Team Airs Plan
to Revamp Salary Structure
for University Employees
By Catherine Lee
At a recent town hall meeting on Catholic University's plan to reform its staff salary structure, a woman in the audience asks the question that is probably on most people's minds: Will CUA employees face a pay cut as a result of the plan?
"Absolutely not," says Chuck Mann, associate vice president for business services, who chairs the meeting at Caldwell Hall. "This is not a plan that will cut salaries. It is not a reorganization plan. It is not a plan to reduce staff."
With each question from the audience of about 150 employees who are gathered for the Feb. 12 lunchtime meeting, Mann and fellow members of the Staff Compensation Study Team offer assurances that the plan is designed to benefit employees and, in the long run, the university.
"Our goal is to establish a fair and equitable salary structure to recruit and retain excellent employees," says Mann, standing at the podium in Caldwell Hall Auditorium. "To do that, we need to have a pay structure that compensates employees fairly for the work they do."
A new salary structure, tentatively slated for implementation in 2004, would ensure uniform job descriptions for like positions in different departments and will probably introduce the use of salary ranges. The team will not address faculty salaries, which are established through a different process.
Having “a consistent salary structure” says Mann, who is chair of the salary committee, will support CUA's strategic goals of excelling in Catholic higher education, graduate research and teaching, and learning.
This month the salary committee plans to gather information about every full- and part-time staff position on campus, not including temporary slots, and ensure that job responsibilities and required skills for each position are clear.
Mann, who came to CUA nine years ago from Gallaudet University where he was in charge of business services, says the salary study was prompted by the growing realization in CUA’s Office of Human Resources that the present salary system is unstructured and doesn’t always ensure consistency from department to department.
Over the years, department managers typically have written their staff members’ job descriptions — sometimes with help from the human resources office, which might provide sample descriptions or review what the manager has drafted, says Director of Human Resources Barbara Coughlin. On the question of pay, human resources provides suggestions based on the market or going salary rate, but managers make the final decision based on the budget and size of their departments.
"We've heard from a lot of people that they don't really know what their job responsibilities are and they're not sure that people are being compensated consistently from one department to another," Mann says. "That uncertainty generates a lot of confusion and anxiety."
As CUA’s president, the Very Rev. David M O'Connell, C.M., put it in a Jan. 28 letter to the university community: "We call what appear to be similar jobs by different names and different jobs by similar names."
Employees at the meeting make clear what they think of the present system in responding to a question posed by Peter Gribbin, assistant to L.R. Poos, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
"Not to play devil's advocate but, as they say, if it ain't broke, why fix it?" Gribbin asks. His question draws laughter from the audience and shouts from several people who say: "It's broken; it's broken!"
A Guiding Philosophy
In an interview prior to the town hall meeting, team member Paul Brooks emphasizes that, at this point, the team has made no decisions about how the salary system will be structured. Salary committee members are simply gathering information and trying to develop a philosophy that will guide them as they devise a new system, says Brooks, director of planned giving and counsel for the Office of Institutional Advancement.
"As we work on developing a philosophy, we're talking about what values should be embedded in the system," says Brooks, an attorney who came to CUA after 20 years in private practice. "We've talked in terms of ensuring that a compensation philosophy reflects Catholic values and the idea of fairness and equity."
The project got underway in mid-January when the university hired a consultant, Mercer Human Resources Consulting, to guide team members through the compensation study. Headquartered in New York City, the company has worked with other universities to develop salary structures, according to Senior Consultant Kim Keating, who attended the town hall meeting along with another Mercer colleague.
The salary committee, which started meeting in early February, is developing a questionnaire that will be used to solicit information about all staff jobs. The questionnaires are being distributed this month to CUA managers. They will use them to record information about the duties and responsibilities of each job in their department and the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform each job. Managers and employees will review and sign the questionnaires when they're completed.
Information about the team's progress and notices of future town hall meetings will be included in This Week@CUA and Inside CUA Online, which university staff and faculty members receive via e-mail.
The team expects to complete the design of the salary structure by May and then submit it to the President's Council for approval. If deemed appropriate, requests for funding to bring positions into salary alignment within the new structure will be presented to the university budget committee in October.
Employee salaries and benefits represent 65 percent of the university's operating budget. If salary increases are called for in the new plan, they would be phased in starting in May 2004.
Brooks says that university employees should think of the salary system "as a tool. It shouldn't be perceived as a rigid structure or system that doesn't recognize the values of our employees and the contributions they make."
Will Salaries Be Frozen?
At the town hall meeting, Mike Kanne, associate dean of administration and finance at the Columbus School of Law, asks if setting salary ranges might result in the "freezing" of certain salaries.
"If someone is paid $5,000 above the maximum of the range, I assume it's possible that a person's salary would be frozen until other employees' salaries catch up," Kanne says.
“But if you maintain that a person's salary should be based on performance and their salary is frozen, then you're essentially saying that their performance doesn't measure up," Kanne continues. "In that situation, an excellent performer might not be penalized on day one but later he would. Don't be surprised if that person goes elsewhere."
Mann says that to keep exemplary employees at the university, “CUA would provide them with new opportunities. Rewarding individuals with new responsibilities offers the potential of reevaluating their jobs and their salary range.”
A woman asks if team members might implement a system of job grades or levels similar to that used by the federal government. It's a system that she suggests might work, for instance, at the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library. Mann says he doubts that it would be the most effective structure for CUA because its departments vary greatly in size and in function, from academic to administrative.
Another woman asks if the committee could guarantee that there would be enough money in the university's budget to cover the additional cost of salary increases in a new plan.
"I don't know what the budget will be at that point but we're optimistic," Mann says. "The committee is working hard and there's a commitment from President O'Connell to support the plan."