Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

3rd Circuit Upholds University Of Pittsburgh's Right To Cut Tenured Prof's Salary By 20% Due To Poor Student Evaluations, 'Stagnant' Research Agenda

PittPenn Live, Pa. University Can Give Long-Serving Professor a 20 Percent Pay Cut, Federal Court Says:

The University of Pittsburgh can impose a 20 percent salary cut on a long-tenured grad school professor whose performance was consistently rated substandard, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday [McKinney v. University of Pittsburgh, No. 17-3084 (Feb. 14, 2019)]

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit overturns a U.S. Western District Court judge’s order that restored the pay of Prof. Jerome McKinney.

The appeals court, in an opinion by Judge Cheryl N. Krause, found the university can pare McKinney’s pay because the prof has no constitutionally protected “property interest” in any specific salary level.

McKinney joined the university faculty in 1970 as a professor of public administration. He said in his lawsuit that he was the only black member of the faculty for the university’s graduate school of public and international affairs. His salary increases between 2006 and 2013 were “substantially smaller” percentage-wise than those granted white faculty members, he contended. ...

Krause concluded nothing in McKinney’s employment contract guarantees him a specific salary level. The university has a merit system for determining faculty raises and McKinney “did not fare well” in those reviews starting in 2010, Krause wrote. She cited claims by the university that enrollments in McKinney’s classes declined and that he received poor student evaluations and had a “stagnant” research agenda. There was no improvement even though university officials said they repeatedly warned McKinney that his performance was subpar, the circuit judge noted.

Krause found the pay cut imposed on McKinney “was not wholly unusual” because the university provided evidence that it had imposed salary reductions on as many as 20 faculty members in the past.

Legal Education | Permalink


In schools with appropriate shared academic governance (and union support), it is the faculty member's peers who make the foundational judgment on whether the faculty member is performing up to par with his or her peers. An administrator has authority to override that judgment in making final determinations about pay increases, but to do so had better be prepared to show what evidence supports that decision.

Posted by: Linda Beale | Mar 26, 2019 5:43:42 PM

@TheEE And who else, other than the administration, should get to decide if the employee is underperforming? Isn't that their job?

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Mar 25, 2019 4:48:07 AM

That's odd, having gone to GSPIA, I thought this guy was long dead.

Posted by: Don Keedick | Mar 21, 2019 4:22:23 PM

Withhold judgment. I've served under administrators who actively undercut faculty who were outperforming the administrator's friends. We don't know whether the professor was underperforming. We just know that administration says he was.

Posted by: TheEE | Mar 21, 2019 8:37:12 AM

Has to be working on 75 years old. No mandatory retirement age?

Posted by: Don Allen | Mar 21, 2019 5:11:56 AM

He's lucky to have a job. He would have been fired in the private sector.

Posted by: Chris | Mar 20, 2019 4:26:48 PM

Could his salary be cut to zero since he has no right in any specific salary level?

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Mar 20, 2019 11:32:51 AM