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Pay Cut Proposals Rile California Researchers

30 June 2009 4:45 pm
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Nobody likes a pay cut, but many science faculty and staff members at the University of California (UC) are particularly peeved about proposed pay cuts and/or furloughs proposed in a 17 June letter to university employees by UC President Mark Yudof. The proposed cuts, which amount to a roughly 8% reduction in pay, would help reduce a projected $800 million shortfall in state funding for UC, a result of the state's economic meltdown. But researchers are upset because many of their salaries are at least partly paid by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other sources. Cutting pay from these non-state sources won't save UC any money, they argue, and could make matters worse.

"There's a net loss of income to the UC system that accompanies cutting [the salaries of] people who are not state funded," says Quentin Williams, a professor of earth sciences and chair of the academic senate at UC Santa Cruz. That's because the amount of money a university can charge grant-giving agencies for the indirect costs of research, such as building maintenance and utilities, is a fixed percentage of the direct costs of a grantee's research, including salaries and equipment purchases.

Yudof's office says he proposed across the board cuts for the sake of being even handed. But not everyone agrees the approach is fair. "If I'm bringing in this research money from Washington … and I lose my grant, the rest of the university doesn't have to feel my pain, and I wouldn't expect them to," says Andrea Bertozzi, director of applied mathematics at UC Los Angeles.

The UC Regents meet in San Francisco beginning 14 July, and Yudof is expected to decide on his final proposal—including any modifications based on feedback from faculty and staff—soon after the long July 4 weekend.

A longer version of this post will appear in this week's issue of Science.

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