I used to work as a research assistant at Harvard, and I got paid a lot more than equivalent Local 34 workers do, even after adjusting for cost of living. Lately, to my surprise, people to whom I mention this fact have started informing me I am mistaken. “I am credibly told,” they say, “that when the difference in the cost of living between Boston and New Haven is taken into account, our pay is competitive with that of Harvard.” I found this hard to believe, so I looked into it, and guess what: that argument is based on what appears to be a deliberately misleading study commissioned by Yale.
My problem with the study, carried out by the human resources consulting firm Hewitt Associates, is not with its methodology. I have to take Yale’s word on the methodology, since Yale published only a summary of the findings. (Available at Yale’s Office of Public Affairs website) The problem is much more basic: the study compares the highest salary grade at Yale with third-highest salary grade at Harvard.
You wouldn’t know that from reading Yale’s account of the study.
According to Yale’s website, “The study examined the monetary value of Yale’s total compensation package by comparing the salary and benefits of Senior Administrative Assistants at Yale to the Secretary III position at Harvard. These two positions were selected based on their similarity of duties and qualifications.” A little weird they’d only compare one position, rather than taking a broader measure, but still it sounds fine, right? Nothing wrong with comparing two equivalent positions.
Only they’re not equivalent. Senior Administrative Assistants at Yale are in Salary Grade D, the highest of 4 salary grades. Secretary III at Harvard is in Salary Grade 8, only the 7th highest of 9 grades. There are three secretarial jobs above Secretary III: Secretary III (technical) and Executive Assistant in Salary Grade 9, and Faculty Assistant III in Salary Grade 10. Grades 9 and 10 are about 10 percent and 20 percent higher, respectively, than Grade 8.
In sum, the study compares the most senior secretarial position at Yale to the third or fourth most senior secretarial position at Harvard. Result? “Yale’s total compensation package for senior administrative assistants is comparable to, or better than, that of Harvard.”
There may be an innocent explanation for this, but I can’t think of one. From where I’m sitting, it looks like Yale’s study is deliberately misleading. More to point, it looks like, even after adjusting for cost of living, Yale’s most senior administrative assistants are getting paid the same as mid-level administrative assistants at Harvard.
Aron Fischer is a second-year student at the Law School.