- Freezing faculty salaries (and hiring) saves a university money.
- Freezing postdoctoral salaries (and hiring) does not save the university money if the postdocs are entirely paid from external sources of funding.
Perhaps administrators aren't aware of this? Perhaps they are aware but it's too difficult to make different policies for different job categories? Perhaps they are concerned about fairness? That is, why should one group of employees get a raise when others are experiencing salary freezes or cuts?
I know that faculty at various institutions have written letters to the powers-that-be about restrictive postdoctoral hiring/salary policies, with only limited success at overturning the policy or being granted exemptions.
I can't think of a good reason why grant-funded salaries can't be paid as budgeted in the grants. If the money exists in a grant for the specific purpose of paying a researcher, the researcher should get the budgeted money no matter what the university policy is regarding hiring/pay for faculty or staff.
Some of my colleagues have been trying to find ways to get around the salary freeze so they can pay their postdocs (or themselves) the amounts budgeted in grants. Here are some of the possibilities that I have heard discussed:
1. Writing and back-dating a letter promising a specific raise in an official letter to a postdoc. Although the salary for the first year is always mentioned in an offer letter/hiring contract, in some cases the salary for subsequent years is not. The proposed back-dated letter is an attempt to get around the lack of a specific letter for the second or subsequent years. If a pre-economic-crisis letter exists and spells out the salary/raise for subsequent years, the university has to honor this.
2. Finding a way to get the raise money to its intended recipient in a non-salary kind of way, e.g. buying an awesome personal computer of equivalent cost as the unpayable raise. Computer purchases can easily be justified on most grants. This isn't as good as a real raise, but it's better than nothing.
Back-dating a letter clearly isn't ethical, and I suppose spending grant money on something that wasn't originally budgeted and that might not directly impact the research isn't ethical either, but can these ethical lapses be forgiven because they are done for a good cause? Are the lapses justifiable because they are done to counteract a misguided policy, or should we follow the rules, however stupid they are?
If we can't spend the budgeted money on salary, we either have to spend the money on something else (something we are told at ethics training workshops is not allowed) or we have to give the money back to the funding agency at the expiration of the grant. Perhaps we can prolong our grants with no-cost extensions until the no-raise policy is lifted and eventually give our postdocs the budgeted raise, assuming the postdocs haven't moved on to another job.
I have recently considered another not-so-ethical route to take so that I can give a raise to a postdoc. The raise is in the grant budget, was justified in the grant proposal, and the postdoc deserves the raise. I made a request to the Dean that I be allowed to give the postdoc the budgeted raise, and my request was denied. So I started thinking of ways I could somehow get the raise to the postdoc anyway.
I could perhaps be talked out of my unethical idea by persuasive comments to this post, but at the moment this idea seems kind of appealing to me. Consider:
One of the only ways to be granted an official exemption to the no-raise policy is if the person in question has another job offer. The job offer doesn't have to be carved in stone -- it can just be an email from someone at another institution expressing an intention to offer a position. I don't want my postdoc to go out and get a real job offer (and he has said he wants to stay on here as a postdoc for another year or two), but I am pretty sure that I could get a colleague at another institution to send my postdoc an email expressing an interest in hiring him away from my institution (but without any real intention of doing so). With such a letter in hand, there's a good chance I could get the raise approved.
Ethical? No.. Should I do it anyway? Is there another, better way?