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Negotiating Salary and Benefits Outside Collective Bargaining

    by Pat Shaw

    Here is how at works at many (though not all) colleges and universities. If your faculty has no role in setting goals for salary and benefits, perhaps procedures on your campus should be changed. A standing committee of the faculty senate is charged with “negotiating” compensation with representatives of the administration. The members of the committee work assiduously in assembling and analyzing faculty salary and benefit information from comparator institutions and developing a sound method for a comparing these data with those pertaining to their own institution. The committee prepares a compelling presentation to make to the administration committee which probably includes charts and graphs and attachments and appendices, maybe even power point.

    In the meantime, faculty colleagues are encouraging and exhorting the members of the committee to make a strong case to the members of the administration committee.

    In response to the committee’s requests, the administration provides either too much or too little financial information.[1] The availability and quality of relevant information is much less an issue at public institutions; but even in this context there is a good deal of room for the administration to impede the faculty committee’s work.

    The “too much” tack is less frequently used by administrations but has advantages: there can be no complaining that the administration has withheld relevant information and with “too much” information to organize, understand, and analyze, the faculty committee is not much further ahead than if it had received “too little.”

    The “too little” tack has the obvious advantage that the faculty committee is hamstrung by its lack of information and thus unable to make its best case or to challenge the administration’s representations.

    At many institutions, the administration insists that the information submitted to the faculty committee is “confidential” and that the faculty committee must not reveal communications between the committees.

    The committees meet, maybe a couple of times. At the conclusion, the administration committee members express profuse thanks to the faculty committee for its hard and valuable work. The administration committee chair waits a suitable length of time and then informs the faculty committee of the components of the compensation package which bear little resemblance to the faculty’s proposals. The administration committee chair does, of course, again express thanks to the very helpful and thorough work done by the faculty committee. The faculty committee, of course, is then obliged to report to the faculty senate. Thus, the faculty’s representatives have instead become the messengers for the administration’s bad news.

    What’s wrong with this picture? Most everything.

    Taking it from the top

    An organized group of people are in a better position to accomplish collective objectives ten times in ten tries than individuals or disparate groups. When it comes to faculty compensation, there are and always will be some faculty who can make a better individual deal on her own than her colleagues. But the collective —the rest of the faculty—fares better acting as a collective than as individuals.

    Individual homeowners are far less likely to stop the city from widening that street through the neighborhood than the same homeowners acting through their association. Individual citizens are in a far better position to see their social, economic, and political views realized when they act as part of a collective than acting as individuals. Parents are far more likely to affect important decisions about their children’s education when they band together in a parent association.

    These associations have the resources and the political clout that comes with large or larger numbers of individuals and, thus, the means with which to apply pressure on those whose behavior they seek to change.

    Faculty senates, representative bodies of the faculty, are not equipped, designed, or, disposed to take the kind of action that members of a homeowners or other association take to apply pressure. Senates are organs of their institutions, created by the institution’s governance documents. They are primarily deliberative bodies; tradition and protocol and much else inhibit faculty senates in organizing and implementing collective action other than the occasional “no confidence” vote. Once in a while, a vote of “no confidence” will actually lead to the “retirement” of a president or other high-ranking administrator (usually when the board of trustees is looking for an excuse to bring down the axe). More commonly these days, boards of trustees circle the wagons and, on the heels of a “no confidence” vote, the board affirms its support of the president which is manifest in sweet salary increase.

    Where faculty have an active AAUP chapter, an independent faculty organization neither beholden to nor dependent upon the administration or the institution’s governance documents, faculty have the means to act collectively in applying pressure on institutional decision-makers to be responsive to the positions of the faculty, including those advanced by the faculty compensation committee. An AAUP chapter is a natural vehicle to advance the collective interests of the faculty. The AAUP provides a ready-made agenda of sound policies to which to aspire and with which few faculty will disagree with; it provides an identity with and connection to the profession as a whole and its many chapters and volunteer-activists that can provide assistance and guidance to new and emerging chapters; and, staff to help the chapter develop itself into an effective faculty organization.

