Profs may see bigger checks

Bruininks made the official request to give professors merit increases.

Elizabeth Cook

Most college students wish they made more money. So do many University professors.

In comparison to 30 peer institutions, the University ranks 27th for faculty salary and 22nd for compensation, which includes benefits such as Social Security and health insurance.

University President Bob Bruininks’ $192.3 million biennial budget request, up for Board of Regents approval in November, includes $88.3 million for employee compensation.

Specifically, $69.6 million would go toward faculty pay and $18.7 million would fund compensation increases based on merit.

The University’s Twin Cities campus was ranked by the American Association of University Professors for 2005-2006. The survey compared the University to the nation’s top research universities, with Harvard, Caltech, Stanford and Princeton topping the list.

The University ranked above Wisconsin and Purdue, but

below Northwestern, Michigan, Illinois and Penn State.

Geoffrey Sirc, chairman of the University Senate’s Faculty Affairs Committee and an English professor, said faculty compensation is a concern among the committee. Sirc makes $90,000 a year and would like to make more.

“It’s a safe bet to say we all feel we are not paid as much as we should,” he said.

Since University compensation is not as high as other “aspirational” schools, Sirc said, it’s harder to keep top faculty – something critical to the University’s goal of becoming one of the top three research institutions in the world.

Sociology junior Sam Savage said only the “good” professors should get raises.

Last week, Savage said, his professor cancelled a class that meets weekly because she wanted to celebrate her promotion to full-time status.

Savage said it seemed like she didn’t really care about teaching the class. He said he went all the way to class only to find it was cancelled.

“If the people I’m paying don’t care, it’s like, ‘why are you wasting my time?’ ” he said.

Carol Chomsky, chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee and a law school professor, said salaries aren’t the only thing that matters in the University budget, but are a concern because low wages are leading professors to leave for comparable institutions.

With higher wages, retaining and recruiting faculty would be easier, Chomsky said.

“We want to keep the good people who have developed here,” she said.

Compensation increases are currently merit-based, Sirc said.

“We used to have a combination of across-the-board living increases and merit-based (increases),” he said, “and then at some point we went more to (entirely) merit-based.”

Sirc said a lot of faculty members think the policy should be revisited because it doesn’t address the rising cost of living.

There are pluses and minuses to merit-based increases, he said, and it would be beneficial to bring back the old style of pay increases.

Merit-based wage increases give faculty members a higher chance of a raise, increasing the amount of research a faculty member does, Sirc said.

But, at the same time, incentives could elevate some research over others, which Sirc said isn’t always fair.

Anthropology senior Nicole Bretall said she thinks salary increases should be used as incentives, not to be awarded until the University becomes a top research school.

“I think it’s understandable if the school is actually going to be good,” she said.

Faculty salary does not always reflect the quality of teaching, Bretall said.

She said some professors in her department cared only about research and not about teaching, while others were denied tenure for not doing enough research.

If approved by regents, the budget request will go before the Legislature early next year.