For years, officials at the University of Rhode Island have complained that the state has underfunded the university, leaving academic salaries stagnant and forcing excessive tuition hikes.
Frank R. Annunziato, executive director of the URI chapter of the American Association of University Professors, touched on the former issue in an interview with The Providence Journal in August.
"If you look at the other land grant universities in New England, we are last [in faculty salary] except for the University of Maine in Orono," he said. "Our national organization does a survey every year. Of all the major research institutions, we are in the lowest quintile (20 percent) across the board. It’s a dire situation here."
In effect, Annunziato doubled down on something URI president David Dooley had said. In April 2012 PolitiFact Rhode Island ruled True on Dooley’s statement that URI salaries on average were second to last among major public universities in New England.
The source of the data is the same this time as it was then: an authoritative annual survey by the AAUP made public in its magazine, Academe. AAUP gets its information by surveying the leadership of the institutions, not its member chapters.
The most recent survey, for the 2012-13 fiscal year and published in the March-April issue of Academe, broke down the average full-time salaries by position for 1,251 U.S. institutions of higher education. The positions include full, associate and assistant professors, and, for institutions that have the position, instructor.
When we broached the subject to Annunziato, he said that he was talking about averages for individual academic ranks as well as across ranks. And he said he was merely quoting Dooley from our previous fact-check on university salaries.
We’ll break Annunziato’s statement into two parts. First, is it still correct -- about 1½ years after Dooley’s representation -- to say URI salaries on average are second to last among public land grant universities in New England? The short answer is yes.
URI is one of six public land grant universities in New England. For those states with multiple campuses and varying salaries for each, salaries at the campus where faculty is the highest paid were used for comparison.
The AAUP database for 2012-13 shows URI’s salaries at each teaching level are lower than all the other New England institutions except for the University of Maine. That also holds true for the average salary for all ranks combined.
At URI, according to the AAUP, full professors are paid an average of $105,100; associate professors, $78,700; assistant professors, $67,400; and instructors, $61,400. For all ranks, the average salary is $83,000.
The highest salaries are paid at the University of Connecticut: $136,800 for full professor, $91,900 for associate professor, $73,900 for assistant, $67,900 for instructor, and for all ranks, an average of $101,400.
(We should note that even though Annunziato relies on the AAUP data to make his argument that pay at URI is too low, he complains that the AAUP overstates average pay at URI because its survey omits "lecturer" -- the university’s lowest-ranking teaching position.)
As for the second half of Annunziato’s statement, he said that he derived his conclusion that URI’s salaries ranked in the bottom 20 percent among major research institutions from the AAUP data.
Annunziato said that when he mentions "major research institutions," he is referring to so-called Category I institutions in the AAUP data.
John W. Curtis, national AAUP director of research and public policy, told us that Category I includes major research institutions but is "quite a bit broader than that." The AAUP categorizes universities according to the number and variety of Ph.D.s the universities award.
Annunziato also acknowledged that he cited all Category I institutions, including public and private, for his comparison. In effect, that would broaden the pay gap because private institutions generally pay better than public ones.
When we looked at the data, we found that URI actually is in the 20 percent to 40 percent range in average salary in Category I institutions -- not, as Annunziato contends, the lowest 20 percent.
The AAUP’s Curtis confirmed our finding.
Admitted Annunziato, "I will stand corrected."
Frank Annunziato said salaries for URI faculty are second to last among New England land grant universities and in the lowest 20 percent of major U.S. research institutions.
He is right on the first point and wrong on the second. The judges rule Half True.
(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, the author’s wife is a URI faculty member.)