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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
UAF Sun Star Editor