Q&A with Director of HR Heather Quinn-Barron

As part of our coverage of recently proposed changes to staff pay scales, The Quest reached out to Director of Human Resources Heather Quinn-Barron over email with questions about the new system. Among other things, The Quest asked about the released pay grades, their suspension, staff reactions, and the introduction of job descriptions. This article consists of her full responses to those questions. 

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For all coverage of the staff pay controversy, see reedquest.org/staffpay.

Q: When did HR begin their pay scale overhaul, and what motivated it?

A: “Conversations and a working group about the new pay scale overhaul were started in Summer 2022. Job grades were removed in 2020 and replaced with ranges in 2021. The ranges were not consistent with standard compensation principles, and they did not align with position market rates. A new structure was required to align pay practices that are fair, transparent, and equitable.”

Q: What are the benefits of the new system?

A: “We wanted to create collaborative relationships with our hiring managers, so they could have input into pay decisions for new hires, and staff could have a clearer path of promotional opportunities within the college for Reed employees.”

Q: What criticisms of the new system from staff and faculty have most concerned HR?

A: “HR is most concerned about some employees feeling the college valued their work less. The goal was quite the opposite, especially for long-term employees who could be recognized for their experience.”

Q: Are there any legal concerns that the college is addressing with the new pay scale and the introduction of job descriptions?

A: “No, all of our procedures have been reviewed by our legal team.”

Q: Does the new pay system address any concerns related to staff satisfaction, retention and turnover?

A: “Staff satisfaction, retention, and turnover are managed by managers who work directly with employees. This pay system will not change that responsibility.”

Q: By what criteria did HR allocate positions to pay grades on the new (now paused) pay scale?

A: “The 2022-2023 salary grades/ranges restructure focused on WorldatWork and CUPA-HR compensation principles, along with administrative support from Payfactors, Inc. to ensure the college’s salary grades are consistent with higher-education standards. Salary grade assignments were determined through a number of factors, including but not limited to: market rate, education/certification requirements, position’s essential functions, required work experience, complexity of skills, supervisory responsibilities, and the role’s impact within the organization.”

For context, both WorldatWork and CUPA-HR are professional associations for workers in Human Resources. CUPA-HR is specifically an association for HR employees at colleges and universities. Payfactors, Inc. is a company that provides compensation software to HR departments. 

The next question asked about a few specific pay grade changes, which Quinn-Barron declined to address individually. The positions asked about were the Assistant Director of HR, the Associate Dean for Institutional Diversity, and all four salaried studio/visual arts positions listed in the available data ((Art Director, Art Gallery Director, Studio Art Technical Director, Cooley Gallery Coordinator). The Assistant Director of HR received the largest increases to minimum and maximum possible pay in the available data, with the Associate Dean of the OID getting the second-largest increases. The four arts positions received the four largest decreases to both minimum and maximum possible pay. 

Q: Based on analysis comparing the 2021-2022 pay ranges to the now-suspended pay ranges, I have a few questions related to specific positions […]

A: “All staff positions are uploaded in the compensation tool and evaluated the exact same way for grade placement based upon position market rates. No one position was singled out for promotion or demotion of earning potential. No employee’s salary changed during this process. Because the new ranges were set in early 2023, any employee who is now above their new range will not be subjected to the lump sum process for the July 2023 merit award. 

“Positions and ranges will be evaluated every 2 years and, based upon market factors, pay ranges may increase and/or positions may move up a grade, increasing an employee’s earning potential.”

Q: I understand that HR did not choose to publicize pay grades 11 and up, in part due to employee privacy. However, can you speak on the kinds of staff members that fall into those pay grades? I would assume it includes the President, VPs, deans, and other members of senior staff, though let me know if that’s at all incorrect.

A: “The jobs included in ranges 11 and up are the President, VPs, deans, and other members of the senior staff. These ranges have never been public at Reed, so we upheld the prior practice of not sharing those ranges. We recognize that people have feelings about what executives make, but it does maintain some confidentiality for roles that are not already public.”

Although HR did not choose to publish these job grades, in a spreadsheet listing non-exempt pay grades that has now been taken down, grades 11 through 17 were accidentally published. For more information, see Staff Pay Explained: Staff Pay Explained: What Would Have Changed, and Why Staff and Faculty Objected

The next few questions discuss the details of the recent decision to pause and review the recently-published pay grades. 

Q: What specific elements of the new pay system have been suspended for review?

A: “The pause is for current grades to not affect range maximum until further review.”

Q: What kinds of amendments does HR plan on making? The Compensation FAQ notes that “current grades need further review specifically to spread and some job grade placements.” Could you elaborate on that statement?

A: “We are re-evaluating grade ranges and what the percentage is between the minimum and maximum of the grade range.”

Q: Should staff expect to see significant changes to their pay ranges once HR is finished reassessing the overhaul?

A: “As we have paused the process to further evaluate, the answer to this question is not yet determined. Some positions may see a change, and others may not. It all hinges on the support we get from managers in following the job description process.”

Q: Does HR have any idea how long this reassessment will take?

A: “Compensation is complex and on-going. We hope this current evaluation process will take anywhere between 18-24 months. Having systemic and explainable grades were [sic] the first step in a multi-step process.”

The next few questions touch on job descriptions, which HR has recently decided to start keeping.

Q: Why has the college decided to begin keeping job descriptions on file?

A: “Job descriptions are essential for multiple reasons. In this case, a primary purpose is to have a common understanding of duties a role is responsible for, which helps drive market-rate determinations.”

Q: It’s my understanding that (at least in some cases) Reed would provide job descriptions to new hires and promotions, but did not keep these descriptions on file. To your knowledge how widespread, if at all, was this practice? And why didn’t Reed keep job descriptions on file?

A: “If this was a practice, it was not a universal college or HR-required practice. The College did compile information for job postings that in some cases are confused with job descriptions. It was a previous practice to not maintain job descriptions in the HR offices and allow managers to work with their employees on work assignments.”

Q: If Reed College did not keep job descriptions, how did the college set or manage job duties/requirements for each position?

A: “HR had historical data from job postings from prior search and re-evaluations. The compensation tool has been in place since 2019 so enough of the basic data was available to determine initial grade assignments.”

Q: In a recent staff meeting, Lynn Valenter said that part of the goal of developing job descriptions was to “support grade assignments.” If this is the case, why did the new grade assignments precede the development of job descriptions?

A: “We had enough historical data to do the initial grade assignments. We knew we would be refining and updating positions for at least the next 12 months, which is why we waived the July 2023 merit lump-sum payment process for all employees who would have been at the top of their grades.”

Q: Is there anything else you want people to know?

A: “From HR’s perspective, it was upsetting that employees did not choose to use our office hours and open-door policy to address questions and concerns. It was disappointing that employees used other avenues to express their concerns. We did not anticipate this. For those who did utilize office hours and had the conversations with a HR team member, most were able to leave with an understanding of the positive intent, eventual outcomes, and a sense of partnership in the process.”

About the Author

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Sabrina is an English major and Quest contributor, and was an editor of the Quest from January to December of 2022. She frequently reports on important breaking stories at Reed. She also sometimes writes movie reviews, and runs the Bird of the Week column which she started in 2020.

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Ben Salzberg
Ben Salzberg
27 days ago

All the higher grade positions pat are listed in Reed’s publicly available tax forms. The idea they were protecting privacy was ludicrous, as many of the staff grades listed have 1-2 people in them. Here is the tax form; exec salaries are on page 7: https://www.reed.edu/vice-president-treasurer/Form990_Reed_041123_.pdf