REPORT OF FACULTY TASK FORCE ON SALARY ISSUES

 

September 13. 2006

 

 

 

The Faculty Task Force on Salary Issues wishes to report to the Faculty Senate concerning its activities since our last report in April of this year.  We are pleased to report some success in our efforts to communicate important faculty concerns about faculty and administrative salaries to the university administration and to convince the administration to place a very high priority on increasing salaries for the instructional faculty.  Much remains to be done; we did not achieve all the success we had hoped for.  But this was a good start to what must become a multi-year campaign to achieve parity, with regard to relevant peer groups, and between Mason’s instructional faculty and its upper-level administrators.

 

The Task Force met several times to consider how best to present faculty salary concerns to the administration.  Three meetings with Provost Peter Stearns and his staff followed, each discussion producing increasing clarity with regard to the faculty’s requirements and the administration’s responses.  In these discussions, the Task Force made the following points:

 

(1)   Based on data prepared by the Committee and previously presented to the Faculty Senate, Mason’s instructional faculty are poorly paid as compared with faculty members of sister institutions in Virginia and comparable institutions nation-wide.  Taking the cost of living in Northern Virginia into account, they are very poorly paid indeed.

 

(2)   This disparity is especially egregious with regard to the lower-paid ranks of the instructional faculty, especially assistant professors and faculty members on term contracts.

 

(3)   By contrast, upper-level administrators and administrative faculty are well-paid by comparison with their peers in comparable institutions nation-wide.  This relative disparity in administrative and faculty salaries is viewed by instructional faculty members as unfair and demoralizing.

 

(4)   Low instructional faculty salaries produce numerous disadvantages to the university.  These include a competitive disadvantage in the search for capable new faculty members and a mark against Mason in the nationwide rating of universities done by such organizations as U.S. News and World Report.

 

(5)   Therefore, the university should commit itself to a multi-year campaign to raise instructional faculty salaries to a level comparable to that achieved by upper-level administrators in comparison to their relevant peer group.  The task of raising faculty salaries should be accorded a higher priority than that of raising upper-level administrative salaries.

 

The administration responded by agreeing that instructional faculty salaries are too low, compared with the salaries paid at comparable institutions, and that raising them should be accorded a very high priority.  In the coming academic year, the Provost announced, instructional faculty salaries would be raised 5.5% (an increment of 1.4% over that mandated by the state), with another .5% devoted to increasing the minimum salaries to be paid at each faculty rank level.  The Provost also stated that he would begin work immediately, with the assistance of faculty members and the university’s new representative in Richmond, to attempt to convince the state to recompute the cost of living factor included in faculty salaries.

 

With regard to relative disparities between instructional faculty and upper-level administrative salaries, the Provost stated that, in the coming year, instructional faculty salaries would by raised by a rate substantially higher than that applied to administrative salaries, and that “future administrative salary increases will be carefully scrutinized.”  This did not amount to acceptance of the Committee’s request that a multi-year plan be adopted to eliminate relative disparities between faculty and upper-level administrative salaries, but it seemed to the Committee to represent a step in the right direction.

 

The Committee does not take credit for securing these salary increases in the coming academic year.  Fiscally speaking, this has been a relatively good year for the State of Virginia, and the university is anticipating increased revenues due to increases in enrollment and tuition rates.  Our continuing task is to convince the administration that increases in the salaries of instructional faculty must remain a top priority over the next five years, and that relative parity between instructional faculty and administrative salaries should be a university goal.  Nevertheless, we do appreciate the willingness of the Provost and his staff to meet with us at length, to listen to faculty concerns, and to respond affirmatively to a number of these concerns.  The effort seems to us to have been well worth making, and we recommend that it be continued in the coming academic year.    

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

Faculty Task Force on Salary Issues

 

Richard Coffinberger

Michael Ferri

David Kuebrich*

Julie Mahler

Richard Rubenstein

June Tangney

 

(* Replaced Richard Carver, who served on the Task Force earlier)

 

 

APPENDIX A: Concerns about the Growth in Administrative Salaries

 

 

The Faculty Task Force spent some time discussing the increasing difference between GMU instructional faculty and higher-level administrative salaries, both absolutely and with reference to relevant peer groupings.  This differential appears to be part of a larger national trend.  For the past twenty-five years, there has been a rapidly increasing gap between CEO salaries and those of the corporate workforce, and public education has clearly been influenced by this commercial development.  The results seem to us to be deleterious to the university community in several important respects:

 

(1)   The differential creates a relationship between the administration and faculty that

is more hierarchical than collegial.  Mutuality is severely strained when administrators make several times the salaries of most faculty members.  What was formerly a relationship of colleagues tends to become one of employers and employees.  The present two-tiered salary structure clearly implies that administrators are the more important players.  Not surprisingly, this contributes to a decline in meaningful faculty governance.

