salaries are consistently moderately better, and full professor salaries are the only group to actually meet the university’s own targets.

Other measures

It has been suggested to me that there are other ways to interpret these data that might give a more optimistic picture, and that focusing on these numbers is wrong somehow. I think that is wrongheaded, especially since there is longstanding institutional agreement about what it means to ask this question, which only allows one interpretation (you either meet the goal or you don’t, and by how much). But I’ll explore some other approaches to these questions in what follows.

The university also produces a report analyzing faculty salaries adjusted for cost of living variations by region. Pittsburgh’s cost of living is right at the median of the cities where AAU publics are located. That means our salaries are worth more than if we lived in very high cost areas (Seattle, the Bay Area), but less than if we lived in lower cost areas (Indiana). Really the distribution is less smooth than that, and the bottom two-thirds are all very close, while the top ten regions are significantly more expensive.

Pitt faculty salaries do improve relative to other AAU publics when adjusted for cost of living.

  • Full professors improve from 16th to 14th.
  • Associate professors improve from 21st to 15th.
  • Assistant professors improve from 25th to 20th.
  • Lecturers and instructors (treated as a single group in this report) improve from 31th to 25th.

I’m not sure why this report groups lecturers and instructors together. It reports lecturer and instructor salary data for 31 AAU publics when only 28 AAU publics report lecturer salaries and only 20 report instructor salaries in the regular peer analysis report. (Only Texas A&M, Michigan State, and the University of Missouri-Columbia don’t report both lecturer and instructor salaries, so this combines 11 schools that only report for lecturers and 3 schools only report instructors.) Oddly, the improvements from 2017–18 in unadjusted salary rankings for associate and assistant professors are not reflected in the adjusted rankings — associate professors remained at 15th in the adjusted ranking, and assistant professors dropped from 15th in 2017–17 to 20th in 2018–19. For assistant professors I think that’s mostly because they are in a tightly bunched group, so small changes have a relatively large effect.

It is fair to say that Pittsburgh’s reasonable cost of living improves the value of faculty salaries relative to our peers in high cost regions. It is also clear that salaries for NTS faculty remain low even when adjusted. For shared governance purposes at Pitt it is important that the official policy remains the unadjusted numbers, and this is publicly reiterated frequently by administrators (eg).

Lecturers and instructors are 61percent women. Full professors are 28 percent women. We’ve already established that full professors are paid well, or at least adequately, while lecturers and instructors are paid poorly using the university’s own criteria. This is a significant issue for gender equity among faculty at Pitt. That linked story reports that women’s salaries are within 5 to 11 percent of the salaries of men at the same rank. But it also says that among all faculty the ratio of women’s salaries to men’s salaries is only 77 percent. So the gender equity problem at Pitt, from a financial perspective, is at least somewhat less that individual women are being systematically discriminated against compared to their same-rank male peers, than that the university as a whole is employing disproportionate numbers of women in low-paid mostly untenurable positions that have significantly less job security, lower status within the university, and no path to move into ranks that might allow them to be paid better.

This seems crushingly unjust and intolerable to me and I don’t understand why people think it is enough that the handful of women full professors make close to what male full professors make.

It has been suggested to me that it is dishonest to describe this situation without also acknowledging other progress that has been made in NTS faculty salaries. This is confusing to me because, as I think I just demonstrated at length, there has not been any progress in NTS faculty salaries since 2012–13, using criteria set by the university. But are there other ways we could evaluate NTS faculty salaries that would show more progress?

One colleague on twitter says “faculty at the lower end of the pay scale have receive higher raises in recent years.” This is true in a few instances, but appears to have had little or no impact. In 2015–16 and 2016–17 the annual salary pools included special funds targeted at faculty and staff with the lowest salaries. Specifically, the salary pool for 2016–17 included “an additional 0.5 percent for employees with satisfactory performance who make $45,000 or less,” which repeated a program from the year before. Many non-tenure-stream faculty would be included among those making less than $45,000. (For example the 2016–17 mean and median salaries report says the median salary for humanities lecturers was $47,643, while the average salary was $46,278, which suggests quite a few people below $45,000 pulling the average down.) This year’s salary increase (2019–20) included an extra .5% increase in the salary pool for employees earning less than $47,638.

These increases are only applied to the pool of salaries below the threshold (not an extra half a percent of the entire salary pool distributed only to people below the threshold). As the University Times noted, this as a small increase for individual faculty and staff members: “That extra 0.5 percent provides up to an additional $225 per year for employees at the lower end of the salary scale. At the $45,000 threshold, a 1 percent increase equals $450 per year.”

