Starting the conversation

Heather Bryant / Editor-in-Chief
July 1, 2011

Recently, I requested salary information for all employees of UAF including rural campuses. The information the Sun Star will receive includes:

  • Employee name
  • Position
  • Salary
  • Department and/or campus
  • Longevity
  • Contract duration (9-month, 10-month, etc)
  • Part-time or full-time status

The Sun Star will publish this information in a searchable database. I hope to have it online by the end of August. However, there are many influencing factors.

Following the information release announcement, many people questioned why we are doing this. The short answer is that the University of Alaska system has increased tuition on a regular basis over the past few years. Budgets are getting tighter and money is getting harder to come by. Many factors contribute to University costs. However, at UAF personnel costs represent approximately 60 percent of the budget according to Marmian Grimes, the UAF public information officer. With today’s economic climate, it is important to ensure transparency in how the University of Alaska spends the money it receives. A salary database allows both students and the public to see how their tuition and tax dollars are utilized.

Other projects such as this have yielded fascinating insights into their universities. Stories that can come from a project such as this include looking at pay differences between genders, comparing the number of adjunct faculty versus associate or full professors. With budget shortfalls many departments have had to let people go or make other cutbacks, how much are departments paying for salaries? These are just a few of the many uses that will result from the project. Ultimately, this database is a tool that will help us better understand how the university uses its resources. It will add a layer of accountability to the way the university functions.

All information to be published is already publicly available. We are simply creating a mechanism for easier access and understanding. This project is not unique. There are currently 43 similar databases covering universities in 15 states. These databases are managed by both student and community newspapers.

Database reporting has been one of the most important recent developments in journalism. Many outlets, such as the award-winning nonprofit ProPublica, both report news and make their sources and hard data available for readers to see for themselves. This is an important evolution in the way journalists inform the public, because the public now has the information in their own hands.

A number of questions about the project have been related to the publishing of the database. There are questions about why we are publishing the database instead of just reporting on the data.

The Sun Star will be writing stories based on the data the information release contains. We will create graphics to help interpret the data and to make it more understandable. That is our responsibility. However, with the data itself public, we hope to create a discussion with you.

The Sun Star could have requested the salary information, determined what was newsworthy and published stories accordingly. However, that is a very limiting direction to take. I decided to publish a searchable salary database, because I believe journalism isn’t an enterprise to be carried out behind closed doors. Doing so is both hypocritical and short-sighted. As a reporter, it’s my job to add transparency to activities and entities that affect the public. As an editor, it’s my job to give transparency to how we report on those things.

Historically, journalism is made up of reporters gathering information, realizing the impact on the public and writing stories informing the public. Journalists are tasked with finding out things that the public needs to know. This is done so people can form opinions and take action accordingly. However, that process requires a large assumption. It assumes that the journalist will always see the story or all the stories, and that they will recognize it from a variety of perspectives. It assumes that a single person can do what in reality requires a diverse group.

Journalism should not be a one-way street. We report. You are informed. The end. I would much rather see a dialogue occur where you can participate. For you to participate in any effective or meaningful way, the information must available.

When the database goes online, we encourage you to use it. If you see something you have questions about, let us know so we can follow up on it.

I welcome questions and discussion. Please feel free to post any questions or comments you have below. Also, we have started a Facebook discussion on our page. Even though the information hasn’t been published yet, I look forward to starting the conversation with you.

If you have any questions, please contact me. You can reach me at (907) 474-5078 or send me an email at editor@uafsunstar.com.

Heather Bryant
UAF Sun Star Editor

 

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24 Responses

  1. Jennifer Chambers says:

    I read some of the comments on Facebook and am curious if student employees will appear on this list. I would also like to know if there is a plan in place to ensure that the database is updated regularly to ensure accurate information is delivered.

  2. Heather Bryant says:

    Student employees will not be included in the database, nor are we receiving any information on student employees. We also plan to update the database on a yearly basis.

  3. John P. Mitchell says:

    How will the Sun Star manage the traditional employee/salary/placement alignment issues that arise from direct unfiltered access to such employment/compensation data? Commentary from responsible reporting around the data will help to inform folks trying to interpret the data in a way that is meaningful and in context. Without that commentary many people will surely interpret the data in ways that is not appropriate which will cause problems for the Sun Star as well as the employees and employers involved.

    If direct access to the data is available without commentary might it not make sense to in some ways aggregate the data or make some of the data anonymouse to some degree?

  4. Leah says:

    Some departments on campus don’t receive general fund money & are self supporting, mine is one. Seeing as your reasons for wanting this information do not apply to these departments, I am curious as to why you are posting all indiscriminately. As one of the ‘small fry’ I already find the situation odd. We basic staff don’t really get raises anymore, its others (often higher up), that do.

