“We did a salary study and we found that 74 percent of our faculty make less than the Midwestern average, 90 percent of our faculty makes less than the national average; that’s by discipline and by rank,” said UWSP Provost Greg Summers.
As higher paid senior faculty retire and are replaced by the younger teachers who are generally paid less, a surplus is created from saved salaries. But the money that is saved has not been shared with the professors, as it once was.
“They’re saving money through retirements, and what has happened in that past and is still happening now, is that savings haven’t remained in the salary pool which keeps the younger faculty on par with their colleagues,” said Professor of Geology Kevin Hefferan.
Instead, the money is being diverted to classrooms, university research projects, campus maintenance, or anything else that has been reduced by state funding cuts. The UWSP administration was also looking into installing security cameras throughout campus, but had to postpone the project last year due to cuts.
Hefferan said he thinks that the university has spent the money wisely, but it’s been too long since the faculty has had their slice of it.
“People here have fallen very, very far behind. Faculty here makes sometimes 30 percent less than their peers in similar universities,” Hefferan said. “People always said that we got paid less but had great benefits—well, it turns out we don’t.”
UWSP faculty have seen an increase in the amount they pay into benefits, with a simultaneous reduction in the quality of those benefits, ultimately resulting in a 10 percent reduction in take home pay with worse medical insurance.
Hefferan said that he has been a professor for 15 years and might not be able to send his own children to college at UWSP, and he isn’t alone in his concerns. Other faculty members have started looking for new jobs in better-paying states.
But the administration recognizes the struggles of the faculty and has started to attempt a reworking of the school budget in order to start filling in the holes at the bottom. The chancellor’s goal in setting aside a pool of $100,000 for teacher salaries is to start the slow process of bringing everyone up to their peer average pay.
“We tried to take some of the money that we have access to,” Summers said. “We do have some limited flexibility to allocate it to raise faculty salaries based on equity.”
Summers said that this is only the initial step in making UWSP faculty salaries competitive with other similar universities, but unless they receive money from the state it will take a decade or more to bring the institution back up to an average level.
Hefferan argued that investing in the faculty and encouraging them to stay long term is important to building the university community, and without the community, the school and students will suffer the consequences.
“It’s gotten so bad that they sometimes just laugh at us,” Hefferan said.
A university is not a university without the professors, no matter how pristine the sidewalks, chalkboards, and classrooms are.