The salary project

Heather Bryant / Editor-in -Chief
July 17, 2011

As I stated in my previous editorial, the Sun Star recently requested salary information for all employees of UAF, including rural campuses. We will use the information to create a searchable database, write articles and create infographics that help our readers understand what the information shows us about our campus and its employees.

The database is a research tool, only a component of our coverage. We can’t assume and guess what stories will develop during this project because we will be following where the data leads. I can assure readers we are approaching this with an open mind.

One example of a story already developing through this project is how our university is funded. I received an email from someone wanting to know “what tax dollars go ‘directly’ to the university.” I can tell you from the Proposed FY12 Operating and Capital Budget Distribution Plans that an estimated 45 percent of the university’s funding will come from state appropriations. Another 16 percent is expected to come from tuition. We will be tackling this in an upcoming article explaining the university’s funding sources and how the money is distributed between the campuses.

I have also received questions and comments concerning the fact that the information is already public, so there is no reason to publish salary information alongside names.

It’s true anyone can ask for the details from UAF’s public information officer or Human Resources office. But, public records laws add stipulations that can influence how quickly information is released and what fees may apply.

In this instance, the Sun Star, being a newspaper, is accepted as requesting the information on behalf of the public. It’s not available on any website or in any publication at this point. We are creating a channel for the public to access information that all have a right to inspect and consider.

People have expressed concern that this will be bad for morale and will create animosity between departments.

There are at least 40 other databases like this across the country and all of those universities have continued to operate with employees able to look at the salaries of coworkers and others.

Knowing a person’s salary makes him or her accountable. Additionally, it empowers all employees. It would be very hard to gauge whether an offered salary is fair without access to salary information. Yes, supervisors may be put in the position of explaining why a particular employee makes more or less money than someone else, but that supervisor was already required to explain that to HR and that explanation should hold up to scrutiny.

Using employee morale as a reason not to attach names with salaries is asking for bliss by means of ignorance. If the database reveals pay discrepancies, would you really rather not have found out? Disparities can’t be addressed if they are concealed.

Privacy is also a concern many have. This database is publishing very few facts not already searchable about employees. All university employees are listed in the E-directory. If security is your concern, the campus directory poses far more of a threat than a database listing your name, title and salary.

Student employees aren’t being included in the database because there are some privacy laws that apply to students. Additionally, student jobs have a higher turnover rate than faculty and staff jobs, meaning the data on their employment is less reliable.

The purpose of this database is to add a layer of accountability and transparency to how the University operates. As we move forward, we may be able to add statewide positions and possibly even UAA and UAS positions to the database.

That last question I want to address is this one. How is this good journalism?

There are many ways to define good journalism. Our mission as we see it at the Sun Star is giving our readers the best and fullest grasp of facts.

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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10 Responses

  1. Jonathan B. Horen says:

    “Knowing a person’s salary makes him or her accountable.”

    No. What makes an individual accountable is their relationship to fellow workers and their personal commitment to the tasks required. Salary information is private; knowing how much someone makes tells nothing of that person’s skills, job history, or interaction with others in the workplace.

    Publicizing my salary information is invasive, and is a cheap way to “target” individuals. Doing so is indicative of a totalitarian democratic ideology. Shame on you!

  2. Michael says:

    I have to agree with the post above. Releasing this information with names is not a very useful way to make someone accountable. Due to the technical nature of my work at UAF, it would be safe to say that only a very small minority would even be able to understand what my job entails. Therefore, to begin to draw judgements based on what is ultimately a name and a number is committing what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error.

    This sort of information is being sought out by this schools hard-hitting newspaper (sarcasm) to create a sort of class warfare between the factions that run and keep this university a cutting-edge institution.

    This will be a dangerous enterprise and is really unnecessary for the newspaper on campus to go this route.

    Luckily few read the paper anyhow.

  3. Jacob says:

    Several universities across the nation have similar databases.

    Jonathan… you aren’t be “targeted”. Shame on you for thinking this database revolves around you.

    Michael, I look forward to you revisiting this conversation in a few months when the database is online and you realize your hysterical concerns about class warfare were unwarranted.

    You two need to make a cocktail and relax. As far as I know, the database is going online. If you don’t like this information being public, contact your local representative or run for office.

  4. Jonathan B. Horen says:

    @Jacob: I wrote “target” in quotes for a reason — doing so sets it off from the other words in a sentence; italics would have worked equally well, but were not available.

    I don’t believe that the salary database revolves around me; however, publishing it raises the profile of every one listed therein, making each of us more visible “on the radar”. In that sense, it is very much “invasive”. Are employees of GCI, BP, the Daily News-Miner, or other firms “outed” in a similar fashion? You know they’re not.

    Make no mistake: Publishing the names and salaries of private individuals (and yes, we are private people) is an invitation to others to seek-out what might be “appealing” entries for identity theft, burglary, or fraud.

    Where’s the respect for privacy? Where’s the boundary control?

    I stand by my original post.

  5. Jacob says:

    Employees of GCI, BP, and the Daily News-Miner do not receive taxpayer money. University faculty and staff do. Therefore, the taxpayer is allowed to view this information.

    I think your concerns about being robbed or murdered as a result of this database are a bit overblown.

    This is not a privacy issue because the information is available to the public.

  6. Mary says:

    I used to work at UAF and now work as staff at another university in the lower 48. We have a similar database, yet the only thing published is the salary, department, and, if the person makes more than the governor, then the name of the individual. I like the database because it has been helpful to me as a job seeker within my university when I have been offered jobs for negotiation purposes. I don’t think it is a bad idea at all and, having worked at UAF in the past, a needed database. There is a lot of waste, deplorable employees/managers, etc and maybe this database will battle the apathy of the students and taxpayers and encourage them to question the administrative bloat at UAF. The key to the database is to ensure it is updated regularly, yearly after the beginning of the new fiscal year when new contracts are in place. When will the database go live?

    Good job, Heather and your team!!

  7. Ctpelok says:

    What happened to the salary project? Where can I find this?

  8. Editor-in-Chief says:

    We are wrapping on some final details on the coding and hope to have it live soon. However, articles based on reporting from the database will start running in the Nov. 29 issue of The Sun Star.

  9. Polarbear says:

    Everyone that works here signed up for a non-privet salary policy. You are a public employee and your information as far as salary goes is a matter of public record. It is part of making sure that tax dollars are being spent wisely. If you disagree with it being publicized this way the easy answer is to get out of the public sector job. While it is a bit uncomfortable to you think about how the university will feel when employees working at other locations doing the same job find out there not paid the same. It will be an eye opener and everyone will be looking for those ASEA cards. But to be fare about this as a newspaper you should also be doing the same with all state employees not just the UA.

  10. Hawg says:

    Go ahead and look, I don’t care. I’m not ashamed of what I am paid. I even looked at my boss’s pay. Considering that he supervises over 40 people and has been here for 30 years, it’s appalling how little he is paid. The university is getting a bargain.

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