U set to raise faculty pay, but some remain doubtful

Jim Martyka

Even as a legislative conference committee fights over how much money to give the University in the next two years, University administrators are preparing to implement a plan that will raise faculty salaries — a plan that officials say is long overdue.
However, despite the administration’s outspoken commitment to raising salaries and a plan to do so from University President Nils Hasselmo, some faculty members are not quite sure they will see such an increase.
“I don’t accept that blindly,” said Kent Crookston, head of agronomy and plant genetics. “I’m hopeful that they will raise salaries, but I’m doubting.”
Crookston and other faculty members said that administrators’ promises to raise salaries in the past have fallen through, contributing to the University’s low standing in terms of faculty salaries.
On the point that the University needs a drastic increase in faculty salaries, however, both administrators and faculty members seem to agree.
“Salaries have been low for quite some time … we are much higher in our quality than our salaries show,” said Hasselmo. “It’s time we raise these salaries.”
Administration officials have said that since the state has an unusually high surplus this year, the time to increase salaries is now.
Since sending the University’s budget request to the state in October, administrators have repeatedly said that faculty raises were their top priority for the upcoming year. University officials have pitched the issue in the legislature, discussed salaries with faculty members and openly expressed concern that the University’s salaries were significantly lower than comparable schools.
“There is certainly a concern that the University has to be competitive,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak, who has led the University’s legislative effort. “And currently we are not.”
Faculty salaries at the University have been consistently low during the past 15 years. Marshak attributes this to a surge in pay increases at private universities, as well as a tradition of lower salaries than other public institutions.
In a letter sent to the Board of Regents on March 27, Marshak wrote that the administration’s main goal for the upcoming fiscal year was to bring each department’s faculty salaries up to the mean of the national market. The letter explained that although most of the University employment groups are at their respective group means, two exceptions were the faculty salaries on the Twin Cities and Morris campuses, which were well below.
“These faculty salaries at the University are not competitive,” Marshak said in the letter.
A report that Marshak presented at the regents’ Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee meeting April 10 showed that of the National Research Council’s top 30 national institutions, the University ranked 28th in full professor, 27th in associate professor and 24th in assistant professor salaries.
For full professors, the average salary of the 30 schools was $87,400. The current University average is $73,000. Salaries for associate and assistant professors at the Twin Cities campus, as well as salaries at the Morris campus, also rank below the mean of their respective peer group.
In fact, the report showed the only groups that were above the mean were associate and assistant professors on the Crookston campus, partially because of the status of the other schools in their comparison group. Because of its collective bargaining status, Duluth wasn’t included in the report.
Marshak also said, however, that these statistics did not consider the cost of living. For example, it is generally more expensive to live in New York than Minnesota; thus salaries in New York might be higher without leaving professors any richer. But Marshak said this isn’t a large adjustment.
Regardless of cost of living differences, the administration is committed to raising salaries to meet the averages.
“We have set this as our goal to shoot for,” said Hasselmo. “And I think this is something we can do.”
Hasselmo has proposed a three-year plan to increase salaries to match the averages. Though details of the plan have only been spelled out for the first year, Hasselmo said he hopes President-elect Mark Yudof will follow through with the plan.
For the upcoming year, the plan would require about $18 million to start increasing salaries, said Peter Zetterberg, the director of planning and analysis. This would be divided into two pools.
One pool would be used to increase salaries to all employment groups to deal with inflation.
The other pool would be set up specifically for faculty salaries. Raises out of this pool would be merit-based, and distributed by academic departments.
Raises would be given to faculty members July 1.
Although Hasselmo’s plan has not officially received regents’ approval, regents said they support Hasselmo’s efforts.
“I think the board supports what he’s trying to do,” said Reagan. “The board and the administration are poised, and we’ll just have to find a way to make it happen.”
Although Reagan said he has not officially heard any complaints about Hasselmo’s policy from regents, he said one concern that may arise is that this is a three-year plan. This plan would cut into the beginning of Yudof’s administration, which will begin July 1.
Yudof has also said he will continue to make increasing faculty salaries a top priority when he arrives.
Regents will discuss the plan at their May meetings.
Some regents said, however, that they do agree with Hasselmo that salaries are most important now.
“I think that in a priority list, (raising salaries) would come as number one,” said Reagan.
“It’s a big issue at the University,” said Regent H. Bryan Neel. “That’s why we’re targeting it as a priority.”
Regents made that clear during the summer when they adopted a four-year financial framework for their budget request. Each year, the University will request more funding from the state for faculty compensation than other expenses such as technology advances.
About three-fourths of faculty salaries are paid out of the University’s general budget. The other quarter comes from sources such as grants, research funds and endowments.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the University requested a funding increase of almost $240 million from the state. In May, when the legislature makes a decision about University funding, the total increase is expected to be between $132 million and $171 million.
But Marshak said the administration plan was based on an earlier prediction of receiving about $116 million.
“We believe it’s reasonable to go ahead on this assumption that we will get the money,” said Marshak. “Of course, there is always the possibility that disaster could strike.”
One thing administrators assured was that tuition rates would not be affected.
“I’m very committed to not exceeding the set tuition percentage increase,” said Hasselmo.
But if the University does get significantly less money, administrators said other programs could be affected.
“I think we have major advances we need to make in technology, and the timing of some of those developments may be affected if we get less money,” said Hasselmo. “But faculty salaries will be increased, as far as I’m concerned.”
One major concern administrators have about higher salaries is that without them, recruiting could be affected.
“Recruiting and retaining is very important to the University,” said Neel. “Improving faculty salaries is essential to do this.”
Officials said they are expecting a large amount of turnover in the next five to 10 years. Without higher salaries, they fear faculty might not even consider the University.
“We are in the market recruiting, and we have to be competitive in recruiting the best,” said Hasselmo. “Also, we have to make sure that we can hang on to the stars that we’re developing.”
Faculty members agree that salaries are important. “Money is not the first issue for many of my respected colleagues. It’s not the reason they’re here, and it’s not the reason they stay,” said Carole Miller, a professor in American studies. “But eventually you notice if you’re not making any progress.”
Despite the several pledges to make faculty compensation a top priority, some faculty members are still doubtful and angry.
“People are angry at the University,” said Crookston. “I would think that any individual professor would be dedicated, but I do know of faculty members that are now applying and responding to job announcements they would have disregarded 10 years ago.”
Other faculty members said they thought recent conflicts, such as the drive for faculty unionization, between faculty members and administration have encouraged officials to seek salary raises. “The tenure discussion highlighted this discontent,” said Miller.
Administrators, however, said they have not been receiving complaints from the faculty members about pay. Instead, they said it appears as if the two sides are looking toward a common goal.
“Faculty reactions have actually been quite positive,” said Hasselmo. “I think this is something that we can do, and there is strong University-wide support for it.”
— Staff Reporter Jennifer Niemela contributed to this story.