 

(2)   It also exaggerates the differences between the work done by administrators and

members of the faculty.  Administrators often work long hours under the pressure of deadlines – a fact that is frequently cited as the justification for their large salaries.  However, a great many faculty members also work similar hours under similar pressure.  Furthermore, many are deeply engaged in administrative work, ranging from serving as chairs and associate chairs of departments to serving on university task forces and Senate, university, or college committees; coordinating undergraduate, graduate or special programs; heading or serving on departmental committees; working with other faculty, students, and staff on ambitious extra-curricular programs; etc.  There has been a general tendency (also characteristic of non-academic organizations) to shift vital administrative tasks from central headquarters to schools and departments.  Yet administrative service by faculty members receives little recognition, financial or otherwise, and is perceived by many as a detriment to their professional advancement.

 

     (3)  It lowers faculty morale.  The present high salaries of upper-level administrators – especially given the lack of transparency regarding their contracts and raises – makes it difficult for faculty members to know if administrative salaries are based on merit or on other factors.  This contributes to an atmosphere of distrust and cynicism.

 

(3)    It weakens the image of public higher education.  Higher administrative salaries

contribute to a growing public disenchantment with the university system and inspire attempts by legislators to assert greater control over higher education.  The recent marked increases in administrative pay reduce the respect and good will traditionally granted to higher education by the public and their legislative representatives, imperiling much of what has been best about American public universities.

 

Although it is not within the provenance of this Task Force to study lower-level administrative salaries, it seems to us that the same disadvantages attend the growing gap between upper-level administrators and classified staff.  We think that the Faculty Senate ought to work collaboratively, wherever possible, with classified staff members to help to reduce this differential as well.  

 

 

Appendix B: Policy Recommendations

 

The following recommendations are intended as a means to elicit constructive dialogue with the Senate, the larger faculty, and the central administration.  Following agreement on new policy goals, the details of their implementation can be worked out.  We recommend that the university administration:

 

(1)   Publicly announce that improving instructional faculty salaries in relationship to relevant benchmarks (e.g., the salaries paid by our peer universities), taking into account the cost of living in Northern Virginia, is the university’s highest budget priority over the next five years.  The President and Rector of the university should be invited to speak to the faculty this term to publicize this goal and to present their ideas on how it may be achieved.

 

(2)   In concert with faculty representatives and representatives of other key groups (e.g., the Board of Visitors, Alumni/ae, and local supporters), develop and implement a detailed plan for lobbying the Virginia General Assembly to gain their support for this goal.  The university might offer to fund part of the salary shortfall in partnership with the Commonwealth as it has done in the case of funding buildings and other capital improvements.

 

(3)   Create and distribute annually reports on the university’s progress toward reaching this goal, with announcement of off-cycle salary adjustments that have been made, if any. 

 

(4)   Limit the annual salary increments for top administrators (who are at or about the 80th percentile with respect to their peers in comparable institutions) until the goal of raising instructional faculty salaries to approximately the same level, relative to their peers, has been achieved.  We recommend that until parity has been obtained, salary increases for top administrators be held to a level of approximately one percent annually.

 

(5)    Fully disclose to the faculty the terms of the existing contracts of upper-level administrators.  If the terms of specific contracts are protected by privacy constraints, general data should be provided.  There should be full disclosure, e.g.,  of the general agreements regarding (a) salary adjustments and released time upon return of administrators to the instructional faculty; (b) severance and retirement agreements; (c) other benefits; and (d) the sources and amounts of all university-related income received by central administrators in addition to their reported salaries from the state.

 

(6)   Until the university can devote significantly more revenue to increase the salaries of all instructional and lower-level administrative faculty, as well as classified employees, it needs to modify its rhetoric and to work with the Senate to develop more equitable salary policies.  Loosely used rhetoric that speaks of Mason as the “University of the 21st Century,” a “Harvard on the Potomac,” or a “world-class university in ten years” is not only unrealistic but dangerous if it affects policy making.  The danger that stems from this disjunction between aspiration and rhetoric, on the one hand, and obvious economic limitations, on the other, is that the administration can be competitive in recruiting and paying some faculty members only by taking deserved monies from other faculty and employees.  This has happened repeatedly over the years.  It ought to stop now.

 

(7)   Finally, we recommend that the Faculty Task Force on Salary Issues be authorized to continue its work during academic year 2006-2007.