Kansas State faculty and unclassified employees filled Forum Hall to near its 575-person capacity Thursday to discuss pay grievances.
The heart of the argument was K-State’s average faculty salary of $73,810. That figure ranked last among the peer institutions as well as the Big 12 Conference, and 43rd out of 49 land-grant institutions during the 2011-12 academic year.
A petition signed by more than 25 faculty members provided the catalyst for the general faculty meeting which Julia Keen, 2013-14 Faculty Senate president, said was a first in her 10 years at K-State.
Faculty members are seeking implementation of Faculty Senate task reports on how to increase faculty salaries and attracting and retaining unclassified professionals.
During the meeting, faculty overwhelmingly approved a show of solidarity they intend to present to KSU administration next week. The resolution calls for a moratorium on upper administrative pay increases and on the creation of new administrative positions until the salaries of faculty and unclassified professionals have reached the median of the peer group.
K-State’s peer institutions are North Carolina State, Clemson, Iowa State, Auburn, Colorado State, Oklahoma State and Oregon State. Auburn, the median of the peer group, has an average faculty salary of $82,941.
Physics distinguished professor Chris Sorensen said there has not been much change in K-State’s status relative to its peers during his 36 years on the faculty. “This is the same age old problem in my experience, which is now more than a third of a century,” he said.
Based on that history, Sorensen said it’s important to ask what will be different. “If we don’t have a different strategy this time, let’s get one quick and do it right,” he said.
An argument made by faculty members is that becoming a top 50 public research institution by 2025 isn’t possible without competitive compensation. The university’s administration agrees with that judgment, listing that as a goal within the K-State 2025 initiative.
Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, associate professor of history, said she had concerns about the use of K-State 2025 in the resolution since pay is low regardless.
She mentioned that the presidential position at Virginia Tech has recently opened, noting that President Kirk Schulz is an alumnus of Virginia Tech, and openly speculated on the possibility of Schulz leaving KSU.
“What’s going to happen when President Schulz applies for the presidency at Virginia Tech?” Lynn-Sherow asked. “What happens when President Schulz leaves next year and we get a new administration and they scrap 2025?”
Schulz said in an article in Thursday’s Mercury that he hasn’t considered the Virginia Tech president’s opening at this point.
Some faculty members wondered what would be the next steps for approaching the situation if the administration doesn’t start improving salaries.
Christina Hauk, an associate professor of English, said there needs to be a decision on how to enforce the resolution. “We need to have some serious conversations on where our power lies,” she said.
Hauk drew some cheers when she raised the idea of a vote of no confidence or asking the administration to take a pay cut.
Lisa Tatonetti, an associate professor of English, said the faculty “needs to make noise to make change.” She said the administration has to be removed from its comfort zone.
“I wonder why we’re not talking about unionizing,” she said. “I wonder why we’re not talking about protesting.”
Economics department head Bill Blankenau was one of the few to vote no to the resolution. He said he was concerned about the message it was sending.
“The third point of this is counterproductive,” he said, referring to the call for administration salary freeze. “I don’t see how that’s going to bring about our goals.”
President Kirk Schulz and Provost April Mason issued a joint statement Wednesday as a response before the meeting. The administration is currently working on a three-year salary plan with most of the investment going to faculty and staff.
“Given the budget environment we have been in for the past five years, we are proud of the progress made,” they said.
The faculty resolution stated faculty salaries increased four percent, lower administration salaries increased 11 percent, dean salaries increased 43 percent and upper administration salaries increased 34 percent. The figures refer to total amounts spent on those areas.
The statement from Schulz and Mason took exception to this particular information.
They said salary increase percentages used different dates; upper administration is calculated based on March 29 pay period and other category is calculated based on Nov. 1, 2012 information.
“Salary adjustments have been provided to others since November, as well as the cost-of-living increase,” they said.
They also mentioned Kansas State’s average professor salary ranking better than other data. The average professor salary of $104,384 in 2011-12 ranked sixth out of the previously mentioned peer groups, slightly more than $3,000 away from the median of the group.
Keen said the salary issue is noticeable regardless of the data used. “All data sets I’ve seen shows K-State faculty is not compensated properly,” she said.
In the immediate future, Keen said she’s meeting with Schulz at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday at his office to present the signed resolution. She invited any faculty member to join her.
Keen said the steps after Tuesday depends on the administration’s actions. “If they move forward with a good plan, there’s nothing to do but say thanks,” she said.