  5. Heather Leavengood says:

    It would be nice if the UA Statewide jobs (including all campuses and statewide positions) would be included in this database for comparison sakes. Is that possible, and if not, why not? Especially the statewide jobs, as they are located here in Fairbanks. Thank you for your time.

  6. Editor-in-Chief says:

    We do hope to eventually expand the database to include the other campuses and statewide offices. We felt it would be best to start small and expand then to try and do everything at once.

  7. Melody Sayles says:

    Will the database be on the web and cross referenced by Google? If an employee has a violent ex-spouse, how will the employee’s privacy/safety be handled?

  8. Jordan says:

    Melody, are you under the impression addresses will be published? I believe it’s just salary information. From what I understand, all of the information that will be published is available to the public. It wasn’t private information in the first place.

  9. Alex says:

    Jordan,

    Melody brings up a valid issue, in that there are situations where limiting information – even public information – has been done for an individual’s protection. We have employees who are stalking victims, for example, who have asked to have information about them limited for there own protection. While the data is public, mechanisms for employees to limit that data should be available. Allowing someone to hide their name would still provide the pertinent data, while protecting the employee.

  10. Jordan says:

    While I agree that even limited information can facilitate a stalker in finding someone, I think salary information is the least invasive and least pertinent piece of information you could possibly use to track someone down. If anyone is worried about being found by a “stalker”, having their salary information released is the least of their worries.

    Allowing someone to hide their name defeats the purpose of the database. I hope the Sun Star publishes this salary database as soon as possible, considering the hockey coach just signed a new contract, and I’m curious to see if he gets paid more than my engineering professors.

  11. Lisa says:

    Please include the degree held by the person. There are many people who are in managerial and teaching position on campus who do not hold an advanced degree in the field in which they managing/teaching; and they make a lot more money than faculty who do have the degree, knowledge, and skill to get the job done.

  12. Kim says:

    I think the SunStar should have started with Statewide. That’s where the waste is.

    Plus, I believe Heather is “barking up the wrong tree,” as it were, in thinking that salaries are the source of budgetary waste. Statewide departments have an overabundance of money that is not being used in a manner that it is directly beneficial to students.

  13. Amanda says:

    I also do not see a benefit to linking names to salary information. I also do not see how that will have any impact on how useful that salary information is. I have been a victim of domestic violence and I feel that for people like myself making that information more accessible could be very damaging or even deadly. I strongly suggest that the Sun Star reconsider including employees names. I know it is their “right” to do so but that does not make it the “right” thing to do.

  14. Chris Lott says:

    “Despite” working for a UAF entity that is self-supporting, I applaud this effort as a start in the right direction. Improved access to public information is, by definition, a good thing (the argument about whether such information should have been deemed public in the first place is a different thing altogether); intentional obscurity hampers effective discussion and change.

    Fears of stalking and release of private information (or “peering into personal finances”) are likewise, by definition, irrelevant, as this information is *public* information that is already available to anyone who seeks it… the systemic difficulty in doing so isn’t a feature of security but of institutional confusion. If one doesn’t wish to have such information shared about themselves, then they should not be working in the public sector.

    If people desire to see further information shared, such as academic degrees (though in my experience that has little to do with ability or performance), then they should lobby to make get that information deemed public and then it can be included as well.

    Conversations about the University–many of which are rife with myth and often mis-informed guessing–are already happening. Making this public information accessible allows for at least the possibility of better-informed conversation about an area that represents a very significant part of the cost of university operations.

    In addition to data-driven reporting being an important part of contemporary journalism (and this information is a source for just that activity), increased access to information for the public is an important part of the contemporary landscape in which we operate. I hope the Sun Star will use this information to provide critique and commentary but, just as importantly, it provides a source for *we* (the people, etc) to create those conversations ourselves without unnecessary impediments, whether those have been unintentional or not.

    Bravo, Heather.

  15. JB says:

    “As a reporter, it’s my job to add transparency to activities and entities that affect the public. As an editor, it’s my job to give transparency to how we report on those things.” — How is this good journalism? What is the purpose of doing this and what is the end goal of it? You did not make a real statement as to why making each person name and salary known to the public serves the common good. I cannot believe this is what our tuition dollars go too when it comes to the Sun Star!

    Where is the article about how the U sweeps problem supervisors under the rug, while losing valuable staff !? OR how poor employees are retained, or how a supervisor from personal reasons chose not to retain an employee. How staff do NOT have a true recourse of protecting themselves from manipulative and vindictive management? Where is that article that would reveal the dark secrets of ‘Horrible Bosses” at UAF? THAT would be something valuable and improve staff morale! The direction this is going in will create poor work environments for multiple reasons.

    It is one thing to print positions currently held and salary…let the person who really want to know who is in that job go through EDIR.

  16. Josie says:

    Lisa – In my experience there are MANY people who hold advanced degrees that have little to no interpersonal skills, yet they manage the people working at the U. The ‘manged’ do not respect superiority complexes that may come hand in hand with extra letters after your name.

