Posted October 16, 2017
Doug Margolis has been a professor in the TESOL (teaching English as a second language) program at UW-River Falls since 2012. In 2014, he took six students to South Korea for a J-term trip to help them teach English to Korean students in high schools.
The goal was to allow interactions for teaching English as a second language and help develop partnerships with schools in Korea. Margolis expected the university to compensate him the standard amount for the work he put in. However, he was in for a big surprise.
“In my mind I was going, and I had a job, and I would be paid for doing it,” Margolis said. “When I got back, I was told that some of my pay wasn’t going to be given to me because I went over the 2/9ths rule.”
The rule can be found in the UW-River Falls Administrative Policy Handbook and at the University of Wisconsin System level. It states, “Faculty are restricted to earning no more than a total of 2/9 of their annual contractual salary unless they receive written permission from the provost as the chancellor designee.”
The UW System also clarifies by saying, “Persons employed on an academic year basis shall be compensated for additional assignments during the summer session at the rate up to the equivalent of 2/9 of the previous academic year salary rate for a full work load for an eight week summer session.”
This especially applies to professors on nine-month contracts. Professors use these months to work on other writing projects and to accomplish research. This time isn’t available during the nine months when professors have to teach classes.
Margolis said he was a victim of the 2/9 rule and thinks staff should be compensated for the work they perform.
“I’ve worked at a lot of different universities,” he said, “and I’ve never worked at one where they ask you to do work and when the work was done say, ‘We’re not going to pay you for your work’ because of some policy.”
The problem resulted from a lack of communication among administrators, Human Resources and Margolis on how the rule should be applied. Margolis said that if the amount were calculated correctly, the rule wouldn’t have affected his pay in the first place.
This case shows the complexity and confusion that can be found in the 2/9ths rule that has been put in place by the UW System. This means UWRF doesn’t have a choice on if they want to administer the rule or not.
Human Resources also plays a role in determining how the 2/9ths rule is enforced. Brenda Creighton is a Human Resources manager in her fourth year at UWRF, and she said that Human Resources is on the back end of the pay process.
“We can only administer according to the policy, and there are guidelines that we have to follow,” Creighton said. “We can monitor it, and once it comes to where the limits are, we can request exceptions.”
One common scenario that forces the 2/9ths rule to be applied is when professors teach summer classes. Professors are paid according to enrollment, and if there is a jump in enrollment after plans were initially set, it can get into the danger area of earning more than two-ninths of the yearly salary.
“If it’s enrollment based, we can reconcile on that,” Creighton said. “We send them a reminder, but we can’t speak to payment until later in the summer.”
This forces a scenario where HR has to be the messenger for why a professor can’t fully get paid for the work they accomplished. Creighton says they have to explain why they can’t pay them, which isn’t their intention but is the rule they must follow.
Interim Provost Faye Perkins was able to give a reason behind the enforcement of the rule: “It was put together by the Board of Regents and focuses on a reasonable workload for professors and how much they should be allowed to work.”
Perkins said this rule never comes into play for most professors, but is decided upon on a case to case basis.
“We can make exceptions,” Perkins said. “There’s even been times it comes all the way up to the dean and he says no.”
Faculty Senate has tasked the Faculty Welfare and Personnel Polices Committee, along with the Faculty Compensation Committee, to develop a policy that makes sure that rules like the 2/9ths rule aren’t the responsibility of the employee but rather the responsibility of supervisors. This would ensure that supervisors have to calculate the costs before the contracted work is agreed upon.
However, Perkins maintained that faculty and administration are constantly trying to avoid the situation arising.
“We try to have good planning and both (faculty and administration) work together on this,” Perkins said. “It’s all about communicating to new faculty.”
Tyler Theyerl, a TESOL graduate student, hadn’t previously heard about the 2/9ths rule. Once he dug deeper into it, he said it seemed wrong to not pay the full amount for work that had been done under contract.
“My initial reaction was ‘Why?’, Theyerl said. “If they’re willing to take on more classes… I don’t see why there should be a limit.”
UW System institutions have been shown to pay 18 percent below the average pay of peer institutions. This raises the bigger question about why staff should be restricted in the amount of work they try to put on their plate. But as Perkins alluded to earlier, it’s all about putting a reasonable workload on the professor’s shoulders.
Margolis did end up getting an exception for his J-term project to receive full compensation, even though his situation was extraordinary because the 2/9 rule is only supposed to cover summer compensation.
Grants, summer teaching, consulting work and research are all activities that can add up to reach the 2/9 maximum that faculty has to avoid. With the policy in place, the only way to avoid headaches similar to what Margolis went through is to increase communication.
“Some are very involved in grants, and most of that work comes in the summer,” Perkins said. “It depends on how much they can take on before reaching that limit. A brand-new person may have to be more diligent.”
However, Perkins and other administrators would be forced to be more diligent if the Faculty Senate plan was put into place to take responsibility for calculating the rule away from professors.