Reexamining the salary database
Elika Roohi/Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
December 4, 2012
The Sun Star salary database project was started in May 2011. It launched on The Sun Star website at the end of December 2011. It’s a noble project, but I’m not sure it’s working.
Student organizations are interesting because the leadership changes yearly. Sometimes there’s a lot of overlap between a Sun Star editor, an ASUAF president, a KSUA general manager and their successor and sometimes there’s none at all.
Because of this lack of consistent leadership, big projects are hard to sustain from year to year, most of the time. The salary database may be one of those projects.
The database requires that
The Sun Star have someone around that understands the way that the database works. It requires that we get the information for the database into certain formats and understand the coding behind it. Basically, it’s complicated and there needs to be someone around that can always understand it. That’s a lot to ask.
The salary database was created to disperse information. All the information in the salary database is public information, and
The Sun Star’s goal was to make that information accessible to the public. The former Editor-in-Chief Heather Bryant said “all knowledge is worth having,” and true to her convictions, she created the salary database from scratch and made it public.
When the database was launched it created some stir There were angry letters, appreciative emails and a lot of traffic to the website. It’s a project that got noticed, and one that I’ve seen linked to and used in a few ways since I’ve taken over the paper.
But the way I’ve most seen it used is basically a party trick. Students dislike a professor and they want to see how much they make for the work that student doesn’t appreciate.
A journalist’s job is to interpret data. The database itself is a data dump. We can see how much Chancellor Brian Rogers’ salary is, but we don’t have any context to it. For example, Rogers matches the total amount taken in from the sustainability fee each semester from his personal funds. We don’t get that from a flat number. We just see a six figure salary and feel disgruntled for being accused of living extravagantly by UA President Pat Gamble while we struggle to pay for textbooks.
The database provides important information. It should be available and accessible to those who want to know. It should be easy for curious citizens to compare salaries of male and female professors of the same rank. Having access to information is the foundation for a well-functioning and honest community.
But is it the Sun Star’s job to provide that service? It took me a semester to finally pull together an effort to update the database. I solicited help from others outside the Sun Star that had the skill set to do the work, and I’m not sure a future editor will have those same connections.
The way I see it, as a newspaper we are here to interpret the database not provide it.
For now, the database is updated with the most current information available. The bugs that prevented certain searches in the database last year are gone, and for another semester, at least, it’s there to peruse when you get out of a particularly worthless class.
Correction 12/4: I said Chancellor Rogers’ matches the Sustainability Fee with his personal funds. He actually does it from institutional funds that he controls. However, Rogers says that he makes regular personal contributions to the university, primarily to a scholarship program aimed at financially needy juniors and seniors.