Public and anonymity
When Grand Valley State University acted in compliance with state law last year, it published online exactly what it had published for years in the library: employee salaries, title, departments and names. This open access to a broader audience made some workers uneasy, though, and according to Ryan Jarvi’s front page article, GVSU filtered many complaints before removing any identifiable information from its online General Fund Position list.
But in answering the complaints, GVSU didn’t only take out names. The new format of the list only shows employees’ titles and wages—not even department. Employees get ultimate anonymity while interested page viewers get little information.
It’s easy to understand why some professors might not want their salaries aired to the public. Surely they don’t want their children or parents or friends to know how much—or how little—they live on. For some, it can be a very personal and embarrassing matter.
But while we can appreciate the anonymity that the new list allows, the exclusion of some data is troublesome.
Anyone who looks at this data is unable to distinguish an associate professor of physics from an associate professor of English, and thus cannot draw a conclusion about the expense of one department over another or, in essence, the current demand of a worker in one professional field over another.
The Lanthorn imagines that this lack of information is a hindrance not only to data analysts, but perhaps to professors, as well.
We don’t presume or wish to suggest that GVSU would act dishonestly or work to take advantage of its employees, but publishing every last detail could prevent anything of the sort. Perhaps the university knows it can hire in a new professor at a price far greater than the salary of a worker already employed. How is the long-standing employee to know if her earnings could increase as the new worker receives a larger starting sum, or if she’s being worked at a wage that isn’t comparable to her fellows?
As we see it, it’s an issue of leverage and fairness. So, looking beyond the fragile issue of public transparency versus personal privacy, we have to ask: isn’t more information something professors should want?