As Administrative Wages Rise, Staff Morale Falls

Correction: 58 faculty members will receive a raise in January 2012 under state law including 23 Assistant Professors, 22 Associate Professors and 13 Professors. Also, 18 staff members, not 15 as originally reported, received or will receive raises. 

In response to a bill recently passed by the Maryland General Assembly, St. Mary’s College administrators are accepting a salary increase. The bill does not permit wage increases for faculty and staff members until 2014.

The Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2011, passed through the House (House Bill 72) and Senate (Senate Bill 87) and accepted by Governor Martin O’Malley in May 2011, was finalized as a 144-page document detailing recent budget changes for Maryland institutions. According to Section 24, “State employees…may not receive merit increases prior to April 1, 2014.” However, included in Section 24 were two exempt clauses, which allowed merit increases necessary for “the retention of faculty in…St. Mary’s College,” as well as for “operationally critical staff” for 2012 only.

The College defines “operationally critical staff” as positions that have not been easy to retain for long periods of time, or as positions held by those with “specialized or unique skills or experience” that, if lost, would cause a financial or operational disruption to the College. In accordance with the act, St. Mary’s was asked to submit any wage increases, as well as its definition of “operationally critical staff,” to the General Assembly by Dec. 1.

According to Dave Kung, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Faculty Finance Delegate, around 15 administrative employees are receiving two to three percent raises. Staff and faculty, however, are not receiving raises. Staff members at the College include housekeeping, grounds keeping, and maintenance workers, according to Kung.

“Staff haven’t seen raises in three years, and morale among staff fell off a cliff [when they heard about the administrative raises],” said Kung. “Staff are hurting financially, and they see these raises as a total slap in the face.”

While staff wages have remained constant, there has been an overall pay decrease given inflation and the rising cost of living in St. Mary’s County. “In overall terms, wages are lower than they were three years ago,” said Kung.

When the faculty discovered that a raise for administrative employees at the College was in the works, many voiced their concern. At a faculty senate meeting, Associate Professor of Mathematics Sandy Ganzell suggested that the administration donate the money they acquire from their raises to an emergency fund for staff. “A number of faculty voiced their support,” said Kung.

On Oct. 7, Kung wrote a letter to College President Joseph Urgo, mentioning that the College had been in a similar situation in 2001. He stated, “Just as the state was initiating a wage freeze that would last for three years, the president and her cabinet received substantial raises. The effect on campus morale, especially among the lowest paid staff, was devastating. With that one move, the president lost the support of a significant portion of staff as well as many faculty – support that she never really regained.”

“What really gets at me is the rhetoric of being a supportive community,” said Kung in an interview. “To turn around and take raises for the people who least it need it is incredibly hypocritical.”

“To me, there are very few people who work on this campus who don’t deserve raises,” said Urgo. He discussed how the state is only allowing the two kinds of raises at this time. “We would have liked to do more but we did what we could with the money we had,” he said. “We are on a salary freeze. We would like to give raises to all employees, but we cannot.”

According to Kung, the staff members on this campus are very willing to endure and make sacrifices for others, as long as other people are sharing in their hard work and endurance. If the administration is receiving raises, then they are not enduring these hardships with the staff.

“I think that when upper management takes raises when no one else gets them is an insult to this institution,” said one staff member in response to the wage increases.

An email was sent to staff informing them of the recent administrative raises. The email was soliciting for anonymous stories from staff members who may be enduring hardships as a result of their low wages. Numerous staff members replied with their stories.

“I have worked at the College [for a few years] without a raise,” said one staff member in response to the email. “I have had to sometimes go without one or more medications because I could not afford to get my prescriptions.”

“The administration has long forgotten what it takes to keep their employees happy and in a good, healthy working environment,” said another staff member. “The next time we have a hurricane, let Joe and Tom and Derek and Sally and Beth and Laura stay on campus all night with the kids to make sure they are well cared for, and not scared or in danger.”

Many faculty voiced support for using the wage increase as a way to aid staff members, including the establishment of a fund to reserve money until it would be legal to disperse among the staff.

“We can’t legally give raises to staff,” said Kung, “but there are certainly things that could be done.”

According to Kung, the salary increases vary from person to person, and are not related to the semester’s mold remediation project or movement of students aboard the Sea Voyager.

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