Faculty push for higher salaries

Erin Ghere

When pharmacy students leave Brian Isetts’ classroom for full-time jobs, their starting salaries are $15,000 to $20,000 more each year than the man who taught them the trade.
Low faculty salaries have been a consistent issue at the University as officials try to compete with other colleges and the private sector to keep faculty members in classrooms.
But recently University President Mark Yudof began a bigger push to offer competitive salaries to all faculty members, aiding both recruitment and retention, as well as morale.
There is good reason to be concerned: The University ranks 26th among the top 30 research universities in faculty salaries, and in the next 10 years more than half of University faculty members will reach retirement age.
University officials have begun pushing from both ends to become more competitive: fund raising for specialized faculty endowments and proposing a 5.5 percent tuition increase to give an across-the-board raise to all faculty members.

The problem
The recent history of poor funding for salaries can be followed back at least a decade to smaller funding allocations from the state and higher costs to run the University.
Last year, 61 percent of University expenditures went to faculty salaries and benefits. But every 1 percent raise given to faculty members costs the University $9.6 million.
In the last 10 years, University faculty members have gone three years without pay raises, five years with raises at inflation level and two years with what Fred Morrison, Faculty Consultative Committee chairman, considers “reasonable” pay increases.
In 1997-98, the average salary for a full University professor was $81,000 — nearly $30,000 less than private universities and $13,500 less than the top research university.
“Just as deferred maintenance on buildings shows in peeling paint and leaking roofs, inadequate support of the intellectual infrastructure is beginning to show,” Morrison told the Board of Regents in his September faculty update.
Low faculty salaries affect the University’s “ability to attract and retain the most highly qualified candidates.”
Morrison, who is also a law professor, addressed the issue again in December.
“The increasing gap in compensation between Minnesota and many other leading research institutions is a cause for concern about the future stature of the University,” he told the board.

Holes in legislative funding
When asked how the University got to this point, Yudof often points to the state as a culprit.
“I was deeply disturbed by the lack of funding for faculty salaries by the 1999 legislative session,” Yudof said in his State of the University address at the end of September.
Yudof was unavailable for comment this week.
The Legislature allocated and Gov. Jesse Ventura approved $104 million in funding for the University last year — only a portion of the $198 million the University requested.
Left on the cutting room floor was 2 percent of a requested 5 percent faculty pay raise.
“It seems to be beating our head against a brick wall to get more” than 3 percent for faculty salaries, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, at the end of the last legislative session.
It was only one disappointment in a series of budget disagreements with the state in the past 10 years.
In the early 1990s, state budget problems hit the University hard, said Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley.
Leppik, the House higher education finance committee chairwoman, said faculty salaries were affected by those cuts. During the 1999 session, legislators gave $69 million for an across-the-board 3 percent faculty pay raise.
The House requested full funding for faculty salaries, but after conference committee negotiations with the Senate a smaller percentage was agreed upon, Leppik said.
The Senate looked at the University’s entire request and allocated funding expecting the University to micromanage itself, said Mike Wilhelmi, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf’s legislative assistant. Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, is the Senate higher education finance chairman.
Senators approved enough funding last session “to provide for a decent education for students,” Wilhelmi said, but expect the University to find faculty salary funding in the money it’s given.
“If we had the money, we’d love to spend it … higher education does quite well,” he added.
But Leppik said the Legislature does prioritize faculty salaries highly. “You can’t have a first-rate university without first-rate faculty,” she said.
As a result, the Legislature gave the highest percentage of University funding for faculty pay increases.
And although the University will return to the Legislature in future years to fund base faculty pay raises, University officials don’t think they can rely on legislators to make them competitive.

A grand solution
One of the many solutions devised to combat the University’s competitive compensation problem comes in the form of a $1.3 billion fund-raising project.
Campaign Minnesota officials hope to raise the impressive amount by 2003 and are already more than half-way there. Of the total, $275 million would go toward faculty recruitment, development and retention.
The McKnight Foundation has given one of the biggest donations to create 15 endowed chair positions at the University. Since the January donation, the University has selected two professors for these $1 million endowed chairs: Plant geneticist Dr. Ronald Phillips in January and physics professor Leonid Glazman last month.
While the details of Glazman’s endowed position were not available, Gerald Fischer, head of the University of Minnesota Foundation, the University’s fund-raising body, said Phillips’ endowment gives him access to about $55,000 in extra funding, on top of his normal salary and expenses.
Endowments provide for general compensation, not just salaries, including the ability to hire top graduate students as research aides, travel to worldwide conferences to collaborate with other academics, and quality lab and classroom equipment, Fischer said.
All of those elements come together to create a great learning community, he added.
“You don’t want to depend upon annual donations for faculty salaries, because the first time they decline because of the economy has declined, how are you going to meet your obligations?” Yudof said last fall.
The interest from endowments can be accessed in the future.

Across-the-board pay raises
While the University wants to attract world-class faculty with the promises of endowments, it also seeks to retain its current 2,800 faculty members through general pay raises.
From the Legislature, faculty members received a 3 percent raise in July. If the Board of Regents approves Yudof’s proposal to raise tuition 5.5 percent, they will receive another 3 percent raise in the near future.
But Yudof has routinely said University faculty would need a 15 percent pay raise, plus inflation, to be competitive with the top research universities.
Harvard University, Stanford University, Princeton University, the California Institute of Technology and Yale University are in the top five.
Faculty members are divided on what type of pay increases will serve faculty members better.
Pharmacy assistant professor Isetts said across-the-board raises will improve faculty morale more than McKnight-type endowments.
But philosophy associate professor Michael Root said specialized endowments and general faculty pay raises go hand-in-hand.
The University gains a reputation to attract both students and other highly respected faculty members by having prestigious chairs. But all faculty members need the University to acknowledge their importance by across-the-board pay raises as well, he explained.
“They are parts of the same strategy,” Root said.

Higher salaries mean more benefits
Most faculty members and administrators will say lower salaries mean lower faculty morale.
“Salaries have a very direct effect on morale,” said University Vice President and Provost Bob Bruininks.
Compensation is also a large factor in how long and how much faculty members are willing to commit to the University, Bruininks added.
University officials list many reasons why faculty salaries need to be higher and what benefits good faculty members bring to the institution. In addition to community, the benefits to students through the classroom and to society through research innovations and leadership outweigh the price paid.
To attract and keep those faculty members, the University must raise salaries and, in turn, raise faculty morale.
“We look to others to tell us how valuable we are … and one way is how much (employers) are willing to pay for our services,” Root said.
University administrators agree.
“One of the most important factors in job satisfaction and motivation is the perception that you’re treated fairly in compensation,” Fischer said.

Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]