Faculty brought questions, stories and concerns to a meeting Thursday about salary cuts looming for a number of tenured faculty in MU’s School of Medicine.
The meeting, hosted by the School of Medicine’s Dean Steven Zweig, drew more than 60 people to Acuff Auditorium to talk about a new productivity review and salary adjustment policy.
The salaries of about 20 tenured Medical School faculty will see a 10% to 25% reduction starting Sept. 1, the Missourian has reported. Last week, Provost Latha Ramchand answered questions and heard thoughts on the policy from members of the MU Faculty Council and others attending the council’s meeting.
Zweig said the purpose of the late-afternoon meeting Thursday was to discuss the policy’s “goals, process and rationale.” He said he wanted to have a conversation about it and take faculty questions. However, Zweig said, “I will not commit to changing the policy today.”
He said the school needs to strive for excellence and emphasized a point that MU spokesperson Christian Basi made in a previous interview: “This is not an attack on tenure,” Zweig said.
Tenure means “you cannot be dismissed without cause,” Zweig said.
Calculations and methodology
The policy — which in this case is tailored to the Medical School — was created in early 2020, but it wasn’t implemented until spring of 2021 because of COVID-19, Zweig said. He said faculty who did not cover 50% of their salaries in fiscal 2020 and 2021 will have them adjusted.
One faculty member asked whether Zweig could make the calculations used in the reviews transparent. Zweig responded that the calculations were shared with those whose salaries were affected.
At that point, several faculty members called out, “No,” saying the calculations hadn’t been shared with them.
Zweig answered back, saying there was a two-year spreadsheet for each person that had “dollars lined up” in each area considered.
Another faculty member asked why a wider rolling average wasn’t considered. She suggested that instead of looking at two years of funding, the reviews could take the average of five or more years to better reflect performance.
Zweig said he didn’t think there was an advantage to using a rolling average.
Victor Arnold, the School of Medicine’s chief financial officer, helped develop the policy. He said the rolling average was considered, but he was worried getting the average back up after having low funding for a couple of years would be too hard.
“If you go down, then you have that tail following you,” Arnold said.
Carol Ward, a tenured professor of pathology and anatomical sciences, noted that MU is interested in maintaining its status as an Association of American Universities (AAU) research university. However, she said many faculty write and receive grants that come from foundations that do not cover salary. Ward said those grants were “invisible” in the reviews.
She asked whether those research efforts that advance MU’s AAU status could be recognized and rewarded.
Zweig said MU should consider giving credit to those avenues of research in the future, but he also said nobody whose salary was cut was affected by them this year.
In a June 28 guest commentary in the Missourian, Ward said she was flagged to have her salary cut but was able to appeal it because she had done administrative work.
Another faculty member asked a similar question: Why isn’t undergraduate research mentoring counted, and why isn’t post-doctoral research mentoring counted? She said much of the work faculty does was not given credit in the reviews.
“Which is why we set the level at 50%,” Zweig said. “Because that means you have the other 50% of your time to do all those important things.”
Basi said in a previous interview that the reviews were based on multiple factors that differed based on the individual. He said he got the information directly from the School of Medicine administration. However, Zweig said at the meeting that the reviews looked only to see whether faculty covered 50% of their salary with grants, teaching and clinical work.
A couple of professors shared concerns that their time and effort spent mentoring was not being valued.
Steven Segal, a tenured professor of medical pharmacology and physiology, said he spent 60% to 70% of his time mentoring post-doctoral fellows. He wanted to know whether mentorship could be included in the review criteria, because despite being recognized as a Curators’ Distinguished Professor, he will see a 25% salary cut Sept. 1.
Segal explained that just as he was starting new research a couple of years ago, the school’s vivarium — in this instance, an area for keeping animals for research — was destroyed and moved to another location, and the breeding process for his lab’s animals was done incorrectly. When his lab got the breeding restarted and back to normal, COVID-19 hit, and the lab was closed.
“These are circumstances out of my control,” Segal said.
During the pandemic, Segal said, he spent an enormous amount of time and effort mentoring and keeping his research staff sane and on track.
“Effort is not something that seems to be rewarded,” Segal said. “It’s only the dollars.”
Segal asked the dean whether the School of Medicine could wait a year to implement the new policy, giving faculty time to adjust. Zweig did not answer.
Faculty input and ex post facto
Elizabeth Malm-Buatsi, a urologist at MU Health Care who helped organize Thursday’s meeting, spoke about the importance of shared governance. She said she was unsure whether faculty had been consulted in the creation of the policy.
“That’s the big issue,” Malm-Buatsi said. “Did we give you this forum to give comment on this before it was implemented?”
Many in the audience shook their heads.
Segal asked Zweig whether faculty could be involved in reviewing the policy. Zweig did not answer.
Another faculty member criticized the retroactive nature of the reviews and cuts, saying when he first heard about the policy, it didn’t seem all bad at face value. There were changes to be made concerning how teaching is valued and the time period looked at, but it was mostly reasonable.
The one part he couldn’t understand was why it had been implemented retroactively. Murmurs of agreement went through the audience. Zweig did not respond.
One professor spoke on the apparent punitive nature of the cuts. He said he wasn’t given time to adjust and would have done things differently if he knew what the criteria were going to be.
Segal agreed. He said that in his 15 years working at MU, he had only been told he was meeting or exceeding expectations. He said his chair had told him to keep doing what he was doing just a couple of weeks ago. Segal said he was completely blindsided when told he wasn’t meeting expectations. Segal asked again if the policy could wait a year and faculty could be consulted but, again, did not get an answer.
Mun Choi and the future
University of Missouri President Mun Choi spoke at the end of the meeting. He talked about how MU ranks against other research universities and what the AAU measures.
Choi said that in 1995, MU’s total research expenditures ranked it 59 in the country. He said that rank dropped to 93 by 2015.
Choi said MU needs to do better, and although this policy is related, it’s not punitive.
“We should have had a wake-up call 25 years ago,” Choi said. “This is, in many ways, accountability for the entire university.”
The rate of National Institutes of Health and other federal grants received correlates linearly with other activities such as post-doctoral mentoring, Choi said — meaning as faculty receive more grants, they will see more of their other activities.
Choi said he enjoyed what he called a collegial discussion at the meeting and looks forward to more.
So far, the policy has only affected salaries in the School of Medicine, though productivity reviews are underway in MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
There is support for such reviews at the University of Missouri System level, in accordance with the 320.030 Delegation of Authority. The order states: “Each chancellor may approve and implement criteria for reducing salaries of faculty members on continuous appointments. Criteria may be established by the chancellor on a university-wide basis, or they may be developed by a college, school, department, or other similar unit for use within that unit and submitted to the chancellor for approval.”