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Seattle University


Taking a Closer Look

Written by Mike Thee
September 27, 2010

Seattle University has engaged Mercer Consulting and embarked on a special study of its compensation and benefits programs and faculty and staff are being encouraged to participate in a survey that will launch Monday, Oct. 4.

As is true of most workplaces, pay and benefits are a focal point at SU, but last year’s Employee Satisfaction Survey brought greater scrutiny to the issue when 45 percent of all faculty and staff respondents indicated they were satisfied with their compensation.

“I’ve conducted a lot of satisfaction surveys,” says Associate Vice President for Human Resources Jerry Huffman, “and compensation is something you’re never going to score well on, but when only 45 percent of your faculty and staff think that they’re paid satisfactorily, you have an issue. That’s reason to take a look.”

All evidence indicates that the university is taking compensation and benefits very seriously. “Investing in the Excellence of Our Faculty and Staff” was one of five of the 2010 strategic priorities that Vice President for University Planning Bob Dullea presented at Convocation. Both Provost Isiaah Crawford and President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., alluded to the importance of the Compensation and Benefits Study in their Convocation remarks, with Father Sundborg encouraging all employees to participate in next week’s survey. “I hope our response rate is 100 percent,” he said. “We need the voices of all.”


Did You Know?

The Office of Human Resources reports that last year:

  • 119 SU employees and 67 family members were enrolled for classes on campus, and degrees were awarded to 17 employees.
  • 26 family members were enrolled through the tuition benefit program at campuses across the U.S.
  • Employees saved $3.1 million in tuition benefits.
 The brief survey will ask employees to indicate the relative importance of the various components that make up SU’s compensation and benefits programs. A subsequent focus group will be convened to ferret out additional feedback and we can also anticipate additional meeting opportunities related to the study.

Another important step in the overall study will be a comparison of SU’s compensation and benefits with what is offered at the university’s peer institutions and other employers. This review, Huffman points out, will take a structured approach that recognizes different definitions of market among university units.  The results from this phase of the study are anticipated in winter quarter.

The recommendations yielded by the faculty and staff survey and the review by Mercer will be implemented in phase three, which as Huffman wrote in a campus announcement last month, “will include the development of a new staff classification system and processes to administer faculty and staff compensation. Our goal is to identify a way forward that provides clarity as to how pay structures are developed and how pay decisions are made.”

The focus of the Compensation and Benefits Study, as Huffman sees it, is to ensure that SU’s programs are competitive and balanced. “Over time, we’ve developed our (compensation and benefits) programs somewhat independently—not as a whole. I think it’s appropriate to take this more balanced look.”

Huffman adds that the university has not comprehensively reviewed its compensation and benefits since the mid-1990s, and this previous study was regionally based. Since then the university has increasingly cast its net beyond the local market. The current review of peer institutions and other employers will be more expansive in its scope because, as Huffman says, “We recruit talented people from beyond the local area and we want to keep our capable people here.”

The study comes at a time when the cost of health care is sharply rising. In 2010 the university incurred $500,000 in additional unanticipated health care premiums, none of which were passed along to faculty and staff. An increase of $700,000 is expected in 2011.

“There’s always going to be limitations on spending,” Huffman says, “but our focus must be on excellence. Excellence requires competitive pay and benefits.”

Adjusting the university’s compensation and benefits programs is complex undertaking that Huffman wrote to the campus will likely be implemented over time as resources allow. Still, he has faith in the study’s process and direction. “The rigor of what we’re taking on, the way we’re going about it and the thoughtfulness we’re putting into it will produce an appropriate result that I believe will be foundational to our strategic goals and help us move forward confidently.”

More information will be forthcoming on the Oct. 4 survey and for other ways you can participate in the Compensation and Benefits Study.