WKU salaries below benchmark

Cameron Koch

WKU’s motto may be “A Leading American University with International Reach,” but it definitely isn’t leading in faculty salaries.

Out of the reported salaries from 18 proposed new benchmark universities — schools that WKU compares itself to — WKU is 15th of 18 in terms of salary pay for full and associate professors and 17th of 18 in pay for assistant professors.

Patricia Minter, associate professor of history and faculty regent, said the reason for the low numbers is that academics at WKU have taken a back seat to spending in areas she views as “extracurricular,” such as athletics.

“We have never been at benchmark since I’ve been at WKU,” said Minter, who has been at WKU for 18 years.

“Once upon a time, there was extra money, prior to 2007. A lot of decisions that could get salaries at benchmark could have been made at that point. Instead, decisions were made to fund capital projects, to put lots of money into aesthetics, to athletics.”

Now, under tough state budget cuts, it doesn’t look like there will be chance to remedy the problem any time soon, Minter said.

Now, under tough state budget cuts, it doesn’t look like there will be a chance to remedy the problem any time soon, Minter said.

“We were always told, ‘Your turn will come. Academics’ turn will come,” Minter said. “And now that’s postponed indefinitely.”

Minter also said when fees, such as the DUC renovation fee, are put in place, the university is making a long-term decision because those dollars are earmarked for a specific purpose, instead of going into the larger tuition pool that could be used for a variety of things, including faculty pay.

“Tuition keeps the lights on, keeps everything humming — that’s also how you pay your employees, money to hire and to give salary increases,” she said.

Richard Miller, vice provost and chief diversity officer, acknowledged that faculty salaries are a problem that needs to be fixed.

“We’re not where we should be with our salaries,” Miller said. “I think we would all agree to that.”

One of the problems the university faces, and one reason Miller cited as a reason for being below benchmark, is salary compression.

Miller used an example to explain. The university might hire a faculty member five years ago and pay them $50,000. Then, the university might have hired another faculty member of equal rank this year, and because of the economy, cost of living and other factors, the professor would earn $60,000.

The university then needs to find additional money to adjust the salaries of those hired earlier, something the university is having a hard time doing in light of a string of budget cuts from the state, Miller said.

WKU’s rapid enrollment growth also played a role in the current salary problem. As the university continues to grow, more and more facilities and services were needed to accommodate the growing student population. This diverted money that could have been used to raise salary levels closer to benchmark, Miller said.

He said the university is now trying to make up lost ground and is looking into how faculty salaries can be brought up to benchmark, or at least closer to benchmark, than it is right now.

Robert Dietle, head of the history department and former faculty regent, said that below-benchmark faculty salaries hurt not only faculty but the university as a whole as it becomes harder to recruit desired faculty.

“We don’t want people to come here because they have nowhere else to go — we want to recruit people who have options, and we offer them a good position and a good package of salary and benefits,” Dietle said. “I’m afraid — I know we’re losing ground. It’s getting harder and harder to attract the faculty we want to hire.”

Miller agreed that keeping the university competitive in terms of faculty recruitment holds high importance.

“If we’re going to recruit the best, the most highly prepared faculty, then we have to be competitive with our other benchmark institutions,” Miller said.

Dietle said he views the administration as believing that there isn’t much that can be done about the situation at the moment, and the only time raising salaries is mentioned is when there is extra money — something that hasn’t been there for years.

“When they are putting together the budget and deciding what to do with the money, they should think more seriously about salaries,” he said. “It shouldn’t be an afterthought.”