Medical school professors file lawsuit over paycut

Valentina Duque Bojanini, News Editor

Two NYU School of Medicine professors filed a lawsuit in July against NYU and the medical school, having been notified that their pay would be cut after they failed to meet expectations for acquiring research grants.

Following damage to their research projects after Superstorm Sandy, associate professor Marie Monaco and professor Herbert Samuels said they lost data necessary for grant applications. The professors said while this greatly impacted their ability to acquire outside funding, the suit focuses on a larger issue with the School of Medicine’s salary reduction policy.

Shawn Paik/WSN
Shawn Paik/WSN

The School of Medicine policy expects all faculty to earn back at least 60 percent of the portion their salary set aside for research. Failure to acquire at least 20 percent of this amount can result in salary reductions.

In their petition to the New York State Supreme Court, the professors said the salary reduction policy goes against the NYU Faculty Handbook and the guaranteed tenure that protects academic and economic freedom.

“The handbook defines tenure as ‘a means to certain ends, specifically: freedom of teaching and research; and a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession of teaching attractive to men and women of ability,’” the petition said.

In response to the suit, NYU spokesperson Lisa Greiner said the policy was started in 2008 by the School of Medicine and its Faculty Council to keep its job performance standards in line with that of other of other medical schools.

“All faculty researchers are required to obtain research grants,” Greiner said. “Faculty are advised annually if they are meeting expectations or not. In 2014 only a very few faculty, no more than 15 out of a total of 350 faculty, failed to meet standards. Of these, fewer than half had salary reductions.”

The professors said the policy applies pay cuts without considering the merit of an individual’s research and overall involvement in the medical school.

“This is not only unfair to the individuals affected, but it is a very detrimental approach to the administration of an academic institution which should be rewarding hard work and innovative research regardless of how much external funding is available to support that research,” Monaco said.

The doctors believe the salary reduction policy strips faculty of their rights to academic freedom, which should allow faculty to pursue research regardless of its popularity or economic potential. In an Aug. 5 press release, Samuels said he was concerned about the ways in which this policy would affect future medical discoveries.

“By forcing medical school faculty to pursue only research which receives funding that would pay their salaries, many areas of medical science will be neglected, and opportunities to make important breakthroughs in medicine will be lost,” Samuels said.

The School of Medicine is currently the only NYU school that implements this kind of salary reduction policy. Monaco said she fears that should the school be successful in reducing their salaries, a precedent would be set for other schools at NYU to implement a similar kind of policy.

While a hearing date has not yet been scheduled, NYU Langone Medical Center plans to respond to the professors’ claims in court.

Valentina Duque Bojanini is a news editor. Email her at [email protected].