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When Everyone Knows How Much You Make

In my first teaching position, the local newspaper printed all faculty salaries each October as a way to generate “transparency and accountability” for those of us who were on the public payroll. I was startled to see my name on the list the first time, and I have to say that it was not my favorite issue of the local fishwrap. I was less than thrilled to know that all of my friends knew what I made.

Nowadays this information is available on the Internet for many if not most public institutions. Sometimes the information is hard to come by, but often it is not. In my state, Tennessee, for example, the Board of Regents uploads all salaries into a searchable database each year. The flagship university’s salaries are available on the local newspaper’s site. My sense is that these figures often include only base pay and do not include overloads, stipends, or other additional compensation.

For job seekers, this is a gold mine of information, as it helps to know what reasonable expectations for pay might be. For search committees, it is possible to see if a proposed pay offer is in the ballpark or needs to be enhanced. For administrators, it’s a handy way to investigate pay equity.

The downside of these charts, however, can be conflict and competition. When I was a doctoral student, I was shocked by what I saw as inequities between favorite professors. As a junior faculty member, I noted what I perceived to be inequities between disciplines or even genders. I even heard of one academic department where two top scholars’ pay apparently alternated back and forth by $1 every year.

Very few private institutions release full salary information; for top earners, copies of IRS Form 990 are available on sites such as www.guidestar.org and include a few salaries, and The Chronicle compiles annual data on the compensation received by private colleges’ chief executives, but most institutions guard other salaries.

Have you ever used salary databases in your job search or in developing a pitch for a raise? Are you a fan of full salary transparency?

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