    It would be interesting to compare supervisory level, level of education, and staff morale. Do advanced degree managers lead to high staff morale and less turnover – thus less money spent continually rehiring staff.

  17. Editor-in-Chief says:

    Thank you for your questions and comments regarding the salary database. We will be publishing an editorial this Friday to address new questions and concerns that you have brought to us. As always feel free to post any questions or comments you have or email them to editor@uafsunstar.com.

  18. Andrew Sheeler says:

    JB – Where are those articles of which you speak? That’s a great question. As a reporter, and former editor, for the Sun Star I can tell you that we simply cannot be in all places at all times. Sad to say, even for a relatively small community like UAF there are things we miss.

    If you know of illicit doings, or have a story about wrongful behavior by management at UAF then I strongly encourage you to email the editor and let her know. We can’t be everywhere, but with concerned members of the UAF community helping out we can do much more.

  19. Erin says:

    Has there been any consideration as to the potential strife this will cause in the UAF community? I understand that you would like to make information available to the public, but did anyone consider what this might do to the relationships that exist between people who work in the same department? It hardly seems fair to gather this data and give it to the public and potentially ruin working relationships. In departments that already have a great deal of interal strife, this seems like it would only add gasoline to the fires.

  20. Britton says:

    Jordan,

    With regards to the hockey coach’s new contract, I would be surprised if he didn’t make more. Which is fair. The average salary for a division I NCAA hockey coach is $160,000/year. Some make upwards of $300K a year, some make around the $100K mark. Given the adjusted COLA for Alaska, I would hope Dallas’ new contract puts him at around $150-175K/year. I believe the first contract he entered was in the 120K range.

  21. Karen Jensen says:

    The Sun Star has opted to report only one piece of information about UAF employees, which tells so little of the story, although it’s the most attention-getting. There may or may not be pay equity, but how will we know whether pay is or isn’t equitable solely by knowing the salaries of other employees, without considering academic qualifications, ability, performance, seniority, and the idiosyncrasies of the boss – good or bad? Knowing that someone makes six figures doesn’t tell you whether or not he/she earns it, unless you know more of the context, as Mitchell emphasizes, and context won’t be provided in this limited database. The figures will now be more easily accessible by those with seemingly insufficient work to keep them busy, and may result in more envy, resentment, griping, and difficult work relationships. Nothing really to be done about that; it already happens anyway by those afraid to ask for a raise.

    What would really be interesting to see in the Sun Star, IMO, would be articles about what UAF employees really *do.* Pick a few employees to interview – what do they do every day to earn that salary? I don’t mean a justification of amount really, but a thorough article leading to greater understanding; why do we need a VP of this or that? What is the role of this person in the institution? What do they accomplish and how does that make UAF more effective? I think most productive employees would be glad to tell their work story. Such writing might even encourage UAF students to consider careers they didn’t know existed.

  22. Chanda Meek says:

    I add my name to those who protest this project as potentially divisive and of limited value in making UAF a better place to study and work. It may be interesting for some to have more direct access to salary information, but there is no valid public interest in publishing names attached to the salary database. It will only create jealousy or rivalries within departments and across campus.

    Additionally, several committees on campus do a good job in looking at equity in salaries across campus and by gender. The student government could suggest a new committee with a broader mandate if they are unsatisfied by existing ones.

    If this project goes ahead, I would suggest the Sun Star follow the lead of the Chronicle of Higher Education (link below) to develop a set of databases that create useful information (without names) that help interpret salary data. In this way, journalists can make a contribution to understanding questions that are more universal than “who got what where?”

    http://chronicle.com/section/Faculty-Data/133/

  23. UAFstudent says:

    Jealousy and rivalries? Sounds childish.

    The editor stated that she didn’t want journalism to be a one-way street. Chronicle of Higher education is a bunch of filtered statistics that are objective in their nature and encompass a broad demographic from around the nation. UAF is a small community so a similar format would not provide useful information. Open access to raw data will be much more conductive to analysis and further input.

    Plus, we’re curious now.

  24. UAFprof says:

    Dear Heather,
    I strongly urge you not to include names with salary information.
    This is a huge invasion of my privacy. My salary is between me and my employer.
    It is nobody else’s business.
    I realize you are concerned that some profs earn too much, and this is increasing tuition.
    Frankly, my desire for privacy is that I know my salary is far below others in my department.
    In fact I earn less than the minimum allowable salary for postdocs, who have far fewer job responsibilities than I, including postdocs that I have hired.
    This is not the public’s business. It is my private business.
    If people want to know how much uaf profs make, it’s not necessary to publish names along side salaries.
    Just because a student is curious about the salary of a particular professor doesn’t make it their right to invade that professor’s privacy.

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