Letter Raises Concerns About Salary Disparities Between College Employees

salaryincrease_graphWith the College undergoing the process of hiring a new President and a Vice President for Development, Department Chairs and Cross-Disciplinary Area Coordinators have reached out to the Board of Trustees in a letter regarding recent trends in executive pay at the College.

In the letter, the signatories suggest an imbalance between top administrators and other employees. The letter includes a graph that details the salary increases of various College employees. It clearly shows that the President and Cabinet member positions have outpaced average faculty salaries, inflation and student tuition. The Chairs and Coordinators find this trend “unsustainable [and] unfair to our State and community.”

The letter acknowledges the 56 percent increase in wages for the lowest paid staff members in the last few years. They argue that the increase, part of the living wage campaign, was supported by the College community at various levels and was approved through the College’s Strategic Plan. The 69.6 percent increase in administrative salaries, however, was not included in the strategic planning process.

Salaries at the College are set based on the median of the College’s Peer Institutions—liberal arts four-year institutions that are primarily undergraduate residential colleges. They problem with that, according to David Kung, Chair of the Math Department, is two-thirds of our peer schools are private. “I hope that a different benchmark is found that takes into account external factors and also internal factors of equity and fairness within our community,” said Kung.

The signatories argue that the growing disparity between administrative salaries and the rest of College employee salaries leads to low morale, which “has the potential to erode employees’ commitment to the College.”

“When people on campus feel as if they are not being fairly treated, they’re more likely to be talking about that than discussing important issues, such as what can be improved for students,” said Kung. “The things we could be doing instead of feeling under appreciated and complaining about that could really improve education.”

Discrepancies in salaries also undermine good recruitment and independence of faculty. According to Kung, for example, the Math Department offered someone a position but they declined because other institutions were offering higher salaries. “It’s hard to compete,” he said.

Another issue is support for research and professional development. For example, faculty members are expected to attend academic conferences and professional meetings. While the amount of the annual travel grant to attend them has remained the same over the past 10 years, conference costs have doubled. According to Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Bjorn Krondorfer, it would take about $70,000 to add $500 to the travel allowance for each full time faculty member. “Now compare this number, from which many of us would benefit, to the increase of salaries of the four top administrators,” he said. “It is just one example of many other worthwhile and important incentives to the benefit of larger groups of people.”

The Board responded with a letter to Robert Paul, Senate Faculty President, confirming receipt of the letter and notifying the faculty that the Finance, Investment and Audit Committee has been tasked with a fact finding mission regarding compensation practices. The results will be reported before the December 2009 quarterly board meeting.

“The fact that the Board of Trustees will now undertake their own fact finding on these issues is a needed and welcome gesture,” said Krondorfer. “More transparency on the college’s policy of financial compensation would be appreciated.”

Krondorfer suggested that board and members representing different groups of our campus community meet after gathering the relevant data and discuss reasonable salary structure and expectations.

Other Chairs and Coordinators have expressed interest in dialogue the results might bring. “Like my fellow co-signers, I look forward to hearing the results of the board’s evaluation. Indeed, the board may bring other factors to the discussion that both broaden and deepen the conversation,” said Julie King, Coordinator of Museum Studies. “It seems to me such dialogue is healthy and serves everyone.”

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