Monday, April 6, 2015

In Aid of More Robust Labor Markets: From the Chronicle of Higher Education--An Interactive Salary Tool

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Open, fair, robust markets are the essence to fair allocations of resources and a fair distribution of the gains of productivity for the contribution of each of the factors of production to the production of enterprise wealth. That is the policy the underlies nearly a century of market regulation in the United States and more recently globally. Transparency is indispensable to open and robust markets.

EXCEPT with respect to labor markets. Labor markets tend to be segmented, and regimes of secrecy are meant ostensibly to protect privacy but in reality protect the power of labor market managers to avoid labor market distortions in the service of other objectives. This is particularly true with respect to labor markets as reflected in faculty salaries. With respect to those the opposite of conventional sound economic policy appears to apply--concerns for worker solidarity as well as privacy veil salary information.  But that delicacy also inhibits robust markets in pay (which might or might not be a good thing) and more importantly shifts power over the construction and operation of salary markets from market interactions between administration and labor to the regulatory capacities of administrators. 

These administrators (and quite rightly) work towards the goals of cost reduction and the capture of productivity gains for the institution even as they are produced by faculty. In the absence of transparency, and while faculty continue to cling to the ideology of privacy in wage labor markets, the shifting of the gains of productivity and the development of more robust markets for labor will be inhibited. More importantly, it avoids the important conversation about choices relating to the means and structures of labor market participation among faculty (it may well be that a more highly regulated and egalitarian model might be deliberately chosen for a variety of excellent policy reasons). But without the participation of faculty in those discussions with administrators making the unilateral decision to frame or avoid labor markets (and their costs to the institution), there  is an element of unfairness in the structuring of university approaches to their labor costs.

University faculties have sought to overcome these disparities by providing some guide to salary structures within the university.  I have discussed some aspects of these well intentioned but flawed efforts.  See HERE.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has also sought to provide some information useful in understanding the current shape of faculty labor markets.  Recently it updated its information on faculty salaries

Faculty and Staff Salaries at More Than 4,700 Colleges

Introducing Chronicle Data: Use a new interactive tool to search and sort comprehensive information, going back more than a decade, about faculty and staff salaries at thousands of institutions. Browse the data by state, sector, and Carnegie classification, and break out salaries by institution, rank, and gender.

For those interested in issues of labor pricing (salaries) and the data underlying choices made about the character and shape of those markets, this may provide some useful information.  More useful still would be a more engaged conversation with university administrators about the sort of approach to labor market pricing that might better reflect an equable division of the fruits of labor productivity in the academy.  That starts with greater transparency.

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