A University of Wisconsin salary database created late last month has led some experts to question pay disparities among university employees.

The Wisconsin State Journal released a database of 2015-16 UW System employee salaries. UW Office of Human Resources and Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research, addressed how these salaries are decided, how they compare to other major institutions and the disparities within UW salaries.

UW was ranked last out of 12 in fall 2015 for full professor salary compared to other institutions like University of Minnesota, University of California, Los Angeles and University of Washington. The average full professor salary for UW was $129,481 compared to the $145,472 median for other institutions.

Market, background and department factors determine UW employee salaries, Mark Walters, senior director of operations at the Office of Human Resources, said.

Jocelyn Milner, vice provost for the Office of Academic Affairs and director of APIR, said to determine a salary, the department looks at what other faculty members are being paid at other major public institutions. 

Based on the supply and demand of hirable faculty in a given role, salaries may fluctuate. Faculty salaries are set at hiring, Milner said.

UW cannot always match market rates for faculty salaries at other institutions, Walters said. But the data indicates a general salary range. The budget of the department also plays a role.

“Depending on the position, [APIR] set the [salary] based on the market as well as the internal equity within the academic department,” Walters said. “That has a lot to do with the experience level of the person that we ultimately hire.”

Based on data from the WSJ database, 2016 faculty at UW who made $300,000 or more included professors in business, economics, engineering, psychology, regenerative biology and biochemistry. Milner commented these departments lend themselves to higher salaries because they have higher-paying opportunities outside academia.

The highest paid nonfaculty employees in 2016 were the athletic director, several athletic coaches, the chancellor, the provost and various deans, according to the WSJ database. Football coach Paul Chryst has the highest salary of any UW employee. He was paid $2.5 million in 2016.

Walters said budgets are tight and UW has been unable to compete with other major institutions in the past. The last state budget cut $250 million from the UW System over two years, for example.

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The money paying faculty salaries largely comes from a fund that mixes revenue from the state of Wisconsin and student tuition, Milner said. The 2017 Data Digest found of the 2,018 UW faculty, 1,555 were paid from this fund. 23 were paid from program revenue, 203 from federal gifts and grants and 237 from nonfederal gifts and grants.

“The more specialized the person’s knowledge and skills are, and/or the more responsibilities the job has, the higher the salary,” Milner said.

UW needs to be competitive to get individuals with a more specialized skill set, Walters said. This competition largely determines salaries between departments and schools. There are concerns with disparity within the more specialized areas of study, but it “comes down to how competitive [UW] needs to be for those jobs to attract and retain top faculty.”

A majority of these roles, Walters said, are limited appointments with contracts that are also based on market data.

“If there’s a basketball coach we’re hiring, we need to see what is the going rate out there,” Walters said.  

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Both Walters and Milner said they don’t think faculty salary says anything about the value of professors at UW.

“Even if your market isn’t that strong, [UW professors are] still going to get a salary that shows [their] value,” Walters said.