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Economy slows professor pay

U faculty rank low in Big Ten

April 26, 2001

A slowing economy might be to blame for lower faculty salary increases, some believe.

An annual survey of college faculty salaries has found that average wages in 2000-01 increased by 3.5 percent - only one-tenth of a percent more than the national rate of inflation.

And the survey, released by the American Association of University Professors, showed the economic downturn may be responsible for the slowdown and the reason for tougher competition for the best faculty throughout the country.

“An important message to be derived from any report like this is that all of the public universities in Michigan are competing for faculty in a national marketplace,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, adding that retention rates have been strong on Michigan campuses - but the economy could bring that obstacle soon.

“One challenge is attracting the best faculty you can find, and the other side of that that same coin is the question of retaining faculty that have been on a campus for a period of time.”

Ernst Benjamin, director of research for the American Association of University Professors, said Michigan public universities have benefited from strong state support overall. But there are differences to be addressed among individual institutions.

He said Michigan fares will nationwide, largely because of the University of Michigan, which ranks in the top 20 percent nationwide for faculty salaries.

“But on the other hand, at MSU, the salary ratings are in the 40th to the 60th percentile, which means they are average among all universities,” he said.

Ernst said MSU has historically been quite competitive, but in recent years, the university hasn’t been offering faculty larger-than-average raises.

Full professors at MSU earn an average of $85,200, which makes university faculty the third-highest paid in the state, just below Wayne State University with $87,200. U-M faculty lead the state by earning an average of $105,200.

Julie Peterson, a U-M spokeswoman, said the university puts emphasis on keeping salaries competitive to vie for the country’s finest faculty.

“Because many of our departments are among the top in the country, U-of-M is subject to raiding from schools such as Stanford and Harvard,” she said. “We are always working on strengthening our faculty salaries to attract top teachers and researchers and to keep them here.”

But Robert Banks, assistant vice provost for Academic Human Resources at MSU, said MSU is doing its fair share to keep faculty satisfied with an annual 5 percent raise for professors, based on merit.

Still, faculty salaries at MSU continuously are in the middle of the pack when compared to its peer schools in the Big Ten.

But members of the MSU Board of Trustees say they don’t allow the work of professors to go unnoticed. Board members have continuously stressed their interest in increasing faculty salaries to attract a promising teaching staff.

However, bringing faculty pay up to par heavily relies on closing the funding gap between U-M, Wayne State and MSU. To better compensate MSU faculty, the state Legislature has to work to give MSU the same money per-student that its two peer research institutions receive, Trustee Joel Ferguson said.

“The key thing is we have to bring more money in,” Ferguson said. “We’re trying to get more money and give the university administration the ability to raise faculty salaries.”

But while budgets seem to be getting tighter and competition for the finest teachers fiercer, some MSU faculty say the university should be more concerned about retaining its best professors.

That could include heftier pay boosts.

While MSU faculty salaries are still greater than the national average salary for full professors - $78,912 - the university ranks below six other Big Ten universities in total compensation, which includes health care and pension benefits.

Nicholas Mercuro, a university-wide professor who has also worked at University of New Orleans and Tulane Law School, said he has heard of professors who made close to $70,000 being “purchased away” by universities offering $100,000.

“I think there is a general concern that people don’t want to lose their young, promising faculty,” Mercuro said. “If you start losing them, it’s kind of like losing your life blood.”


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