Faculty pay raise

Amy Olson

As state legislators begin negotiating the higher education budget bill in conference committee, some University employees question the procedure the school must go through to obtain cost-of-living pay increases for faculty and staff members.
The operating budgets of state agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, account for cost-of-living salary increases; however, the University must request additional money for salary increases in the school’s biennial budget proposal.
Some professors argue the practice makes the University’s budget request seem bigger than it really is.
The University’s request totaled $198 million; University President Mark Yudof earmarked almost half the request — $95 million — for faculty and staff increases. Gov. Jesse Ventura recommended $121 million, including $70 million for faculty and staff compensation increases.
The House of Representatives’ bill nearly mirrors the governor’s recommendation, but the Senate bill includes just $82.6 million for the University. Both bills provide the school with a lump sum, leaving the final spending decisions to the Board of Regents.
A bipartisan group of senators and representatives will begin meeting today to hammer out the $40 million disparity between the House and Senate higher education funding bills.
The House bill funding assumes a 3 percent increase for faculty and staff, but the Senate bill includes money based on a 2 percent increase. Some staff members expect money for the 3 percent increase will be part of the final bill, given this year’s budget surplus.
“This year we’re fairly certain the 3 percent increase is secure,” said Mary Berg, co-chairwoman of the Civil Service Committee’s subcommittee on compensation.
Most of the money designated for salary increases will go toward cost-of-living adjustments for faculty and staff members. About 80 percent of the University’s operating budget funds employee salaries.
Instead of having different systems for operating budgets, there should be a uniform statewide policy outlining these increases, said Sara Evans, Faculty Consultative Committee chairwoman.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system spokeswoman Nancy Livingston said MnSCU faculty and staff members are in the same position.
Evans said faculty members would like inflationary increases to be automatic, adding that the situation forces the University to ask for an amount of money that seems larger than it really is.
“Other state agencies aren’t always put into that position,” said Marvin Marshak, faculty legislative liaison.
Marshak added that while faculty members would like to see the practice change, they are more concerned about the University’s budget request.
University Associate Vice President Richard Pfutzenreuter said the system is imperfect. He added that although the processes are different for government agencies and the University, the Legislature has to approve budget increases in both cases.
Pfutzenreuter said he doesn’t expect the conference committee to finish debating the bill until the very end of the session, which is scheduled for May 17.
The bill will need gubernatorial approval before Yudof can make his final recommendations to the Board of Regents.
“What we do with the new money is at the board’s discretion,” Pfutzenreuter said.