    We’ll return shortly to what sorts of things AAUP chapters do and can do to support the work of the faculty senate, including its standing compensation committee, but first an aside.

    Occupational hazards

    For truck drivers, it’s lower back problems; for data entry and assembly workers, it’s carpel tunnel; for coal miners…well, too many to count; for lawyers, it’s lawyer’s neck. For faculty, it’s the truth Truth. That is, faculty believe deeply in the power of the Truth. They believe that if they have the best data, the best analysis, the best argument, and the best presentation, the result is ineluctable: The Truth Will Prevail. Thus, the thinking goes, if the faculty compensation committee has done its homework, is articulate, and is unyielding in its “negotiations” with the administration committee, the administration and board have no choice but to accept the faculty’s recommendations on compensation. Intellectually, we all know this is not the case; but, faculty often act as if it were.

    When the administration or board makes decisions that are unacceptable to the faculty, they are not deciding what’s true or not. They are making a policy decision that will be modified or changed only by the application of pressure.

    Doing it right

    Although there are many variations on the theme, there are some common ingredients for genuine compensation negotiations.

    An independent faculty organization —the AAUP chapter—in this context serves as the political partner and advocate of the faculty senate and the faculty compensation committee. The chapter has a good reputation, has contributed to the faculty and to the institution on an array of academic policy and other issues, and is well supported by the faculty, by their membership and by their engagement.

    The faculty senate charges the faculty compensation committee to be a true representative (not simply messengers). The members of this committee ought to be elected by their peers (campus-wide or via the faculty senate). Thus will the committee have the attributes and the obligations of a true representative of the faculty and be accountable to the faculty. The committee represents the collective by having fashioned compensation proposals that reflect the collective judgment (no easy task, of course); reports to the faculty about the negotiation process on a regular basis, including how cooperative or not the administration is being; and, when warranted, consults with the senate, seeking its advice and direction.[2]

    For its part, the committee, both in the senate and through the AAUP chapter, must be able to rely on the manifest support for the positions it is advancing. The process of negotiating compensation (and pretty much everything else) is, at bottom, is political.  What the faculty committee does in preparing for and meeting with the administration committee is extremely important; but in the end the quality of the results achieved at the table is only as good as the support is strong for the positions the faculty committee is advancing. Or, to put it in a down-home way, the faculty committee members are not going to be successful if all they have behind them are their own shadows.      

    The campaign for a good outcome

    Many faculty think it unseemly to be too assertive in advancing their self-interest, even when it coincides with that of their colleagues and it is being dismissed or ignored by the administration. Many think it is unprofessional to greet the members of the board of trustees as they gather for their quarterly meeting with signs and handbills and, God forbid!, bullhorns. Many faculty simply will not engage in any public act that they think might be viewed as unprofessional.

    Even if this is the case, there is still a great deal that can be done, with widespread support, to advance the faculty’s cause. Surprisingly, faculty can evolve into at least mild activists over time and as participants in escalating tactics (ranging from writing letters, signing petitions, to making the occasional public appearance at some tactically useful location on campus or elsewhere).

    Here’s where the AAUP chapter has a major role to play. First off, the chapter leadership and the senate leadership should be working hip to hip even if their partnership is muted for public consumption. It almost need not be said that the stronger and more public the alliance between the two, the greater the influence of the faculty as a whole.

    As noted above, the discussion and development of compensation proposals should include faculty involvement. This process of itself should and will enhance faculty engagement in and support for the final proposals.

    We enter the realm where generalization becomes difficult, so you must use your own judgment in determining what is realistic, what not; a bad idea, a good idea, or an idea worth thinking about; etc.

    In all cases, begin with education (“consciousness-raising,” we called it in the ‘60’s). Preferably, both the senate (via a resolution or the like) and the chapter, for sure, should inform faculty that the outcome of the faculty committee’s negotiations with the administration is directly related to how well or little the faculty support and express their support for the faculty’s proposals. Early on, as well, the chapter should communicate with other constituencies (the alumni association, the student government association, other employee groups, and, if a public institution, the district’s representatives to the state legislature). Obviously, the audience and the content of these initial communications depend upon the issues.

