LETTER: Justice for the Faculty Association

I am writing in reply to the open letter by Provost Shapiro that explains his perception of the negotiations between the administration and the CMU Faculty Association. I particularly appreciate that he brought a social justice focus to the issue. From my perspective, the administration has been very selective in applying the social justice principle that underlies their position and has applied it to limited criteria that suit their goals.

The position of the administration is that their proposed faculty compensation is appropriate in relation to comparable universities. Indeed, relative comparisons are at the core of many justice principles and the equity norm that has been shown to have a profound impact on fairness perceptions. In a nutshell, the equity principle says that fairness is based on an evaluation of whether individuals’ inputs are proportional to their outcomes; when allocations are not commensurate with inputs they are viewed as unfair.

I believe Dr. Shapiro would agree that this is the foundation of their position. If one identifies universities where the faculty members have comparable jobs requiring similar qualifications, we can presume the inputs of the faculty are roughly equivalent and therefore the compensations and benefits (the outcomes of the work) should also be.

Unfortunately, there are two important ways this application of the justice principle falls short.

First, the largest impact on fairness perceptions and work behavior occur when there is a change in equity for the same individuals over time (i.e., the most relevant comparison for most of us is ourselves). Although Provost Shapiro states that “the university is not proposing any reduction of salary,” this is based on the deficient criterion of base salary and without any consideration given to changes in cost of living. The position submitted to fact-finding included cuts to faculty pay for summer courses, cuts to retirement contributions, reduced amounts for promotions that would come less frequently, and a substantial increase in contributions to health care insurance. The net effect would be that faculty members would make less money in future years and that the money would buy even less due to inflation. The position of the administration is that we should do the same work for less total compensation but then to claim this is fair. Dr. Shapiro is well aware that research shows when outcomes are decreased, people tend to do less work; we can only assume he expects this and is comfortable with it.

Second, the comparison to the other universities that the administration has identified to support the assertion that CMU faculty salaries are currently near the average also fails the same social justice principle. Even if CMU were comparable in total compensation and benefits to these universities, a decrease in the total package will not serve the equity principle as it will reduce outcomes while presuming inputs stay the same. In other words, it will push us below the average of these institutions. Most importantly, none of the other universities have made the cuts proposed by CMU and none of their professors will take home less money than they did the previous year, even those at universities that are in a much worse financial state. Apparently, neither those universities above CMU nor those below in faculty compensation believe it would result in desirable long-term outcomes to have the sort of disgruntled professors this would invariably produce. If CMU is “rock-solid financially”, how is it fair to push faculty pay and benefits toward the bottom of the barrel?

Of course, such comparisons depend heavily upon the reference group chosen. CMU professors’ base salary is lower than the average of other schools in the MAC conference and at doctoral universities across the country. Nationwide, the base salary for CMU professors is 15 percent lower than average, putting us at the 17th percentile of public doctoral universities. It is true that the national sample of doctoral universities include those with higher Carnegie Classifications; however, the salaries of President Ross and Provost Shapiro are only 8 percent below the mean of the same sample. They are not being asked to take cuts to their total compensation package that will result in less take-home pay. Where is the fairness in that comparison?

I would make a final note with regard to justice principles and the contract negotiations. On June 30, the administration chose not to extend the faculty contract for the first time ever. This resulted in faculty members who had earned promotions for their work over the past four to six years being denied any increase, to CMU no longer paying their share of increases in health care costs, and in there being no shared grievance procedures in place. Dr. Shapiro failed to mention this event in his letter, yet it is the principal cause of the conflict and animosity we currently experience on campus; it also violates distributive and procedural justice principles too numerous to detail here. None of the other institutions the administration would compare us to have done this and the outcome of the decision was the job action at the beginning of the semester. Where was the justice in the decision not to extend the contract.

Unless the final agreement includes a flat increase for the current year to those who have lost money for their promotions due to this unprecedented and unnecessary decision, justice will never be served.

Neil D. Christiansen

Professor of Psychology