We do get information about the size of salary increases for individual faculty and staff, so while we can’t see how much of an impact those targeted salary pools would have made, we may be able to see evidence of it in this report. (Unfortunately I can’t find a report for 2016–17 that covers the second year of targeted increases. I have the reports for 2015–16 and 2017–18. The 2017–18 report was delivered to the Budget Policies Committee in March 2018, and the 2015–16 report was delivered the year before in December 2016, which I think means that there must not have been a continuing faculty salary increases report prepared for 2016–17.)

The 2015–16 report includes the first year of targeted salary pool increases for low-paid faculty and staff. I have a paper copy of this report, which on page 28 shows the pay increases that year for full-time continuing faculty across the university, excluding the School of Medicine:

If faculty below $45,000 received a targeted pay raise this year, it really doesn’t jump out here.

I can’t find a publicly available copy of the most recent 2017–18 report, so I’m posting my copy here, because previous such reports have been made available through the University Times, and I think they just happened not to write about it that year. Page 28 again shows the pay increases from the year before for full-time continuing faculty across the university, excluding the School of Medicine:

Salary increases for the lowest paid faculty do not stand out as especially high here. The $45,001–$50,000 group is getting higher raises than most — about the same as people making $100,001–$120,000. (We don’t have the salary increase report for 2019–20 so we can’t see the impact of this year’s targeted increase.)

So I’m not sure that these reports bear out claims of higher raises for lower-paid faculty.

Another approach is to ask whether faculty salaries have actually increased meaningfully over their careers. According to a cohort analysis of faculty who were employed here in both 2002–03 and 2017–18 (either continuously or having left and returned), 67 people were instructors or lecturers in both 2002–03 and 2017–18. Among those, the salaries of 97% exceeded the annual salary pool “maintenance” components. The salaries of 93% increased more than inflation (CPI). The salaries of 90% exceeded the total salary pools (maintenance plus merit/market/equity). 82% exceeded the total salary pool plus academic initiatives funding. (I can’t find an online version of this report, and I don’t think is normally distributed publicly so I won’t post it here.) That is an improvement over the cohort analysis of faculty employed in 1999–2000 and 2014–15. I’m not totally sure what we can say about this, but it seems fair to say that more NTS faculty employed in 2003 and again in 2018 had salaries that kept up with or exceeded various indexes than those employed in 2000 and again in 2015.

You can also see how much faculty at each rank in each unit make, if you want to evaluate whether those salaries are good according to your own standards, using the Mean and Median Salaries of Full-Time Employees report. Despite being a public institution, the University of Pittsburgh does not make more fine-grained salary information available, the way that our aspirational peers at public universities with higher-paid faculty like the University of Michigan or the University of California do.

What would it take to pay NTS faculty well?

This is not really a hard question. The University of Pittsburgh defines “well” as “at or above the median of AAU publics for that rank.” In 2018–19, the salary for lecturers at SUNY-Stony Brook, the 15th ranked AAU public university (of 28 reporting), was $67,700. The average salary for lecturers at Pitt was $54,700. So in 2018–19 we would have needed to be paying lecturers $13,000 more on average to catch up with Stony Brook. For 251 lecturers identified in this report, that would have cost about $3.2 million. In 2018–19 Pitt’s operating budget was $2.3 billion, and Pitt budgeted a little over $1 billion for salaries and wages.

So last year an increase of a little more than one tenth of one percent of the overall budget, or about three tenths of one percent of total salaries and wages, would have brought lecturers’ salaries up to the target. I don’t want to be glib here: of course $3 million is not just laying around, even in a $2 billion budget. And we’d also need to catch up to salary targets for assistant professors and instructors. That would be about $3 million for assistant professors and only $250,000 for instructors (that is, taking the difference between the Pitt salary and the median salary and multiplying it by the reported number of workers at that rank), so say another $4 million total. Which means $7 million would have gotten us to the target for all three categories in 2019–20. That’s .7 percent of total salaries and wages, or .3 percent of the overall operating budget. Increasing total salaries and wages by one percent would be more than enough to have brought all instructors, lecturers, and assistant professors up to the target in 2018–19. It would cost more to do it this year, and more again next year, as peer institutions increase their salaries too, but this gives a sense of the scale. This year Pitt’s administration figured out how to pay for a new scholarship program that will cost $25 million in the first year and $40 million dollars year after year. That’s a salutary goal, and it shows that when they put their minds to it, Pitt’s leadership is able to fund expensive priorities. Again, $10 million isn’t just laying around, but if the top leadership at Pitt treated NTS faculty salaries as a priority, it is clear that they could find the resources in a $2 billion budget to pay for it.

I teach at the University of Pittsburgh tylerbickford.com

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