Faculty pay plays catch-up with top 30

Kane Loukas

Faculty members have enjoyed generous salary increases in recent years, though not enough to get the University’s pay rate back into competitive territory.
According to salary statistics released Friday by the American Association of University Professors, the University’s faculty compensation, with big raises and high average salary, stands out from most U.S. schools.
For 1998-99, the average faculty member in a U.S. college enjoyed a 3.8 percent pay increase, more than twice the 1.6 percent inflation rate for 1998. The University’s Twin Cities campus — the most useful for comparison to other Big Ten schools — rose about 6.5 percent, and followed an 8.5 percent increase for the 1997-98 academic year.
Professors at the University also appear to win big when it comes to total pay. The average full professor will collect $85,600 this year, a figure well above the $72,721 national average.
Taken with respect to the entire nation, University professors stand comfortably in the upper class of academia. But in the opinion of Stephen Gudeman, chairman of the University Senate’s Finance and Planning Committee, the situation isn’t as rosy as it looks.
“We’re usually able to offer better salaries, but with the lack of support (from the Legislature), we’re not able to attract the best people,” Gudeman said. “That’s been our struggle and our worry, and I think everyone’s concerned about that.”
The Legislature will announce the details of the University’s funding in late May.
While salary raises in recent years have been above the norm, long-term salary growth has been absent. The University may beat the national average, but when it comes to competing with top research institutions, the University doesn’t stand a chance.
Given statistics for the 1997-98 academic year, the latest available, professors who leave the University for other schools have plenty of incentive to clean out their desks and set up shop elsewhere: The average salary for a full professor was $13,500 below the average salary among other top 30 schools. For associate professors, the disparity was $4,500; for assistant professors, the gap was $4,600.
“There was a long period of time in the 80s and 90s that, when the Legislature needed money, faculty salaries went on the chopping block,” said Sara Evans, chairwoman of the Faculty Consultative Committee — the main representative body for faculty issues. “The conclusion of the faculty now is pretty common sense: We’re pleased to be making progress and we’re very concerned that we continue to make progress.”
The University’s salary rut is the same one that most public universities and colleges have been stuck in. The American Association of University Professors reported that since 1970, the average inflation-adjusted salary at private schools rose nearly 24 percent, while salaries at public institutions climbed only 5 percent.
Anxious professors might not be comforted by what’s happening nearby at the University of Wisconsin; however, it’s a reminder of how difficult it is for state Legislatures to fund all their obligations, even seemingly important investments in professor salaries. Right now, the school’s Madison campus and the Wisconsin Legislature are struggling to keep tuition down while propping up salaries for the upcoming 1999-2000 academic year. So far, students are looking at a 5 percent to 8 percent tuition hike.
The Minnesota Legislature has the same problem — and then some. In addition to the dilemma of providing competitive salaries without hurting students, the Legislature is trying to cope with increased state prison occupancy and the dire condition of public elementary and secondary schools, both of which demand hefty, long-term investments.
For the time being, faculty members have found a supplementary source of support in University President Mark Yudof, who has strongly advocated upping professors’ salaries since he joined the University in July 1997.
“He’s doing what he can, and he’s genuinely committed to improving the rank of the University, and that involves improving the position on faculty salaries,” said Kent Bales, chairman of the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs.
Whether Yudof’s support will reap further wage increases is yet to be known, especially since the needs of faculty members must compete with several major on-campus construction projects.