Tuesday, February 6, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Simple solutions won't solve salary problems

The Cayetano administration’s insistence that any pay hike for University of Hawaii faculty be strictly on a merit basis is puzzling.

Clearly, the university already operates on a "merit" system, with salaries varying widely based on the performance or value of the individual professor. Those in high-demand areas and those who bring in substantial research grants typically earn far above average.

And as staff writer Jennifer Hiller reported in The Sunday Advertiser, that average is somewhat low by national standards.

Combine that with Hawaii’s higher-than-average cost of living and it is easy to see why the university has problems with retention and recruiting.

So there are two pay issues confronting the state and the university as the faculty union gears up for a possible strike: raising the average throughout the university system and finding extra money to retain and recruit the so-called "superstars."

The negotiations between the state and the union should focus on the first of those goals: raising pay across the board. Under any theory of autonomy, it should be the university administration — working with the union — that determines who gets merit pay or other special consideration.

Meanwhile, the governor has proposed a pay hike for members of his Cabinet who have not had a raise in years. Under his proposal, pay for department heads would rise from $85,302 a year to $95,000.

There is no question these directors (and their deputies) deserve a raise. Even at $95,000, the salaries are modest for the demands of the job. But Cayetano faces the awkward fact that he is seeking increases for relatively high-paid administrators at the same time he is hanging tough in negotiations with the unions.

True, the fiscal impact of the Cabinet raises would be relatively minor compared to raises for thousands of state workers. But the political symbolism is impossible to ignore.

One solution might be to take a leaf from the proposal offered to the UH faculty union: Look to merit, productivity and job responsibilities.

There is nothing magic about paying the same salary to every department director and deputy, regardless of duties, workload or productivity. Lawmakers might look favorably on an executive pay program that offered the bulk of the raises to those directors with the largest responsibilities and greatest productivity.

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