Professor compensation, the science of fair pay

Online picture

Story by Abby Siegel, News Editor and Alicia Steele, Assistant News Editor

The Finance Committee of the Faculty Senate completed a cost of living adjustment report that discussed concerns about faculty and staff compensation and proposed opportunities to provide additional earnings.   

The Murray State administration is hiring a consultant to conduct a comprehensive salary study, to expand on findings of the Finance Committee study, to discover how the university compares to other benchmark universities, said David Roach, chairman of the Finance Committee and professor of mathematics and statistics.

“We are curious if it is just our salaries not up to snuff or just not meeting the minimum comparison to other universities like ours,”  Roach said.

Adrienne King, vice president of University Advancement, said Murray State has committed funds in this year’s budget to begin a compensation evaluation.

She said “in recognition of their tireless dedication,” Murray State also included a 1 percent across the board increase for faculty and staff that began in July 2016.

“Despite our fiscal challenges, the university believes we must provide adequate compensation for our campus community,” King said.

The university is currently working to implement new Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime and employee classification requirements, King said. The classification of employees is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

King said an exempt compensation study will follow the FLSA implementation.

She said the first step will be a request for proposal (RFP), study completion and implementation, which will be completed through a series of phases. Included in the study will be cost of living adjustment recommendations and across the board increases, merit pay and market comparisons for both exempt staff and faculty.

RECRUITMENT & RETENTION

“At Murray State University our greatest asset is our people,” King said.

Roach said there is anecdotal evidence of being able to recruit quality professors but not being able to keep them.

“We found we lost 30 or so faculty over the last couple of years, not due to retirement, that concerns us,” Roach said. “Our department alone, I can think of three or four people who have left for positions elsewhere for various reasons.”

Katherine Farmer, Faculty Regent, said Murray State has been hiring around 15 new faculty members each year. However, she said faculty retention is a concern.

“They can get more money elsewhere to teach and not in the middle of nowhere,” Farmer said.

Roach said he thinks it can impact the university.

“Recruitment and retention of quality faculty is hallmark; it is essential,” Roach said.

An engineering faculty member who preferred to remain anonymous said he thinks Murray State is on the low side of compensation and benefits.

“I knew the salary when I started, but I thought there would be ways to move up,” he said. “I am finishing up my Ph.D., and it is out of my pocket, but that is the only way I can move up and increase my salary.”

He said he thinks the lack of advancement opportunity and low salary, especially for the department he is in, are factors of the retention rate.

“My students with a bachelor’s degree make more than I do with 20 odd years of experience,” he said.

To make additional income he said he still does work in the field. He said he has noticed that many faculty members in his department start looking for positions elsewhere after about two years.

COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT

According to Investopedia, a website that discusses financial content, cost of living is the amount of money needed to sustain a certain level of living, including basic expenses such as housing, food, taxes and health care.

“The cost of living adjustment based off of consumer price index was very important to us,” Roach said. “It is in the faculty handbook, and it just wasn’t being followed by past administrators.”

However, Roach said he is impressed with President Bob Davies and his commitment to the new ideas being presented.

According to the Finance Committee’s report, before Davies became president, across the board salary increases were inconsistent from 2008-14. The report also included the cost of living increases as reflected in the Consumer Price Index during that time.

Farmer said new data is not published until two years later, so the most recent data available is from 2014.

According to the report, across the board salary increases for faculty and staff were only above the cost of living increase in 2011 and 2013.

The other six years’ salary increases, however, were below the cost of living increases, according to the report.

“The raises almost just covers the increase in our insurance,” Farmer said.

Roach said bonuses are not expected at Murray State. He said in his 16 years as an employee he could only think of one stipend he received, which was about $400.

MERIT PAY

Roach said the Finance Committee suggested a merit pay system based off of excellent accomplishments in areas of teaching, research and service.

“It [service in residential colleges] is good for the university, it is good for students, but it turns into a volunteer, goodwill kind of thing,” Roach said.

He said there currently isn’t any merit compensation in place.

“I think that would be good for the university, good for morale,” Roach said. “A lot of the research we are doing and service to residential colleges, at some point it is not going to anything of substance as far as our salaries is concerned.”

Roach said the university budget crisis has halted progress on this.

SUMMER COURSES

Roach said the Finance Committee wants to expand summer course offerings to give professors the opportunity for more pay and students the opportunity to take more courses.

He said this is a work in progress but suggested potentially allowing professors to teach three courses instead of two during the summer session. He said this would expand the opportunities for students that are currently limited in some departments.

Roach said professors get paid by the hours associated with each course, and the amount is different for each department, tenure and courses the professor has taught in the past.

“We just look for the most qualified person and who is available,” he said.