June 21, 2018
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University of Maine System chancellor says he’s OK with program to hand out raises

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Dr. James H. Page, current principal and chief executive officer of James W. Sewall Co., speaks at a press conference at the University of Southern Maine in Portland Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, during which he was named the next chancellor of the University of Maine System by trustee chairman Michelle Hood.
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — After a review of the University of Maine System’s $7 million in salary increases over the past seven years, the system’s human resources office and the chancellor said they are largely satisfied with the system’s compensation program but are suggesting a few changes.

The human resources office presented its report to a Human Resources and Labor Relations Committee of the UMS trustees Sunday afternoon. The report recommends some minor adjustments to the compensation program.

Chancellor James Page froze future discretionary pay increases pending a system review on March 22 after the Portland Press Herald reported that 44 University of Southern Maine employees received $242,000 in raises during a difficult fiscal year.

The system later released data that showed about $7 million in salary increases had been handed out over the past seven years systemwide.

The more than 1,000 raises ranged from 5 percent to 63 percent, and most were awarded under the Salaried Employee Compensation and Classification Program, which allows nonfaculty salaried employees in the system to have their positions reviewed to see if their workload warrants a higher pay rate.

There are 351 fewer full-time equivalent positions in the system than there were in 2007, according to Tracey Bigney, the system’s chief human resources officer. That means other employees have had to fill some of those gaps by moving to different positions or taking on more job duties.

Of the 1,019 raises, 22 percent were for more than 20 percent of the employee’s previous salary.

“This is a substantial increase by any measure, but appropriate for a significant increase in responsibilities and career progression,” the human resources report states.

Page said the investigation did reveal opportunities to make changes and clarify some of the system’s regulations on pay increases.

For example, the human resources report recommends that a pay increase due to promotion or reclassification of a salaried employee should be limited to a 15 percent increase per salary level jump or a 30 percent pay increase maximum if the employee jumps multiple pay levels. Any exceptions to that would require the approval of the chancellor or a designee.

Bigney said that policy adjustment could rein in the wide percentage variance between the raises.

Another recommendation in the report would require that upper-level university officials, usually individuals at the level of dean and higher, undergo a closer level of scrutiny when it comes to appointments, promotions and salary increases.

A higher level of review should also be applied when a raise is proposed for an employee who has received a raise within the past three years, the report argues. On the list, 28 employees had three or more pay increases during the seven-year period covered by the data. Two of them received four raises.

“While recognizing and rewarding employee initiative and performance, presidents must enforce a culture of accountability for salary increases,” the report states.

The human resources office also found a need to improve the coding in the payroll system so there are clear distinctions between the categories of increases — for example, whether a person received a raise because of an increase in duties at work or whether the salary was increased to make the person’s pay more equitable with similar positions.

Also during Sunday’s Human Resources and Labor Relations Committee meeting, the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine presented the results of a study conducted by JBL Associates Inc. that compared the compensation of Associated Faculties’ members to compensation of faculty members at “peer institutions” across the nation and in New England.

“We have gained a general sense that faculty compensation at UMS institutions trails the competitive marketplace where UMS institutions compete to attract and retain faculty members,” the study concluded.

Ron Mosley of the University of Maine at Machias, president of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine; and James McClymer of the University of Maine in Orono, vice president of the group; presented data they argued contradicts a study conducted last year by Aon Hewitt, a human resources consulting firm, which concluded that faculty and hourly staff salaries were “in line” or “comparable to” national averages.

For example, the JBL study found that faculty members at the University of Maine made $6,300 less on average than faculty at 10 peer universities — including the University of New Hampshire and University of Massachusetts Boston.

At the University of Maine at Fort Kent, the study found that faculty members made about $13,000 less on average than peers at Keene State College, Bridgewater State University and other comparable schools.

Neil Greenburg, president of the Universities of Maine Professional Staff Association, also questioned the accuracy of the Aon Hewitt study, saying that 91 percent of the employees represented by his group fell “well below market-competitive [salary] levels.”

Mosley also cited the system’s 2009 faculty compensation report, which showed that faculty members consistently were paid less than national averages.

Mosley thanked the committee for allowing him to speak on Sunday, saying he was glad to see dialogue opening up between the system and faculty. His tone changed by Monday’s full board meeting, where he spoke during the public comment session.

“There are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic now, and I have to say that we are a dysfunctional family,” Mosley said, expressing frustration over a lack of communication between faculty and the system and the stalled contract negotiations. Members of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine haven’t had a new contract since the last one expired on June 30, 2011.

He argued that the board of trustees was insulated from the campuses and their faculty and that “the feeling of being unvalued and undervalued among faculty and staff is growing.”

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