    Here are two examples. As health insurance costs continue to rise, the faculty’s insurance coverage continues to erode, and, often at the same time, faculty are called upon to pay more for coverage. Because the faculty represents the largest single employee group, it is usually the case that “as the faculty goes, so goes everyone else” often including administrators. Thus, other employee groups (unions, if there are those represented by unions) have a stake in the outcome of the negotiations. Make them your allies.

    Or, let’s suppose that faculty salaries are becoming increasingly inadequate. There are documentable instances of faculty leaving for higher pay and/or better compensation in other forms, or desirable candidates rejecting offers of employment. The chapter should meet with the student government association and brief the student leaders on what the faculty will be proposing and WHY (“we want to be able to recruit and retain the highest quality faculty we can.”). Obviously, the chapter cannot be seen as exploiting the students; however, a meeting with the student leaders simply to brief them on the situation is merely treating them as adults. They too have a stake in the outcome. Don’t overlook the value of alliances with alumni and/or the alumni association. Those alumni/ae who are engaged to some degree care about the reputation of their alma mater and about the continuing quality of its faculty.

    The chapter should continue its education with bulletins or newsletters highlighting the issues (e.g. using the AAUP salary survey and help from the AAUP research department and reporting that faculty salaries are below the median for comparator institutions; using history to good ends, reminding faculty that the administration and/or board made a commitment four years ago to reach and maintain the median; sponsoring a forum with faculty leaders, with invitations to the administration, to air the wisdom or unwisdom of the burgeoning legions of administrators at hefty salaries, or contingent faculty at exploitive wages).

    In the meantime, the faculty compensation committee is doing its work and should, at least once before it tenders any proposal to the administration, make a presentation to the senate of its findings and its recommendations for final proposals. If, along the way, the administration has withheld information from the committee or insisted that what information has been imparted must be kept confidential, the committee should be reporting this to the senate. The senate should be objecting to the administration’s conduct and the chapter should be raising hell about it in its publications.

    The senate should have charged the faculty compensation committee NOT to agree that the information needed for a reasonable, considered compensation proposal be confidential. Further, the senate should direct the faculty committee NOT to agree that the communications between the committees during the negotiations be confidential (with perhaps a salute to the need for the discretion that is always wise to exercise in any negotiations). When the administration says “no” to one or both of these, the committee reports to the senate; in turn, the chapter communicates it to as wide a world as is tactically useful (in hardcopy format so that the administrators will see that “it ain’t business as usual” this time around). A committee which is gagged in carrying out its functions can hardly be called “representative” and the ability of the faculty to support the positions by the committee is severely hamstrung by their being, in the main, uninformed.

    The AAUP chapter, hopefully with wider faculty participation than at other, duller times, will have persisted in educating and informing the faculty and other important constituencies. It will have planned a series of events which are timed to best assist and support the faculty compensation committee. For example, the committee has reported to the senate/AAUP chapter that the administration committee made great strides at yesterday’s meeting in moving toward the faculty’s proposal. The chapter should publicly recognize the administration’s seeming understanding of and response to faculty’s concerns. At the same time, the administration should be reminded that it still has a good ways to go to accommodate the needs of the faculty and why those needs are important. Or, more commonly, the administration committee brushes off the faculty committee and refuses to seriously entertain the faculty’s positions. In this instance, the chapter reports on the administration’s intransigence and evident lack of good faith in its conduct of the negotiations.

    Unfavorable publicity remains a powerful tool in applying pressure to administrations and boards. Of course, it is a tactic that must be very carefully considered and cautiously used. No good ends are served by publicly trashing the institution in ways that can cause harm or alarm students, parents, alumni, the public, donors, state legislators and others. However, the message can often conveyed but without doing a disservice to the institution. For example [George Lang: I think you’ll recognize this], the faculty are, by and large, paid less than the local K-12 teachers; this is so even though the institution has a fine reputation consonant with the excellence and commitment of the faculty. The chapter can pretty easily craft a message that lauds the institution but expresses concerns that unless faculty are better compensated, it will be increasingly hard to maintain the special attributes of the institution and its faculty.

