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Lower paychecks a problem for faculty

By Sarah Spivack
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 13, 1998
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If the state doesn't start paying UA faculty members what they're worth, it may hurt the school's ability to stay competitive, university officials said.

Statistics show that University of Arizona faculty members take home smaller salaries than their peers at comparable state institutions.

This deficiency could seriously harm the quality of UA science departments if the state legislature doesn't start budgeting more money for education, said Eugene Levy, Dean of the College of Science.

"If the state doesn't do something soon, it (the reputation of the college) is going to drop off," Levy said. "There has been a failure of vision about the future just at a time when science has become very competitive."

He said the College of Science has lost people in every department because UA salaries are not competitive.

"Virtually every department in my college falls below the curve," Levy said, referring to statistics comparing UA paychecks with those of peer institutions.

The College of Humanities has seen damaging effects as well. English Department head Larry Evers said that when compared to 14 peer institutions, the UA English Department is definitely in the lower half.

"We're not as competitive as we might be, but we're still able to compete," Evers said. "Of course it has an impact on faculty morale."

An issue in the English Department is its inability to hire at the full professor level because of the uncompetitive pay-scale.

"It's very healthy for a department to be able to recruit at all levels," Evers said. "We need a new generation, but it's sometimes important to recruit a key person who has been proven."

Vice-Provost Elizabeth Ervin said UA faculty raises are handled in a "capricious" way by the state. Each year Arizona gives a chunk of money to the university for myriad salary adjustments - including funds for merit-based raises and cost of living compensation. In the past several years, the money hasn't amounted to a hill of beans, she said.

In 1991, the state budgeted no money at all toward salary increases. In other years, pay raises were less than the inflation rate, which amounts to a cut in pay, Ervin said.

The provost's office has dealt with as many poor salaries on a university level as various deans have done on a department level. Ervin said $15 million has been designated for salary increases over the past few years. Instead of hiring new faculty when someone retires, the money is often used to address salary issues within a department, she said.

"In a sense it's like eating your own young," Ervin said, because the money is coming out of programs necessary to the maintenance of a quality university.

She cited several factors, including the attitude of Arizona citizens and national trends, as limiting the money spent on education.

"Some years the state would prefer to send a child to prison than to school," Ervin said. "If the people of the state are saying we want more prisons and policemen, that's where the money goes."

Ervin said there is also a political perception of university personnel as "fat cats."

The people and the legislature need more information so they can recognize the university's need for funds, Ervin said.

"We are continually losing our best people because we can't offer salaries or starting packages or lab space ... we are losing good people every year," she said.

Relatively low pay affects more than the UA or the university system - the state of Arizona has a salary problem - said state Rep. Marion Pickens, a Democrat.

Pickens said that many members of congress would rather compensate other state employees before universities.

"There is a philosophy that the universities can find money of their own - through grants and private funds," she said.

State Rep. Herschella Horton, also a Democrat, said the Legislature needs to be made aware that university faculty pay is a particular problem that needs attention. Horton said the Legislature needs to hear more from the UA about the problem, because popular opinion is often against the universities.

"If someone makes $100,000, that does not generate much sympathy for them needing to earn $125,000," Horton said.

She emphasized the need to spread awareness about the problem among voters and legislators.

"Certainly at a time when we want to remain competitive - it's not just in the state or even the nation, but in the world where we need to remain competitive."

Pickins was skeptical about the usefulness of providing the Legislature with more information about the UA's salary difficulties.

"The information is there, it's their (legislators') philosophy of keeping government lean and trim and sometimes non-existent," that needs to change, she said.

UA President Peter Likins said there is a state task force currently looking into the salaries of all state employees. He said the uni-versity would "put our muscle" behind that effort, if the task force requests a significant amount of money be put toward salary adjustment.

Likins said the state is willing to help with the UA's salary troubles, but with the weakening economy, it's ability to help is limited. "I don't see the Legislature as the enemy here," Likins said, "But raising taxes is unlikely even with good will."

Sarah Spivack can be reached via e-mail at Sarah.Spivack@wildcat.arizona.edu.