Widening salary gap may demand cuts

The Faculty Senate recently completed a faculty salary study, comparing Washington State University’s pay levels with those of 19 peer universities. The conclusion, said Robert Rosenman, professor of economics who chaired the study committee, is that WSU faculty are “horribly underpaid.”

WSU President V. Lane Rawlins and Faculty Senate President Chuck Pezeshki agree.

“We fell from about 13.5 percent behind peer institutions in 2000 to 16.5 percent behind peer institutions in 2003,” said Rosenman. “During the same period, the administration has been saying that faculty salaries are their primary concern.”

With the governor and Legislature currently preparing their 2005-07 budget proposals (due to come out during the next week), all three are hoping that relief to the salary situation will come in the form of state funding. But none is holding his breath.

Nothing new
“This (report) is not new information,” said Rosenman, “It is more detailed, but we always knew that WSU faculty were 15-20 percent on average behind many of our peers … I have been here 22 years and I’ve known about this for 17 years.”

Rawlins agrees and notes that he is “deeply disappointed and distressed” with the situation.

“The continued deterioration is a result of no state salary increases in the past four years,” he said. “We can’t correct it all at once. The good news, in a back-door sense, is that state employees in Washington have gone without salary raises for years. I don’t think anyone (in the Legislature) thinks that can continue. So just from a funding standpoint, I think we’re going to get something from the state. But I could be wrong.

“This situation has reached a point where we may have to cut other things or even reduce the total number of employees in order to put more money into salaries,” said Rawlins. “We hope that most of this can be done by attrition. So, in addition to whatever we get from the state, we will try to add something for salaries.

“This is something we did two years ago, but we’re going to have to do more of it.”

If the state would fund WSU on a per-student or enrollment basis, the university could add students, add employees and make progress on salaries, Rawlins said. But it cannot continue to add students and employees to serve the needs of the state unless it receives adequate funding to do it.

“We can’t do that anymore,” Rawlins said firmly. “Area by area we must look at where we can cut back and decide how we can put more into salaries. But, even though we will make this effort, at some point salary progress will depend largely on what the state will fund.
“We need to make them (the Legislature) understand that the decision is not how much we will be funded but what kind of university we will have here, both in quantity and quality.” 

Rawlins then pointed to recent work to increase the revenue for education. “Some of us worked very hard on I-884, which would have directly addressed our funding problems. We had great support from many of the leading businesses in the state, and people like (WSU regent) Bill Marler and (Microsoft chairman) Bill Gates were willing to speak out and spend their own money to push this issue. But, that solution or any other that we are likely to find, requires new tax revenue.

“There is no lack of understanding about this crisis in higher education, but the will to raise taxes to find a solution has not yet emerged. I welcome all of the help that the faculty can generate to help legislators and the public understand the long-term consequences of not adequately funding higher education.”

Average salary numbers
When comparing “average departmental salaries” with those at peer institutions, the committee found that out of 52 WSU departments or units:
• 15 had average salaries that were between -25% and -56.7% below peer institution levels
• 23 showed average salaries at -10% to -24.99% below average peer levels
• 9 had average salary levels between -9.99% to 0% below their peers 
• 5 exceeded their peers by 0.75% to +16.69%

Faculty by rank
When considering the overall lag by “faculty rank,” results show that full professors universitywide are losing ground on their salaries most rapidly, moving from -12 percent to -16 percent between 2000 and 2003; associate faculty a bit slower from -6 percent to -10 percent; and assistant faculty gaining ground moving from -6 percent to -4 percent.

The committee also looked at the percentage of faculty WSU had in each of those ranks and how that compared to peers. WSU had more assistant professors (29 vs. 24 percent) and more associate professors (33 vs. 27 percent). But, when it came to full professors, WSU lagged by a full 10 percent (37 vs. 47 percent).

This relative shortage of full professors, said Rosenman, is “both a cause and effect of salaries.” Here’s why. Full professors have higher salaries. So, since WSU has fewer full professors, that drops its average overall faculty salary rate below its peers. At the same time, because full professor salaries are so far behind at WSU, many choose to leave, so there are fewer here.

“Who would want to stay here?” said Rosenman, kiddingly pointing to his own longevity and noting that his unit, economics, had the greatest disparity, with full professors trailing by a whopping -56.7 percent.

“It is clear that -— depending upon the department — there is less incentive for people to remain and become full professors because the salaries lag so far behind.”
Only two departments at WSU had full professors above their peers, the School of Molecular Biosciences with an average salary of $96,413, 1.7% above its peers, and the School of Hospitality Business Management with $99,394, 10.1% above its peers.
Do what’s necessary
Pezeshki agrees with Rawlins on most points,
even on the issue of making cuts.

“First, we need to come to the realization that we’re in a death spiral as far as salaries go,” said Pezeshki. “If that means reducing the size of the university in order to get out of that death spiral, then that’s what we’re going to need to do … Lane (Rawlins) has done some internal reallocations, but there’s been nothing from the state. We can’t give them (the students and the state) both quality and size at current funding levels … and we can’t maintain the quality needed to be recognized and compete on a national level.

“Second, we have to do a better job of communicating to the citizens and Legislature what a faculty is and does, because they don’t understand. The Legislature views the faculty as a static body, the same people asking for more money year after year. They look at it as though nobody is leaving and nobody has any options, and it’s not true. We do a lot of great things … and have a proven positive economic impact on the state. But, we are losing faculty to other universities around the nation.”

Importance of senior faculty
Having more senior faculty is a critical issue, said Rawlins. “The senior faculty determines the culture of an institution. They are the role models for junior faculty and introduce them to research areas. They are the ones who bring the national awards, grants and contracts and belong to national academies. More than anyone else, they set the tone of the institution … You don’t want all full professors … about 45 percent is a comfort zone for me.”

He contends that senior faculty are a wise state investment. “If you can get them the base pay, the good ones bring in more students, and more grants, contracts, researchers and private donors. They will more than pay for themselves.”

Same place as 1983
The fact that WSU has fewer full professors than assistant or associate professors is not a trend, Rawlins said. “When I first looked at the data in 1983, we were in the same spot, almost to the same degree. That has been a persistent problem, and it’s partly because we have very seldom hired at the upper levels in the past. We are hiring more full professors now, but it is going to take time.

“The other reason for this pattern is that we underpay our associate professors, so they leave. And when an associate professor leaves, we hire an assistant in his or her place. At other universities, when a senior level person leaves, they hire another senior level person. We haven’t had the cash to do that.”

Rosenman contends that there is no point in gathering more data and comparisons. The administration, he says, needs to tell the Legislature, “ ‘We don’t want to talk about anything but faculty salaries, we don’t want to talk about taking any more students or about any more initiatives, until the faculty salaries are fixed.’ Until the administration makes as drastic a statement as that I don’t think anything will happen.”

Rawlins’ stand is not far behind: “I’m not going to say that unless Olympia does something, we won’t do anything. We are going to do something anyway, and there are costs to that. At this point, the salary situation I think is dire enough that we will do what we can.  But, in the long run, as a state institution, we will need state support.”

To review a full copy of the faculty salary study or an abbreviated PowerPoint version, go to http://facsen.wsu.edu/whats new/Whats New.html.

Editor’s Note: Much of the salary data in the WSU comparison was based on information gathered annually by the Office of Institutional Research at Oklahoma State University. WSU’s Institutional Research Office purchases a subset of these data. The database adjusts all salaries to 9-month equivalents, which may not give accurate comparative pictures for some units.

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