    Let’s take this example a little further. Within every faculty, there is a cornucopia of talent. Between the communications department and the theater department, the faculty can create a very professional and high-minded, one-minute radio ad. The rates for radio time depend of course of the local market but the cost is often much lower than one might think and at premium times. The AAUP chapter organizes the production of the radio ad (the theme of which is, let’s say, “We have a great university and we ought to be paying our faculty at least as much as our local primary and secondary school teachers.”). Research is done about costs of broadcasting the radio ads and at various times of day; the chapter identifies the radio station and broadcast times that are tactically the best and financially feasible. Copies of the tape are sent to top administrators and each member of the board of trustees in anticipation of the next meeting between the faculty and administration committees. The administration and board are informed that they will begin hearing the ad on [radio station and time of day]. The chapter does exactly what it says it is going to do —do not have your bluff called on this one—if there is no headway made at the next meeting of the committees. However, supposing that prior to the date for the broadcast of the ad, the faculty compensation committee reports measurable progress at their recent meeting. Rather than broadcasting the ad, the chapter writes each of those to whom a tape of the ad was sent with notice that in light of the progress made at the table the chapter has decided to postpone the ad.

    The hard nut, of course, are those cases in which the written word, used tactically and well, is insufficient to bring to bear enough pressure on the decision-makers to modify their behavior in the negotiations.

    There is nothing close to an answer or even of set of answers to questions about what tactics the chapter can design and implement that will be supported by the faculty and engaged in by them. If the AAUP chapter has been educating and reporting to the faculty from the beginning (no later than when the compensation committee is chosen, some, maybe even many, faculty might be willing to participate in public expressions of support for the faculty’s positions.

    Faculty care a great deal about due and fair process. If the negotiations process has been misused or corrupted by the administration, as is so often the case, the faculty might be roused enough to take some form of action. (E.g. handbilling; carrying signs; participating in open forums focusing on relevant issues; insisting that the president/board chair meet with faculty representatives; badgering administrators and board members. Note: home picketing of administrators or board members is not a tactic that faculty seem to take to.) It is a near certainty that few faculty will take even modest action if they have not been educated and brought along throughout the process.

    Devising and implementing a successful campaign in support of the faculty’s compensation proposals is a daunting task. However, AAUP chapters are not on their own in approaching this task. Many AAUP leaders and activists have participated or lead successful campaigns and will provide assistance and guidance. AAUP organizing and service staff often work with chapters to enhance their influence, in general and in relation to specific projects like a campaign of the sort described.

    If the stakes are high enough, faculty can be moved to pay some attention to the condition of their professional and economic lives and act (even if only in the form of the written word) to improve their lot and that of their colleagues.


    [1] Access to financial information should be a relatively easy matter at public institutions. It is much more difficult at private institutions. Some private institutions are forthcoming with the faculty, making available audited and other financial information. Many institutions are guarded and provide very little financial information to the faculty and others generally, and will only provide more to a faculty compensation committee under the seal of confidentiality.

    At a minimum, faculty—and everyone else—have access to their institutions IRS Form 990, a tax return that must be filed annual by all not-for-profits. For the IRS regulations for obtaining a copy of a 990 filing, go here:, pp. 8-11; or, you can send a request to, and we’ll give you a hand.

    [2] There is no overstating the importance of widespread faculty involvement, both generally and through the senate, in fashioning the faculty’s proposals. If one expects political support for the proposals being advanced, the constituency must be knowledgeable about the proposals, have participated in some degree in their formulation, and are informed on a regular basis about the process by which the final terms are agreed upon or imposed. The more engaged the faculty are in the crafting of the proposals and invested in their outcome, the greater the faculty’s support for a good outcome.