Speaking Out

Limiting Raises: A P.I. Objects

The University and its various administrators should stay out of the business of setting salary increases for people they do not pay salary to. I am talking about grant-supported research personnel, i.e., research technicians. While I understand that these people are University employees, the fact of the matter is that their jobs are contingent on the procurement of grant funds by faculty members. If these grants' funds are lost or not renewed, their jobs are lost. Their letter of appointment specifically states this. Not only do these grants pay their salaries, they also pay their fringe benefits (e.g., health, retirement etc.). Furthermore, the University receives an overhead rate of ~60% (from NIH) on both the salary and fringe benefit. For example, for a technician making $20,000/year, the grant will get an additional ~$6,000/year for the fringe benefit package. On top of that the university receives >$15,000 in overhead.

So given that the research technician is not costing the University any money (in fact, the University is receiving overhead money which support the infrastructure of the University including, I would imagine, the salaries and benefits of the administrators who make these salary decisions), why does some University administrator insist on setting their raises? Their increases should be set by the principal investigator based on their job performance and on what the grant can support. As they do now, the University should set a minimum increase unless there are unusual circumstances to ensure that personnel do get an increase. As they do now, the University should also set a maximum increase. However, they should not set an arbitrary "average" raise for these personnel. There are built-in safeguards in addition to setting minimum and maximum raises. The P.I. will not deplete his /her grant budget simply to give the technician an "extravagant" raise. In addition, there are limits already set by the University as to what a specific job title can pay. If the P.I. can set the raises for technical staff, these people can be compensated in a way that hopefully reflects (in part) their value to the faculty member and the research project.

These people work hard and their good performance is intimately tied to whether these grants are renewed. So even though a person's performance is outstanding, if I am lucky, I can give them a 3-4% raise. Since this year's average raise is 3%, for every person who gets a 4% raise, someone must get a 2% increase. This year is even worse since with the decrease in the fringe benefit package, health insurance costs more (by my quick calculations it can take >2.0% of the raise for single technicians making ~$20,000 who may choose Penn Care). While I realize people are getting a one-time flex dollar adjustment, this is <$50 for the typical technician (or about 1/10 of the cost of Penn Care). Thus, even a 4% increase is not much more than 2% --and this for people who are rated outstanding for their performance in the preceding year. While jobs can be reclassified to give additional raises, it is not possible to change someone's job title every year to give them an adequate raise. How are we to keep bright, enthusiastic people working in our labs if they cannot be partially rewarded for a job well done?

I wonder if the administrators who are making these salary decisions also have to average 3% for their raises. While I doubt it, even if they do, their salaries and fringe benefits are not generated by outside sources, e.g., grants. Rather, they come directly out of University funds (funds, in part, supplied by the overhead that research grants bring in). Somehow it seems more reasonable for the technicians, whose salaries and benefits are not a drain on University resources, to be setting (and limiting) the salary increases of these administrators.

-- Stuart B. Moss,
Research Assistant Professor, Center for Research on Reproduction and Women's Health

Partial Response to Dr. Moss

Almanac sought responses for Dr. Moss in two offices: the Compensation section of Human Resources (HR) and the Office of Research Administration (ORA).

ORA referred us to this passage of the Office of Management and Budget Circular known as OMB A-21, noting that the circular is available in full at www.whitehouse. gov/WH/EOP/OMB/html/circulars/a021/a021.html#j . Italics below are ORA's:

8. Compensation for personal services.

a. General. Compensation for personal services covers all amounts paid currently or accrued by the institution for services of employees rendered during the period of performance under sponsored agreements. Such amounts include salaries, wages, and fringe benefits (see subsection f). These costs are allowable to the extent that the total compensation to individual employees conforms to the established policies of the institution, consistently applied, and provided that the charges for work performed directly on sponsored agreements and for other work allocable as F&A costs are determined and supported as provided below.

A response is still being sought for the portion of Dr. Moss's letter suggesting that while the University should set maximum and minimum limits it should not set an arbitrary average. The Human Resources Compensation Officer who would normally respond to that issue was away from campus until after presstime, but will be asked to comment in a future issue. -- Ed.


Volume 44 Number 1
July 15, 1997

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